The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has lifted COVID-related health warning on cruise travel the agency put in place at the start of the pandemic.
The removal of the health notice related to cruise travel is being hailed by cruise lines as “a demonstration of all of the hard work this industry has done to ensure that we’re offering the safest way to travel,” said Virgin Voyages CEO Tom McAlpin in a statement. “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.”
The CDC lowered the risk of cruise ship travel to Level 2 in March, after taking it from a Level 4 — which included a warning to avoid embarking on a cruise ship altogether, regardless of vaccination status — to Level 3 in February. The agency allowed its Conditional Sail Order to expire on January 15 this year, which leaves it up to cruise lines whether or not they want to opt into participating in the CDC’s COVID-19 Program for Cruise Ships Operating in U.S. Waters.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t still going to be protocols in place — the CDC does still recommend that Americans be fully vaccinated before they embark on a cruise ship. It also still recommends that those who are not vaccinated avoid cruising.
“Make sure you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines before cruise ship travel,” the CDC wrote in its latest recommendation. “Getting vaccinated is still the best way to protect yourself from severe disease, slow the spread of COVID-19, and reduce the number of new variants.”
Many cruise lines are on board with that. In fact, nearly all cruise lines have opted into the now-voluntary CDC COVID-19 program.
Virgin Voyages said that it “remains committed to its elevated health and safety protocols and continues to put the wellbeing of its Sailors and Crew first.” As is Holland America. “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,” Holland America Line President Gus Antorcha said in a statement.
Even with some recommendations still in place, cruise lines heralded the news as one step closer to regaining a sense of normalcy for cruise lines, and for meetings and incentive travel planners eager to take participants back on the high seas. Among the welcome changes are that cruise lines can now resume approved “passenger interactive experiences” that up until now had been suspended.
The recent CLIA Cruise360 Conference, which took place in South Florida, was abuzz with the latest removal of restrictions by the CDC. At the conference, Royal Caribbean President and CEO Michael Bailey said, “Over time they’ve learned about our industry and we’ve learned about their concerns and we’ve built trust. We had a lot of ships sailing through Omicron and everything was handled flawlessly; we came through it. The fact that they removed the warning is a very positive step for our industry—you’re free to cruise.”
To find out if a ship your group is interested in has opted into the new CDC guidelines, check the agency’s Cruise Ship Status Dashboard.