Just one day before the CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order is scheduled to end, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. has become the first major cruise line company to voluntarily opt-in to the new recommended health and safety guidelines. The announcement, made January 14, 2022, will affect all three of the brand’s lines – Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
Norwegian Opts In to New Guidelines
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Conditional Sailing Order is the framework that has guided health and safety protocols, case reactions, and passenger and crew screenings since it was first implemented in early 2021. Though it has been through several modifications as pandemic conditions have evolved over the last year, that order is scheduled to expire January 15, 2022.
The Conditional Sailing Order will be replaced with voluntary guidelines that remain largely the same, but relax some monitoring measures and allow for some return of onboard services that have been prohibited under the mandatory order.
For example, self-service dining options can begin to operate again, and there will be greater leeway for numbers of positive COVID-19 cases detected onboard before a ship must be investigated.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. has become the first cruise corporation to confirm it is opting in to the new voluntary guidelines. In a press release on January 14, the day before those voluntary guidelines go into effect, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Frank Del Rio said:
“The health and safety of our guests, crew, and communities we visit is our number one priority. We have demonstrated this commitment since our return to service in July of last year, with protocols that exceeded those required by regulatory agencies, including 100% vaccination of guests and crew, universal testing of all guests prior to embarkation, and routine testing of all crew.”
In making the announcement, Del Rio clarified that this opt-in would include all three cruise line brands operated by the corporation.
“Furthering our commitment to health and safety, with the expiration of the CDC’s Conditional Sail Order, our three brands have opted into the CDC’s voluntary Program, which provides the cruise industry with a set of operating provisions to protect the health and safety of guests and crew.”
Opting In is Not Necessary
Cruise lines will no longer be mandated to follow the CDC’s framework, but if they do not opt in to the program, their ships will be coded gray on the CDC’s cruise ship color status chart, which will indicate that those ships are not being monitored and the CDC is not confirming any health and safety measures onboard those vessels.
For prospective passengers, the confirmation that a cruise line is following the CDC’s recommendations can be reassuring, and passengers will better know what to expect when sailing with those cruise lines.
“Our adoption of the voluntary program provides guests, crew, travel partners, and other stakeholders with the assurance that our brands will continue to meet and exceed the provisions laid out by the CDC and provide unparalleled health and safety protocols not found in any other sector of the travel and leisure space,” Del Rio said.
This announcement comes when Norwegian Cruise Line has been troubled with multiple cruise cancellations in recent days, scaling back operations significantly for the next several weeks.
Other Lines Likely to Follow Suit
While Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises are the first lines to confirm their participation in the new voluntary guidelines, it is very likely that other cruise lines will quickly announce their own cooperation with the CDC.
This is especially probable because, due to Governor Ron DeSantis’ successful legal challenges to the CDC’s vaccination mandates, the original Conditional Sailing Order has largely been voluntary for cruises operating out of Florida since July 2021. Cruise lines, however, have continued to use the CDC’s guidance even without being required to do so.
In many ways, whether the guidelines are voluntary or mandated, the expectation of enhanced health and safety measures onboard cruise ships – including pre-cruise testing, vaccination requirements, improved air filtration, more frequent sanitizing in public areas, social distancing, etc. – have reassured many passengers as the cruise industry has restarted.