The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is inching closer to getting cruise ship operators back to sailing again, but it's moving at a glacial pace that continues to harm the industry.
Yesterday, the CDC issued its phase 2B and 3 guidelines of its conditional sailing orders that give cruise lines technical instructions on how to conduct simulated voyages. It says the industry has "all the necessary requirements and recommendations they need to start simulated voyages before resuming restricted passenger voyages."
It's not the all-clear sign the industry needs or wants, but it's another step forward.
Under the guidelines, cruise operators can test their safety plans by conducting simulated voyages with volunteer passengers who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. They must sail for two to seven days with at least one overnight stay and agree to be monitored for a period of time afterward.
Cruise operators can skip the simulations if they vow that 98% of their crew members and 95% of their passengers are vaccinated.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NYSE:NCLH) previously asked the CDC to waive its requirements because the company is requiring 100% of its crew and passengers to be vaccinated. Both Carnival (NYSE:CCL)(NYSE:CUK) and Royal Caribbean (NYSE:RCL) say they're monitoring the agency's guidance on how best to proceed.
The situation is complicated because Florida banned the use of so-called "vaccine passports" before being able to participate in daily life. Gov. Ron DeSantis is suing the CDC to allow cruise lines to begin sailing immediately.
"If you look at what's going on in Europe, in Asia, and in other parts, these cruise lines are sailing," he said. "They have been sailing safely even in areas where there's not widespread vaccine availability."
Norwegian says once it gets CDC approval, it will work with the governor to begin sailing out of Florida.