The CDC Conditional Sailing Order: To Be Extended or Not?

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Conditional Sailing Order will expire at the end of this month. Put in place in November of last year, the order’s main reason for existing was the safe return of cruising to the United States.

With most cruise lines now operational and two major players already sailing with more than half of the fleet (Royal Caribbean and Carnival), isn’t it time for the CDC to announce the end of the CSO? Or will the agency claim the order still has merit and extend it? We look at the what, why, and future of the Conditional Sailing Order.

What is the Conditional Sailing Order, And Why Was it Introduced?

The Conditional Sailing Order was introduced as a phased approach for cruise ships to return to operations inside the United States. It involves several steps that cruise lines need to follow and comply with before setting sail again. The order was first introduced on November 1, 2020, replacing the No-Sail order the CDC had between March and November 2020.

Cruise Ships in Miami, Florida
Photo Credit: EQRoy /

The different steps cruise lines had to take to resume operations was the testing and crew welfare phase, ensuring crew well-being on board while cruise ships ramped up testing capacity.

Subsequent steps included simulated voyages to test the cruise ship operators’ ability to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 onboard, certification for ships that meet specific requirements, and a phased return to cruise ship passenger voyages in a manner that mitigates COVID-19 risk among passengers, crew members, and U.S. communities.

Although the order had been a mandatory one initially, this changed only a few months ago for one state when a Florida Judge ruled the CSO voluntary only. Nonetheless, all cruise lines have said they will follow the directions from the agency entirely and continue to do so.

Also Read: CDC Cruise Order Decision Reversed After Florida Appeals to U.S. Supreme Court

What is the Future of the Conditional Sailing Order?

There have been radical changes to how cruise ships operate in recent months versus how the CDC devised the Conditional Sailing Order. Obviously, the most crucial difference is that the original CSO did not have the vaccines in mind; this was only introduced later.

With all cruise lines now requiring all guests to be fully vaccinated, something the CSO never envisioned, it would seem there is no more need for a sailing order.

Cruise Vaccine

In recent months the cruise companies have often exceeded the requirements set by the CDC. This includes testing and vaccination requirements onboard the ships.

With the level of responsibility the cruise lines are taking, one option would be just to let the Conditional Sailing Order expire. The cruise companies and the CDC would continue to work together as they have been doing. There is a lot to say for this. While Director Redfield, the former CDC chief, had no confidence in the cruise industry to self-govern, that idea seems to have shifted.

Now, the CDC does seem to have the confidence and trust in the cruise lines to operate safely, without the level of government interference seen in the last 18 months. In fact, the cruise lines are now seen as the standard of how travel can be done safely and securely.

Is There a Point to Extending the Conditional Sailing Order?

With the cooperation between the CDC and cruise companies at an all-time high and the cruise lines proving that operations are done safely for many months now, is there any point in continuing the CSO? There isn’t much pointing towards it being extended.

CDC Headquarters
Photo Credit: Rob Hainer /

There have been very few confirmed infections onboard the cruise ships since they started operations again at the end of June. Guests are tested before sailing, the vaccination age is expected to be lowered to 5-years-old, and cruise lines have shown to be highly vigilant with monitoring guests onboard.

Also, the current systems onboard cruise ships have evolved mainly away from the Conditional Sailing Order. An order which, in many ways, was intended to guide companies to restart operations, not maintaining them.

Worth Reading: Carnival Cruise Line Extends Protocols Through February 2022

While predicting what the CDC will do is like looking in a crystal ball, what is more than likely to happen is that the CSO will end on November 1. Instead, the agency will likely introduce new protocols, including existing temporary measures such as testing, vaccinations, mask use, etc.

The Conditional Sailing Order has lost its right to exist. However, with the pandemic far from over, testing, mask-wearing, and mandatory vaccinations still have a place onboard cruise ships. That will likely only change when infections decline and continue to decline over a prolonged period.

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