(Updated 4:46 p.m. EDT) -- Ports, stakeholders and cruisers reacted to new technical guidance issued Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the cruise industry seeks a restart of domestic operations after 13 months of being shut down.
Hope was buoyed Thursday with a Twitter announcement from Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, in which she stated she was "very encouraged on our call today... to discuss the safe return of cruising in the U.S.
"We are excited that the CDC will shortly be issuing new guidelines for a restart to cruising, taking into consideration the advancements made possible by the vaccine."
The mayor's statement followed Florida Governor Ron DeSantis urging the CDC to restart cruise within the United States, and threats by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody to take legal action against the CDC to restart cruising within Florida.
The CDC followed up Friday, issuing new technical guidance that seems to further delay the possibility of any potential restart while ignoring the health and safety guidance the industry has been promoting to the organization since last summer.
Test cruises are a no-go until further technical guidance is issued, and revenue sailings cannot resume any time soon despite the fact the industry is restarting in other parts of the world, like Asia, the U.K., Europe and the Caribbean, with the blessing of local government and health authorities.
'Nothing More Than an Incremental Step'
Some stakeholder and passengers have responded with frustration.
"For a year now, we have been working closely with our cruise partners and directly with the CDC to find a way forward for the return of cruising from Port Canaveral," CEO of Port Canaveral John Murray said.
"Just today CDC announced vaccinated Americans could safely travel internationally. We're disappointed that this guidance for the cruise industry appears to be nothing more than an incremental step in a far-reaching process to resume passenger sailings in the U.S. with no definitive or target start date."
Galveston Wharves CEO and Port Director Rodger Rees also urged the CDC to allow the cruise industry to restart.
"As CEO and port director of the fourth most popular cruise port in North America and the only cruise port in Texas, I am joining Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), major cruise lines and many others in calling for the CDC to lift the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) and allow safe, sustainable phased cruising to begin in July," Rees said.
"The CDC has taken no action despite the following facts: millions of Americans are vaccinated; COVID case numbers in the U.S. have declined significantly in recent months; cruise ports and cruise lines have put measures in place for safe, sustainable cruising; cruising in markets around the world has resumed while preventing or limiting spread of the virus."
Asked about the CDC's directives of April 2, Carnival Corporation & plc told Cruise Critic it was committed to resuming service in the U.S. in a way that best serves the interest of public health. But the corporation -- which counts a number of global brands among its portfolio, including Carnival, Cunard, Holland America Line, Princess and others, expressed disappointment with the CDC.
"It is generally accepted industry-wide that collectively, the recent April 2 guidance under the Conditional Sail Order is largely unworkable and stands in stark contrast to the approach taken in other travel and tourism sectors as well as in the U.S. society at large," reads a statement provided to Cruise Critic by Carnival Corporation.
"Working with the Administration, the CDC and other authorities, we need to reach a workable solution -- one that reflects the benefits of vaccinations, the advancements in treatments and the greater understanding of COVID-19 and one that treats the cruise industry consistent with the rest of the travel, tourism and entertainment sectors."
'Unduly Burdensome, Largely Unworkable'
Even before this technical guidance was issued by the CDC on Friday, CLIA President and CEO Kelly Craighead expressed her displeasure with the organization. The Cruise Lines International Association is the industry body representing the majority of the world's cruise fleet.
"The lack of any action by the CDC has effectively banned all sailings in the largest cruise market in the world," Craighead said in late March. "Cruising is the only sector of the U.S. economy that remains prohibited, even as most others have opened or continued to operate throughout the pandemic.
"The outdated CSO, which was issued almost five months ago, does not reflect the industry's proven advancements and success operating in other parts of the world, nor the advent of vaccines, and unfairly treats cruises differently."
On Monday afternoon, CLIA issued a new statement urging the CDC to abolish its directives on cruise.
"We share the priority of the Biden Administration to control the virus—and commend the significant advancements made in the US that are a model for others," read a CLIA statement emailed to Cruise Critic. "We also respect the authority of the CDC to implement measures in the interest of public health.
"However, the additional cruise industry instructions issued April 2nd by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) under the Framework for Conditional Sailing (CSO) are disappointing. The new requirements are unduly burdensome, largely unworkable, and seem to reflect a zero-risk objective rather than the mitigation approach to COVID that is the basis for every other US sector of our society.
"The effect of these new mandates is that nearly half a million Americans-- from longshoremen and ground transportation operators to hotel, restaurant, and retail workers, travel agents, and tens of thousands of businesses that service cruise ships, are continuing to financially suffer with no reasonable timeline provided for the safe return of cruising."
Cruise Critic Members Respond
On Cruise Critic's message boards, anger among prospective cruisers at the CDC's perceived intransigence was palpable.
"We waited a year for ... this?" boatseller wrote on the Carnival Cruise Line message boards.
"So... according to CDC, all travel can go back to normal if you are vaccinated; except for cruising, " Tolkmit wrote on the Royal Caribbean boards.
"This new technical guidance for Phase 2 must be very frustrating for the cruise line," livingonthebeach wrote. "The test cruises are part of Phase 3, but the CDC has not stated when this Phase 3 can begin. It’s no wonder why the cruise industry has taken its business elsewhere."
According to the CDC, the cruise industry is in the second phase of restart (out of five): Voyage Preparation. Still to come are Phase 2B, Simulated (Trial) Passenger Voyages; Phase 3 Conditional Sailing Certification; and Phase 4 Restricted Passenger Voyages.
Considering it took the CDC five months from the first issuance of the Framework for Conditional Sailing to deliver the necessary technical guidance to move from Phase 1 into Phase 2A -- a stage that didn't even exist in October -- any progress could take some time.
Cruise lines are beginning to push back against what some people perceive as a selective bias against cruise. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings submitted a proposal Monday to the CDC to allow for a restart of cruise within the U.S. on July 4, while other cruise operators have begun to abandon the U.S. entirely to focus on restarting voyages from Bermuda, the Bahamas, the U.K., Asia and Europe.
Cruise Critic will update this story as more information becomes available.