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On the way to Cruising or Confusing?


What looked on Wednesday like smooth sailing to at least a partial restart of cruising from U.S. ports is now starting to look like a three-way standoff with each party blaming the other for confusion or obstruction.

Guidance from CDC that indicated that cruises with 98% of crew and 95% of passengers vaccinated could be fast-tracked to approval without having to undergo extensive 'test cruises' with volunteers spurred a wave of optimism and announcements. The test voyages would still be required for ships not planning to go the vaccine route.

Then the cruise lines started looking further into the details and found more restrictive terms than they had expected or say they can live with and started casting doubt on July cruises. These include mask rules for sunbathing outdoors and during dining. Frank Del Rio, chair of Norwegian Cruise Holdings says that the rules even make eating impossible: “In between bites of your meal and in between sips of your beverage, you have to put on your mask, take off your mask. So nobody should order soup, because your mask might get sloppy. That to me is just preposterous.”

Del Rio said his executives are trying for clarification from CDC, including whether different rules could apply to vaccinated cruises.

And, on another front, Del Rio and some others are threatening to shift their ships from the state that accounts for the bulk of U.S. cruise departures: Florida. Gov. Ron Desantis has just signed a state law, replacing an executive order he had issued, banning cruise operators from requiring passengers to be vaccinated—a ban that would prevent any ship from getting CDC approval for early sailing.

Del Rio told a meeting of financial analysts that “We hope that this doesn’t become a legal football or a political football. But, at the end of the day, cruise ships have motors, propellers and rudders, and God forbid we can’t operate in the state of Florida for whatever reason, there are other states where we do operate from. [Or] we can operate from the Caribbean … we certainly hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Image: Miami's cruise port, which could possibly lose its ships

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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At least some of the CDC rules the cruise lines have objected to have given way to second thoughts. Given both reflection and political pressure, that isn't really surprising.

The two big clarifications that appeared on Wednesday are that mask requirements for vaccinated passengers have been eased, and they will be permitted to make independent shore visits.

In the original requirements, CDC was mandating masks for outdoor activities including sunbathing and eating (with masks required between bites) and only ship-escorted shore tours. The new guidance still calls for masks in crowded situations and in indoor activities. The change is likely enough to put plans for summer cruising back on track, even if not from Florida.

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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