Avid cruisers could be back on board before summer's end

By Hannah Chubb
May 11, 2020 03:16 PM
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Carnival Elation
| Credit: Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines

Cruise lovers may be able to hit the high seas sooner than many expected, as major cruise lines are announcing their plans to set sail again in 2020.

Last week, Carnival Cruise Line announced that they plan to allow eight of their ships to return to sailing on August 1, as long as government officials allow it amid the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

The company is accepting new bookings for the date but there's a big "what if" still at play.

“Any resumption of cruise operations – whenever that may be – is fully dependent on our continued efforts in cooperation with federal, state, local and international government officials,” the company made clear in a statement

If they are given the go-ahead, the following eight ships will resume cruising: Carnival Dream, Carnival Freedom and Carnival Vista from Galveston; Carnival Horizon, Carnival Magic and Carnival Sensation from Miami; and Carnival Breeze and Carnival Elation from Port Canaveral. 

A spokesperson for the company told PEOPLE on Monday that the Texas and Florida ports were chosen because they are highly frequented, and thus have “more resources to implement new procedures.” They are also easily accessible by car, reducing the need for air travel, which might lead to further complications. 

Credit: Alamy

“Please note that these select number of voyages are not guaranteed to operate as a variety of contingencies must be in place in advance of any potential sailing,” the spokesperson continued, noting that the August 1 date may be pushed back if they feel there are any risks.

All other North American Carnival cruises have been canceled through at least August 31, while the company continues to “engage experts, government officials and stakeholders on additional protocols and procedures" to keep guests and crew safe.

Cruise giant Norwegian Cruise Line is also looking to return to the seas soon, but has not announced an official start date. CEO Frank Del Rio told CNBC last week, “We expect to sail sometime in 2020.” 

“It would be irresponsible for me to give you a specific date because we still have to gain clearance from the CDC and other government agencies, but we’re working hard shoulder-to-shoulder with them to develop an enhanced protocol of every kind you can think of,” Del Rio said in an interview with the outlet. 

″[W]e believe that together we’ll be able to demonstrate to the CDC and other government officials that cruising is indeed safe and not all cruise lines are created equal,” he continued. “We had a stellar performance when the outbreak first came out.”

Credit: Randy Brooke/WireImage

Both cruise lines have indicated that they plan to return to cruising slowly, and in phases. 

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Neither cruise line will be able to launch without an all-clear from the CDC.

The CDC recently put an indefinite "No Sail Order" in place for all cruise ships, which was extended on April 9. The updated mandate follows an earlier order, which was issued on March 14 and was intended to stay in place for 30 days.

The current restriction indicates that no cruise ships will be allowed in or out of the U.S. until one of three things happens: 1) The Secretary of Health and Human Services’ declaration that the coronavirus is a public health emergency expires, 2) The CDC director rescinds or modifies the order in accordance with public health considerations, or 3) 100 days have passed since the date of the order’s publication in the Federal Register.

Currently, the order is set to expire on July 24, if it is not extended. 

CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a press release that the agency is “working with the cruise line industry to address the health and safety of crew at sea as well as communities surrounding U.S. cruise ship points of entry.”

He added, “The measures we are taking today to stop the spread of COVID-19 are necessary to protect Americans, and we will continue to provide critical public health guidance to the industry to limit the impacts of COVID-19 on its workforce throughout the remainder of this pandemic.”

Since the beginning of the global spread of COVID-19, several cruise ships have seen severeand deadly — outbreaks of the virus.

Speaking to PEOPLE about why cruise vacations are particularly dangerous amid the pandemic, infectious disease expert Dr. William Haseltine noted that cruise ships “are incubators. Everybody’s close together, packed in all the time. One person gets sick, a lot of them get sick. It’s a very unfavorable environment for disease transmission.”

Despite these risks, some reports show cruisers are already planning voyages for 2021 despite current uncertainty. However, passengers rebooking with cruise credits for voyages that were canceled this spring likely account for a portion of those reservations.  

A recent study conducted by Peak Prosperity, in partnership with Azurite Consulting, found that 22 percent of the avid cruisers they surveyed said they would never cruise again, while 65 percent plan to wait at least until there is a vaccine before returning to sail. Fifty-five percent of those planning to wait said they would delay their next cruise until at least one year after a vaccine is out.