The CDC has a lot of explaining to do! In the new guidelines released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency speaks about some measures that will restrict, eliminate, and hinder many of the things that cruise fans hold dear.
The CDC has now banned buffets and self-service areas, is restricting social dining, implements social distancing, and mandates guests to wear a mask during dining, drinking, and at the swimming pool. It’s measures like these that have the CEO and President of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Frank Del Rio, up in arms as he calls the requirements ‘absurd’.
Is The CDC Taking The Fun Out Of Cruising?
The new requirements have drawn a lot of flack in the last few days. Various interpretations of the rules are possible, and rules seem unnecessarily restrictive. While other industries in the United States seem to go back to normal, in line with the goals of the Biden administration, the cruise industry is singled out and treated in a way no other industry is.
Let’s take a look at some of the rules where the CDC’s goal seems to be to take the fun out of cruising entirely:
Social Distancing in Dining Areas
Rule: Change restaurant and bar layouts to ensure that all customer parties remain at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart (such as removing tables, stools, and chairs or marking any that are not for use).
While social distancing is something that we have all gotten used to over the last year, this rule seems to conflict with the rules and regulations that the agency is implementing shoreside.
Whether vaccinated or tested, guests are by nature of the rules implemented by the CDC supposed to be free of COVID, and as such, there should be little limitation on people dining together. It also brings us straight to the next measure.
Wearing a Mask at all Times
Rule: While the Order permits temporarily removing a mask for brief periods while eating or drinking, removing the mask for extended meal service or beverage consumption would constitute a violation of this Order.
So guests are already socially distanced yet still need to comply with a mask. This rule then makes no sense, as Frank Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian, points out:
I mean, can you imagine having to take on your mask and take off your mask in between bites of your meal or in between sips of a drink? It’s absurd. It doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world, anywhere else besides the United States. And so the unfair treatment that the industry has had to endure for over a year continues; it’s got to stop.
No More Buffets
Rule: Eliminate any self-serve food or drink options, such as buffets, salad bars, and drink stations. This limits the use of shared serving utensils, handles, buttons, or touchscreens and helps customers to stay seated and at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart from people who do not live in their household.
CDC Recommendation: Provide alternative meal services options, such as prepackaged grab-and-go meals, for consumption on open decks or in individual cabins to minimize risks associated with congregate indoor dining.
The CDC requires cruise lines to eliminate self-service buffets, salad bars, and beverage stations. It means crew members will be serving you at all points during the cruise.
Buffets can still exist; you are just not allowed to put food on your plate. This will limit how guests enjoy their dining experience and put a massive strain on the manning of the ships, as many more crew members will be needed.
Not only that, the agency is asking cruise ship guests to eat pre-packed meals onboard, which is one of the strangest rules ever to have come out of the CDC.
Want to Cool Down?
The dining experience is not the only area the CDC wants to have a significant impact. Swimming pools are also under strict measures. The pools on ships are usually small, and social distancing of 6ft apart will be nearly impossible.
This means pools are only supposed to be used by people of the same travel group or family, which the ship’s personnel will need to monitor:
Rule: Reduce the bather load for each facility to meet social distancing. When social distancing of at least 6 feet (2 meters) between bathers is not possible, such as in small whirlpool spas, swimming pools should be used by the same family or traveling companions only.
All sun loungers on board the ship will need to be 6ft apart, which will make the reserving of deck chairs a real issue onboard, as very few will be available. And although a mask is not necessary in the water, once you get out, you will need to put it on immediately again:
Rule: Ensure bathers wear masks while congregating outside recreational water facilities (SWFs) and while seated on the pool deck area. Masks do not need to be worn in the water, e.g., in RWFs or while swimming in the ocean.
Are the CDC Requirements Realistic?
The need for a safe cruise is nowhere better known than inside the cruise industry itself. It is precisely why many cruise lines have already mandated that cruises will only occur if all guests are vaccinated.
If the CDC does mean to implement these rules for all cruises, both with and without the vaccine mandate, there simply will be no cruises sailing.
Frank Del Rio:
“We are mandating a hundred percent vaccinations for both crew and passengers. On top of that, we’re going to layer the 74 protocols that the healthy sail panel put together. So we believe that our vessels will be the safest place on earth. And yet, rather than ease on the demands and the requirements by the CDC, they seem to double down in the cruise industry.”
“I seriously doubt we will be able to stand up a vessel out of a US Port in July, while August is also in jeopardy. And it’s all because of the disjointed guidelines from the CDC.”
A cruise is supposed to be fun, and for many thousands, millions even, of guests, a cruise is as much a social event as it is a fun vacation. By limiting nearly all social conventions on board the ships, the CDC treats cruise ships as nothing more than a ferry that will take passengers from A to B. The question is how many cruise lines and how many passengers will be willing to accept this.