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Carnival Horizon (Photo: Cruise Critic)
Carnival Horizon (Photo: Cruise Critic)

CDC Hints That Cruising from U.S. Could Return as Soon as Mid-Summer

Carnival Horizon (Photo: Cruise Critic)
Carnival Horizon (Photo: Cruise Critic)

April 07, 2021

Aaron Saunders
Senior Editor, News and Features

(Updated 1:30 p.m. EDT) -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention might be softening its stance on cruise somewhat, as late-breaking news Tuesday indicated the agency could agree to allow a limited resumption of domestic U.S. cruises this summer as the industry has taken action to sail away from U.S. homeports.

The news, initially

reported by Bloomberg

, comes as a bit of a surprise after the CDC has remained relatively quiet for months about the return of cruise. Cruising from ports in the United States has been on pause since March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"CDC is committed to working with the cruise industry and seaport partners to resume cruising following the phased approach outlined in the conditional sailing order," the agency told Cruise Critic on Tuesday night, referring to an order the CDC put in place last fall.

"This goal aligns with the desire to resume passenger operations in the United States expressed by many major cruise ship operators and travelers, hopefully by midsummer with restricted revenue sailings."

A timeline for any new guidance from the CDC wasn't provided. The CDC's Tuesday evening statement isn't actually at odds with the existing Framework for Conditional Sailing; technically, under that guidance, the organization is committed to the restart of cruise -- provided the industry is content to wait for it to be delivered while other forms of travel operate uninterrupted within the United States.

Exterior on Norwegian Epic
Exterior on Norwegian Epic

The revelation follows on the heels of a day filled with major announcements from some of the world's largest cruise lines. Norwegian Cruise Line, Seabourn and Viking all announced they would restart cruise operations this summer outside of the United States, benefitting new homeports in Bermuda, Iceland, Greece and the Caribbean.

This follows numerous other lines announcing plans to restart operations outside the U.S. -- most using mandatory vaccination requirements -- in alternate homeports around the world. To date, cruising from the United States remains stalled due to the CDC's inaction over its Framework for Conditional Sailing.

Additional guidance released Friday by the CDC that further hindered plans for a restart prompted the industry's most vocal backlash, with the Cruise Lines International Association slamming the new technical requirements as "unduly burdensome, largely unworkable"; while American ports like Galveston and Port Canaveral came out in strong support of a safe, healthy return to service.

The CDC additionally came under fire from the cruise industry for mandating that other forms of travel were perfectly safe for those vaccinated against COVID-19, including international travel, on the same day it further restricted any form of cruise operations.

Facing over a year without meaningful operations for lines and ports alike, the situation between the cruise industry and the CDC has deteriorated so much that last week Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody threatened to sue the agency on behalf of the state in order to get it to restart cruise operations.

Carnival Threatens to Pull Its Ships

Exterior on Carnival Pride
Exterior on Carnival Pride

The CDC's change in tone, however, might have been prompted by Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy's threat Tuesday to pull the line's vessels from their U.S. homeports. Carnival currently homeports from 14 North American seaports and is one of the nation's largest cruise operators, catering predominantly to American travelers.

During its first quarter earnings call Wendesday morning, Carnival Corporation President and CEO Arnold Donald reiterated the brand would do what is necessary to return to profitability.

"Carnival really is America's original cruise line," Donald told investors. "But if we're unable to sail, then obviously we will consider homeporting somewhere else."

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, meanwhile, had petitioned CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Monday for a July 4 restart of domestic U.S. cruises with full vaccination mandates for passengers and crew.

The CDC did not publicly respond to either NCLH or Carnival.

It is unclear what would happen to the mandate from agency's Framework for Conditional Sailing, which as recently as Friday called for sweeping additions that would have pushed the required test voyages -- the precursor to revenue operations -- well into the future.

Under the terms of the Framework, the CDC can rescind its Conditional Sail Order at any time. It is in effect until November 1, 2021, otherwise.

Cruise Critic will update this story with more information as it becomes available.

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