Cruisers Tell the CDC: Let Us Back on Board

Cruise lines have extended their pause until at least November, but some people are ready to get back to sea now

Cruise lines have suspended operations through at least Oct. 31. Kacy Burdette

Fans of the cruising industry can now air their grievances about the federal No Sail Order issued in March directly to the government agency that issued it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is responsible for regulating health standards for the industry, has formally requested information from cruise lines on how they plans to return to operation since sailing was suspended back in mid-March, when the Covid-19 pandemic was beginning to ravage the United States. The agency’s No Sail order had originally been set to expire on July 24, but has been extended through Sept. 30, though the industry’s largest trade group, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), has promised not to sail until Oct. 31.

CLIA has not yet filed a comment with the CDC, and did not immediately return a request for comment from Adweek.

Specifically, the CDC is asking what methods and strategies cruise brands will implement to prevent the spread of a disease like Covid-19, including the feasibility of onboard testing. So far, Virgin Voyages has announced that it will be capping capacity on its ships. Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean have teamed up to co-chair a health panel aimed at creating guidelines for when sailing resumes.

While the most important input will come from the cruise lines themselves, anyone is allowed to comment, either electronically or through old-fashioned mail. Both cruise passengers and crew members have taken the opportunity to submit their thoughts on the state of the industry, many of them unhappy with the restrictions.

So far, more than 2,400 comments have been submitted, and at least 1,00 have been released. “Stop targeting the cruise industry and let us be adults,” said one commenter. “Stop holding us back,” wrote another. “Let us cruise!”

Others accused the agency of treating the cruise industry unfairly.

“There is no possible way that cruising, even if it is with a limited capacity, is ANY more dangerous than going to a restaurant or cramming like a sardine into an airplane where there is no more than an inch or two between passengers,” said a commenter.

“Why is it ok to pack a plane full of people (e.g. American) for 1 hour or 12 hours, but it’s not ok to open up a cruise ship where you CAN limit your interaction and distance?” asked Rhonda Rheinhart, a travel adviser who specializes in cruises. (While the comments were overwhelmingly anonymous, Rheinhart was identifiable because she left her name.)

Others had concrete suggestions for returning to sea, such as assigned pool appointments and the cancellation of shows. “I would like to see the cruise lines start at around 30-50% depending on the size,” suggested one cruising fan.

Although the sample size is minuscule compared to the size of the industry—thousands of comments compared to the 14.2 million cruisers who sailed from North America in 2019—there is a reoccurring theme in the comments: Brand loyalty and trust are paramount in an industry kept afloat by repeat customers.

“I am confident that Carnival Cruise Lines will take all the necessary steps to provide a safe environment not only for the passengers but their crew as well,” wrote one commenter.

Passenger safety is not the only concern. The CDC is also asking the industry to involve crew members in decision-making and to account for their crews’ “well-being and mental health.” Those concerns are especially relevant following an investigation by The Wall Street Journal, which found that some cruise brands had neglected to inform crew members after their colleagues had fallen ill, and a chaotic international repatriation effort that left some crew members stranded onboard ships for months with no clear inclination of when they’d return home.

@RyanBarwick Ryan is a brand reporter covering travel, mobility and sports marketing.