The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today completely removed its travel advisory warnings regarding cruise ship travel.
The advisory has previously been set at Level 2, “moderate” risk, but the color-coded warning is now removed entirely from the COVID-19 cruise ship travel page.
Cruise Ships Operating Safely
The removal of this advisory warning shows confidence in how effectively cruise lines and individual ships are handling health and safety protocols for COVID-19.
While there have been cases reported onboard ships since U.S. cruise operations resumed in June 2021, cruise lines have acted quickly with isolation and quarantine protocols to minimize transmission and keep cruise travelers, crew members, and local port communities safe.
This change follows just two weeks after the CDC dropped the travel advisory level from Level 3 – “High” – to Level 2 – “Moderate.”
At that time, the Cruise Lines International Association stated, “We look forward to the Travel Health Notice being removed for cruise ships as soon as possible, and for cruising to be recognized as setting a high bar for providing a vacation choice with comprehensive set of science-backed protocols that span the entirety of the cruise experience.”
The quick change is somewhat surprising, but is consistent with the rapidly dropping case counts and fatalities throughout the United States.
According to Worldometer, both cases and deaths have dropped dramatically since the late-December surge driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Levels are now lower than at any time in the last eight months.
Cruise Lines Respond
Cruise lines have already begun responding to this welcome development. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said, “Today’s decision by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to altogether remove the Travel Health Notice for cruising recognizes the effective public health measures in place on cruise ships and begins to level the playing field, between cruise and similarly situated venues on land, for the first time since March 2020.”
CLIA continues with, “From the onset of the pandemic, CLIA’s cruise line members have prioritized the health and safety of their guests, crew, and the communities they visit and are sailing today with health measures in place that are unmatched by virtually any other commercial setting.”
“We’re absolutely thrilled to see that the CDC recognizes that it’s time to remove the Travel Health Notice website,” Tom McAlpin, CEO of Virgin Voyages said in a statement released immediately after the change. “We recognize this move as a demonstration of all of the hard work this industry has done to ensure that we’re offering the safest way to travel. It’s refreshing to see them meet us where we’re at, and clearly where our consumers are at considering the major uptick in demand we’ve seen.”
Virgin Voyages’ first two ships, Scarlet Lady and Valiant Lady, are currently sailing, with the line’s third ship, Resilient Lady, scheduled to debut in August.
Virgin Voyages is seeing unprecedented demand with bookings up nearly 120% from January to March of this year. March 2022 has been the strongest booking window to-date for the new, adults-only cruise brand.
Other cruise lines have reported similar increased demand for cruises of all types, from luxury sailings to family cruises to short weekend getaways.
In its first quarter report, Carnival Corporation noted that bookings are at the highest levels since the restart of operations, some 7.5% higher than the record-breaking 2019 season before the pandemic lockdown began.
Gus Antorcha, president of Carnival Corporation’s Holland America Line, also responded quickly to the lifting of the travel advisory.
“The CDC’s removal of its health notice related to cruise travel is an important step forward in recognizing the work we have done to protect our guests,” Antorcha said. “At Holland America Line, we continue to operate vaccinated cruises and have created a safe and healthy environment for our guests, our teams, and the communities we serve, helping to ensure cruising is among the safest forms of socializing and travel.”
What Does This Mean for Cruising?
While cruise lines will continue to operate for the time being under their established health and safety protocols, including pre-cruise testing, vaccination requirements, and enhanced sanitation, this new development is sure to give cruise lines more flexibility in adapting their operations in the days and weeks ahead.
Moving into the spring and summer season, cruise lines have already been increasing onboard capacity, without dramatic changes in infection rates or onboard cases.
Masks are now optional for vaccinated guests on most cruise lines, and other aspects of cruise vacations have gradually begun to return to pre-pandemic familiarity.
Cruise Hive will continue to update this article as further cruise lines react to this welcome change. Stay tuned for further details.