CDC Makes Multiple Changes to Its Conditional Sailing Order for Cruise Ships

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made several changes to its technical instructions under the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO). The updates, made on August 27, 2021, cover face masks, change language reflecting that the CSO is just a recommendation in Florida, revised testing requirements, and added a new color status.

CDC Updates for Cruise Ships

CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order has been in place since the end of October 2020, and despite the complex technical instructions, cruise lines have gone above and beyond to make sure they are following the guidelines.

The situation has now turned around with cruise lines leading the way and implementing their own protocols to keep passengers and crew safe during voyages. Many of the CDC updates reflect what the cruise lines have already implemented due to growing concerns about the Delta variant.

CDC Headquarters
Photo Credit: Rob Hainer /

Face Mask Policies

One of the main updates is focused on face masks, where the CDC now advises that cruise lines voluntarily reconsider stricter measures on board for guests and crew members.

CDC Face Mask Changes
CDC Website

The CDC wants the following face mask policies reconsidered:

  • Allowing fully vaccinated crew to remove masks indoors in areas inaccessible to passengers.
  • Designating areas as only accessible to fully vaccinated passengers and crew where masks and physical distancing are not required.
  • Advising passengers and crew on ships with 95% of crew and 95% of passengers who are fully vaccinated that they do not have to wear a mask or maintain physical distance in any areas.

Some cruise lines have already implemented more restrictions on face masks due to new COVID variants. Carnival Cruise Line implemented its updated mask guidance from August 7, with all guests now advised to wear a face mask indoors and required to wear a mask in “elevators and in designated indoor entertainment areas, all retail shops, and in the casino.”

Cruise Ship Balcony

For Royal Caribbean, it gets slightly more complex due to different venues depending on vaccination status. Currently, the cruise line requires all guests to wear a face mask indoors, but there are exceptions such as designated venues for fully vaccinated guests.

When it comes to the crew, they already wear a face mask on board no matter their vaccination status. In fact, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and NCL have all crew members fully vaccinated to make sure guests remain protected.

New Gray Status Code Introduced

There has been much talk about the color status of cruise ships that have recently restarted operations. It’s undoubtedly a very fluid situation with cruise lines operating under the new reality the world faces.

Cruise Ships at PortMiami, Florida
Photo Credit: richard pross /

There is now the addition of a “Gray” status which the CDC will apply to a cruise ship sailing out of Florida. This means that the CDC won’t be tracking any cases on board, including any protocols in place. This is due to the State of Florida winning its lawsuit against the CDC on making the Conditional Sailing Order just a recommendation rather than a requirement.

CDC "Gray" Cruise Ship Status
CDC Website

The CDC also currently has a color cruise ship status of green, which means the vessel has no cases on board. The orange color status means a ship has reported cases but is below the threshold for a CDC investigation.

Yellow status means cases have been reported, and an investigation is needed. The red status for a cruise means the vessel should return to port immediately due to a COVID-19 outbreak on board.

Testing for Vaccinated Passengers (Within Two Days)

The CDC has followed the lead from multiple cruise lines by now requiring that even fully vaccinated passengers show a negative test result before embarking on a cruise. The CDC says, “Fully vaccinated passengers must present a SARS-CoV-2 negative viral test result at the time of embarkation. The specimen must be taken no more than 2 days before boarding.”

Cruise Testing

This is something that cruise lines recently implemented as part of their protocols due to the Delta varient. Carnival Cruise Line implemented updated testing for fully vaccinated guests from August 14, but it’s currently within three days rather than the CDC’s recommended two days. The cruise says, “Fully vaccinated guests must also present the negative results of a COVID-19 test (PCR or antigen) taken within three days prior to embarkation.”

For Royal Caribbean, the protocols for testing vaccinated passengers are also similar and the same as Carnival when it comes to “within three days.” There are also specific details regarding Florida, so guests need to check all the important information before their cruise departures to make sure no changes are missed.

For now, cruise ships departing from Florida remain committed to the CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order even though the order is only a recommendation for the state. Ensuring guests and crew remain safe are essential for the cruise industry to continue in these new times, and the guidelines will undoubtedly continue to change as the cruise industry continues to adapt.

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