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CDC’s New Guidelines: Reality…Finally!

Yesterday the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) finally announced two things:

  • Rational and Science Based Guidelines; and,
  • Approval for the first sailing from the United States (Celebrity Edge)
While this is great news, it is not the end of the story, so let’s jump to the end first.
As you are aware, many cruise lines have started sailing outside of the United States in order to circumvent what were draconian and non-science-based CDC regulations. While that addressed the CDC it does not address the requirements of each of the national and local governments the ships will be visiting. So while Italy may be opening up with no restrictions on visitors that are vaccinated, at least at present, they must arrive via air on specific flights that require a 72 hour negative PCR test, a pre-boarding antigen test, and another post-flight antigen test.  If you don’t comply with that, there is a 10 day quarantine period even if you are vaccinated. 
So while you can visit a port of embarkation before you board a ship without any restrictions it may…may…be different due to local regulations in particular areas (think US vs. State regulations) and the possible impact they may have on what you can do in prior or subsequent ports. Now, I am not saying that is the case, but it is quite possible.
As you are also aware, the cruise lines have been through quite an ordeal (Haven’t we all!), so they are going to be a bit conservative; erring on the side of not creating a public relations nightmare.  
Along those lines, you may have noticed that the cruise lines that have kept the fight to reopen out of the headlines are the ones that are actually starting operations, and the one that made the most noise AND threatened the CDC is now sitting on the sidelines. Yup! Royal Caribbean Group (Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Silversea) all are starting up next month. Carnival Corp is also starting up next month with Seabourn, Holland America, Princess, etc.  BUT NCL (Regent Seven Seas, Oceania, and Norwegian) – led by the ever-irritating, pompous, and grandstanding Frank Del Rio – isn’t starting up until September at the earliest and doesn’t plan on having all ships operating until February 2022.  (Remember he threated to pull his ships out of Florida to operate to protest Florida’s no vaccine passport law…but obviously he knew he wasn’t going to be operating!)  
This does raise, to my mind, NCL’s financial strength. It is just a feeling, but if you can’t afford to start up with the initial cruises running at a loss due to Travel Hesitancy, etc. , you aren’t going to be “In It to Win It”. With all of Del Rio’s news releases claiming everything is sold out, it just makes you wonder what the real deal is. I am not one to throw caution to the wind.

OK, with that out of the way, what are the new CDC Guidelines and Recommendations (and there is a big difference between the two):

  • Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise passengers and crew that—if they are fully vaccinated—they may gather or conduct activities outdoors, including engaging in extended meal service or beverage consumption, without wearing a mask.
  • Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise crew who are fully vaccinated that they do not have to wear a mask or maintain physical distance in areas of the ship that are inaccessible to passengers.
  • Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may designate areas as only accessible to fully vaccinated passengers and crew where masks and physical distancing are not required (e.g., casinos; bars; spas; entertainment venues; and dining areas, including self-serve buffets).
  • For ships with at least 95% of crew and 95% of passengers fully vaccinated, cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise passengers and crew that they do not have to wear a mask or maintain physical distance in any areas.

Now these are just Recommendations, not CDC requirements:

  • 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).
  • Limit seating capacity to allow for physical distancing of at least 6 feet (2 meters).
  • Discourage crowded waiting areas by using phone app, text technology, or signs to alert patrons when their table is ready. Avoid using “buzzers” or other shared objects.
  • Eliminate self-service food and drink options, such as self-service buffets, salad bars, and beverage stations.
  • Provide eating utensils in a way that prevents handling by more than one person.
  • Install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions in areas where it is difficult for individuals to maintain proper physical distance of at least 6 feet (2 meters), such as serving stations and food pick up areas.
  • Provide physical guides, such as tape on decks and signage, to remind individuals to maintain physical distance of at least 6 feet (2 meters) where food and beverages are served.
  • Provide and encourage outdoor dining and bar/beverage service options.
  • Provide and encourage in-room passenger dining service.
  • Limit any sharing of food, tools, equipment, or supplies by food workers, to the extent practicable.
  • Ensure adequate supplies to minimize sharing of high-touch materials (e.g., serving spoons) to the extent practicable; otherwise, limit use of supplies and equipment by one group of food workers at a time and clean and disinfect between use.
  • Avoid using or sharing of items that are reusable, such as menus, condiments, and any other food containers. Instead, use disposable menus, digital menus that can be disinfected between each use, online menus that can be retrieved on diners’ personal cell phones, single serving condiments, and no-touch trash cans and doors.
With these new Guidelines, and even the Recommendations, it appears the goal is to allow life onboard to quickly transition back to pre-pandemic life…with a few obvious modifications; and ones that really shouldn’t be an issue.  
So with masking, distanced dining and cocktails for those vaccinated being pretty much eliminated onboard (subject to the cruise lines concerns and rules), and the CDC not even barring self-service buffets, it may well be that the local governments may loosen up on requiring “bubble” tours for those who are confirmed to have been vaccinated. (With the initial cruises requiring 100% vaccination this shouldn’t be a heavy lift.)
Yes. Yes. I know. Being the first to get out there isn’t what most people want to do. 
Yes. Yes. I am going to be one of those first ones. I am getting out there as quickly as possible so you that don’t need to guess or worry; so that you know.

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