May 06, 2021
(1:20 p.m. EDT) -- The cruise industry -- and the thousands of people who have cruises booked for upcoming months -- spent Thursday digesting the guidelines for cruising's U.S. resumption that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention put out on May 5.
While some saw some positives in having guidelines at all, after months of inaction, the overwhelming tone from passengers seemed to suggest that the CDC regulations were onerous, particularly when compared to similar guidelines for activities on land.
A statement from the Cruise Line Industry Association noted that the guidance leaves "a lot of work to do in order to achieve the goal of sailing from U.S. ports this summer.
"We appreciate the CDC’s expressed commitment to this goal and look forward to further discussions on the details of the instruction, including a better understanding of how predominantly vaccinated passengers and crew can accelerate a return to service," the CLIA statement said.
"Meanwhile, nearly half a million American jobs and livelihoods continue to hang in the balance. The cruise industry will continue to go above and beyond to meet the requirements of the CDC, building on the ongoing resumption of operations taking place in other parts of the world and the demonstrated success of the industry’s protocols and public health measures"
In an interview with Cruise Critic Thursday morning, Harry Sommer, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, said he sees "good things and some less-good things" in the new CDC startup requirements.
The rules on mask wearing and social distancing, as well as mandatory shore excursions, if guests want to go ashore "have been recurring themes throughout the protocols," so were not unexpected," he said.
"I think some of the requirements around dining seemed a little bit onerous," Sommer added. "We've got to study that a little bit more."
What Norwegian really finds "perplexing," Sommer said, is that there are no separate rules "for ships that are fully vaccinated and ships that aren't."
He says Norwegian, which has vowed to set sail only with fully vaccinated ships through October, will seek further clarification from the CDC, and expects additional rules for vaccinated ships may be forthcoming.
Sommer also suggested the requirement for restricted shore access will be revisited if and when cruises start up in Alaska this summer, with different rules for calls at U.S. ports than in the Caribbean.
Frank Del Rio, who oversees NCL as well as Oceania and Regent, was less circumspect with his reaction. In the company's earnings call Thursday morning, he described the guidelines as "impractical, onerous, burdensome."
"We are perplexed, flabbergasted, we're outraged" as to why the CDC continues to treat cruise lines differently than other travel entities, he said.
Cruise Critic will update this story with more reaction from the industry, as available.
On the Cruise Critic message boards, cruisers seemed perplexed by the CDC guidelines, particularly as many of them are stricter than regulations for eating out and traveling on land.
"On one hand, (the CDC) say that those vaccinated can go without masks outdoors except in large crowds and indoors with other vaccinated people. OTOH, they promulgate these rules designed to make cruises impossible to enjoy," Ontheweb wrote on the Holland America message board.
The guidelines also come at a time when many states, including those in the Northeast, which has typically been stricter during the COVID-19 pandemic, are beginning to relax their rules.
"On May 19th, New York is beginning to allow restaurants and theaters to operate at 'near capacity,' " KirkNC wrote on the Royal Caribbean board. "If it's ok to walk into a theater or restaurant in NYC where I don't know that everyone is vaccinated, why, on a fully vaccinated cruise, can't we do the same?"
Others felt that the CDC was making it seem like they wanted cruises to resume, but imposing guidelines that were so strict, the vacation wouldn't seem fun. "No need to ban cruising all together, when they make it so unappealing with burdensome rules they accomplish the same thing anyway," srpilo wrote on the same HAL thread.
The fact the CDC gave no leeway to vaccinated passengers compared with unvaccinated passengers made many cruisers feel like the guidelines were based on old protocols. "I am vaccinated so I think the mask rules are ridiculous," TNcruising02 wrote on the Carnival message boards. "Cruising is great, but it's not 'wear a mask during dinner, wear a mask sun bathing, wear a mask on excursions' great."
Another section that seemed unclear was the governing of shore excursions. The guidelines require passengers to stick with the cruise ship in a protected "bubble." Yet cruises are starting from international homeports, such as the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Greece, without those requirements.
"Hopefully by the time we cruise in January some of the mandates imposed by the CDC will be lifted, especially the one forbidding independent time in the various ports of call," TMLAalum wrote on the Celebrity message board. "I would hope that the governments of the countries affected would lobby ours to allow vaccinated passengers to spend their money and time as they wish."