Cruise industry groups call on officials to lift restrictions

Photo (c) Gary D Ercole - Getty Images

Some cruise lines have already found a way around the CDC’s rules

Travel lovers are ready to hit the high seas again, but are cruise lines ready to sail again too? The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) thinks so and is asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to lift its conditional sail order to make that happen.

In an open letter, the CLIA called on the CDC to lift the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) and allow cruise lines to resume operations by July. That date was chosen because it meets President Biden’s forecast for when the United States will be “closer to normal.” 

However, the CDC isn’t taking its cue from the White House. When it first established the CSO, the agency said the order would remain in effect until one of two determinants are made: “the expiration of the Secretary of Health and Human Services’ declaration that COVID-19 constitutes a public health emergency; or the CDC Director rescinds or modifies the order based on specific public health or other considerations.”

Why is cruising being left off the approved travel list?

The CLIA says it’s frustrated because the CDC has lifted restrictions on other travel and tourism. It notes that other countries have also found a way to allow cruises to restart carrying passengers and that the U.S. should move to do the same.

“Over the past eight months, a highly-controlled resumption of cruising has continued in Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific—with nearly 400,000 passengers sailing to date in more than 10 major cruise markets. These voyages were successfully completed with industry-leading protocols that have effectively mitigated the spread of COVID-19,” said Kelly Craighead, CLIA’s President and CEO.

“Our Members continue to follow [a] multi-layered approach to enhancing health and safety that has proven effective, making cruising one of the best and most adaptable choices for travel,” she added. 

The CDC started lifting its ban on cruises and allowed them to start phasing in travel last October, but CLIA officials say the agency is now letting other travel-related segments return to business while leaving cruising as the only sector of the U.S. economy that remains restricted.

"The outdated CSO, which was issued almost five months ago, does not reflect the industry's proven advancements and success operating in other parts of the world, nor the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," said Kelly Craighead, CLIA's CEO. "Cruise lines should be treated the same as other travel, tourism, hospitality, and entertainment sectors."

Cruise lines are finding a way to get around the CSO

The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) recently released a statement related to the situation and threw in the fact that cruise lines have already found a way to get around the CDC’s restrictions.

“In response to the ongoing situation, late last week, two of the leading cruise lines announced that they would resume cruise operations in the Caribbean by bypassing U.S. ports altogether. Clearly, when legislative, regulatory, and diplomatic ‘fixes’ all fail, businesses are forced to make alternative arrangements,” Zane Kerby, President & CEO of ASTA, wrote.

An ASTA spokesperson confirmed to ConsumerAffairs that there are actually three individual cruise lines skirting U.S. regulations. Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises plan to restart operations in June from the Bahamas and St. Maarten. Crystal Cruises has also announced plans to base one of its cruise ships in the Bahamas starting in July.

The demand from travelers is already strong -- CDC restrictions or not. Within 24 hours of announcing it was going to base a cruise out of the Bahamas, Crystal said nearly 4,000 travelers made reservations. The line added that some 200 guests were so happy to have a chance to sail again that they reserved back-to-back voyages on board the cruise ship.

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