The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's no-sail order banning cruise ships from sailing out of U.S. ports is all but history.
Friday afternoon, the CDC replaced its series of no-sail orders, issued in response to the coronavirus earlier this year, with a framework for a conditional sailing order instead.
Shares of Carnival (NYSE:CCL), Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NASDAQ:NCLH), and Royal Caribbean (NYSE:RCL) immediately jumped on the news. At the close today, the stocks were up 5.6%, 5.5%, and 4.8%, respectively.
So what exactly has changed? The latest no-sail order was already set to expire after tomorrow, Oct. 31, permitting cruise operators to resume cruising on Nov. 1. So basically, what the CDC has just done is lay out the rules by which cruise operators can do that while aiming, it says, "to mitigate the COVID-19 risk to passengers and crew, prevent the further spread of COVID-19 from cruise ships into U.S. communities, and protect public health and safety."
It will do this by taking a phased approach to resuming cruise operations in U.S. waters.
That means initially, cruise companies will need to prepare adequate health and safety protections for crew members. Next, they need to set up laboratory capacity to test future passengers, including on board their ships.
This accomplished, cruise companies can begin conducting "simulated voyages."
Cruise companies will, however, need to apply for and receive a COVID-19 Conditional Sailing Certificate before actually recommencing commercial operations carrying passengers. Even with such a certificate, cruises will be limited to no longer than 7 days, unless the CDC permits otherwise. And cruises will have to be cut short and canceled in the event of a coronavirus outbreak onboard.
The upshot: Even once the no-sail order is lifted on Nov. 1, and the framework for a conditional sailing order takes it place, investors should assume it's going to still be some weeks before cruise stocks resume cruising at all, and perhaps months or years before they're cruising again like they used to.
This recession is far from over.