The atmosphere on November 1, 2020, in the cruise industry, was one of pure optimism. Not only did the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) lift the No-Sail-Order, but we would also soon start seeing ships sailing from US ports on test cruises. The end of December, or at the latest, the start of January, would surely be the time.
More than 150,000 people signed up for the test cruises onboard Royal Caribbean ships, while the Facebook page quickly gained 63,000 followers.
That optimism has faded somewhat. It’s mid-January, and there is no sign whatsoever of any ships even preparing to sail on test cruises. What Gives?
Is the CDC Stalling?
Well, it’s not just the CDC, but the fact the agency has not provided cruise operators with guidelines on the test sailings has so far delayed proceedings.
In the call that Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald held with investors this week, the CEO was asked: What is happening with the test cruises? Donald’s reply was this:
“The additional guidelines for future phases have not yet been issued by the CDC. We have weekly calls or as often as we need with them. So that remains to be seen. But what I can tell you is that we’re on track to be able to do whatever we need to do in a very timely manner to be able to resume cruise ultimately.
To answer your question about specific timing on a test cruise, yes, we would be waiting. But obviously, we’re doing a lot of things. We’ve started to bring ships back into the US and are meeting the criteria put out there to be in a position to then subsequently do test cruises. But to give you a specific timing on the test cruises, we would need additional guidance from the CDC.”
Without the proper guidelines and instructions from the CDC, the cruise lines have their hands tied. Of course, it’s no surprise the test cruises are taking longer to materialize than expected.
The second wave of COVID-19 infections does beg the question if sailing would be a good idea anyway. Even ships sailing for many months have stopped operating in Europe and are not expected to start again until the end of January.
Waiting for the New Administration?
It could very well be that the CDC is waiting for President-elect Biden to take over. Joe Biden has stated already he will be extremely tough on how he will deal with the virus, especially for the first 100 days of his presidency. Why would the CDC allow test cruises now, if they might just be canceled again later?
However, it is entirely possible that the CDC wanted cruises to start up when they lifted the No-Sail-Order last year. COVID-19 is currently spreading at such alarming rates that it doesn’t permit test cruises to occur in a manner that could be considered safe. You could argue that the cruise lines themselves do not want to sail right now.
Cruise Lines Have Too Much To Do?
The two largest cruise operators in the world have been kept postponing cruises since the first suspensions were announced back in March 2020.
The fact that Royal Caribbean has canceled cruises as far as May 2021 and Carnival as far as the fall for select ships, this could very well be a sign of worse to come.
It goes beyond just waiting for a response from the CDC. Thousands of crew members need to be brought back to the ships. This needs to be done safely and in accordance with the CDC. Ships need to have a green status for this to happen.
Ways to help protect guests and the crew is a huge importance. Protocols need to be refined covering many different aspects of the cruise vacation experience including before even embarking on the ship.
Also Read: Why Are Cruises Still Being Canceled?
MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises have vast amounts of data about how cruising can be done safely during the pandemic. Even they have moored their ships for now. Keep in mind, if ships did start sailing now, and an outbreak would occur, the media coverage could do more damage to the cruise industry than the pandemic itself.
As Royal Caribbean said before on the subject of test cruises: “Our priority is to ensure that we can exercise our comprehensive set of measures safely and healthily while making sure we provide a memorable vacation experience.”
That safe and healthy manner does not seem to be possible right now. The question is, therefore, not what gives? But, when will the time be right for test cruises to start?
If the current situation doesn’t improve soon, it could be much longer than we ever expected.
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