Friday was a significant announcement from the CDC regarding guidelines for vaccinated people, which featured key travel elements. There have also been a lot of developments in getting travel moving again, so those topics inspired this week’s article…
Relaxation of travel guidelines
Friday April 2 was a happy day in travel when the CDC released new guidance that those who have been vaccinated can travel without being tested* before domestic or international flights or having to go into quarantine at home after a trip.
*Please note: this refers to US requirements of travelers, and there may be testing required by an international destination at arrival. Also, there is still a requirement that travelers have a negative Covid test when returning to the US from an international trip.
The positive impact of the vaccine rollout – about 30% of Americans have been vaccinated at this point – creates a significant feeling of hope and generates excitement about the opportunity for future travel.
Vaccinations Get Travel Moving
For the time being, we’ll see more requirements for vaccination for travel. While this will likely be a temporary rule implemented by specific travel suppliers, for now it seems one of the few ways to kickstart travel in a way that helps travelers feel secure in making future plans. A number of travel companies are requiring vaccines as a path to reengage in cruising or touring.
While some US states, like Florida and Texas, have already banned ‘vaccine passports’, and the European Union (EU) has declared vaccines would not be mandated for EU members for travel between countries, destinations are using vaccinations as a way of opening up their borders in a limited way to Americans as well as other nationalities.
Cruising Limited by Conditional Sail Order
While the CDC has offered more clarity with these updated guidelines for vaccinated travelers, there has continued to be CDC limitations on cruising that has not addressed more current advancements in health and safety policies, as well how cruising can work with vaccinations.
I mentioned previously that American Queen Steamboat Company started sailing the Mississippi River – they were able to do that because their ships fall below the CDC guidelines that govern ships with more than 250 people. But for any ship with 250 people that sails from a US port, the CDC’s Conditional Sail Order (CSO) has hampered efforts to restart cruising.
Most of the cruise lines have attempted to address the CSO by implementing extensive ‘Safe Sail’ methodologies with cleaning protocols, enhanced air filtration systems, smartphone automation to reduce encounters such as check-in or service requests, reduced occupancy, and many more practices.
While the CSO spells out a phased-in approach to cruising, the plans that the cruise lines have made to address those requirements have not been reviewed and approved – at least it doesn’t seem like it based on CDC actions.
On Friday when the CDC relaxed the guidelines for vaccinated individuals, allowing travel both domestically and internationally, the CDC added new technical requirements to the Conditional Sail Order without providing a clear restart date.
Since the CDC has not given any specific date-based targets of the Conditional Sail Order since they established it at the end of October 2020, now the cruise lines are coming up with new plans to sail from near and far foreign ports that are opening to Americans.
Cruising Restarts – But Not from US Ports
The luxury cruise line, Crystal, starts sailing the Bahamas this summer. Crystal has an agreement with the government of the Bahamas to sail there (the Parliament of The Bahamas voted on it!), and the itinerary is only within the Bahamas in order not to have to deal with multiple governments and different regulations. It’s actually a very attractive itinerary with many smaller islands that are seldom visited.
Luxury cruise line Seabourn announced just yesterday that they had reached an agreement with the Greek government and will sail two alternating itineraries from Athens starting July 3.
Viking Cruise Line will get started back with cruising with sailings out of Bermuda which stay in the Bermuda area; they will offer cruises that sail from Reykjavik that include ports only around Iceland.
Celebrity Cruises has been working with the Greek government and will start sailings with the new Celebrity Apex from Athens for seven-night cruises in June. Royal Caribbean will be launching cruises this summer from Bermuda, Cyprus, Greece, St. Maarten and the Bahamas.
In all these examples, the cruise lines are requiring that the crew and guests be vaccinated. Greece plans to open to American in May 2021 (vaccinated, have antibodies, or tested negative). Iceland is open to vaccinated individuals.
While the creative approaches adapted by the cruise lines will get ready travelers cruising again, it doesn’t help those individuals in the United States ports whose livelihoods depend on cruising and local tourism. There continues to be a tremendous negative financial impact to the travel industry that will take years to restore to pre-covid norms. Florida and Alaska small businesses and workers are particularly hit.
CLIA, Cruise Lines International Association, has repeatedly reached out to the CDC to request cruising from US ports, given the successful implementation of cruising protocols elsewhere in the world. “With over 400,000 passengers having already sailed from Europe and parts of Asia since last summer, following stringent, science-based protocols that result in a far lower incident rate than on land, the irony is that today an American can fly to any number of destinations to take a cruise, but cannot board a ship in the U.S.,” CLIA said.
So, we have good news in regard to domestic and international travel for those who have been vaccinated, and we have options to cruise this summer, which is a positive step in moving back to more dependable travel options. While many more steps need to happen, like options for non-vaccinated individuals and cruising from US ports, we do appreciate the incremental improvements we see.