What happened

Shares of cruise stocks Royal Caribbean (RCL -0.30%), Carnival (CCL -0.41%) (CUK -0.30%), and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH -0.86%) surged ahead in Friday trading, gaining 5.8%, 6.2%, and 6.4%, respectively, by 11:20 a.m. EDT. 

3 cruise liner ships lined up abreast in port

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Yesterday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a partial lifting of the nationwide mask mandate, advising that "fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance."

Those are a lot of caveats, admittedly. But the major import of the new guidance update is that:

  • If you have received your complete round of COVID-19 vaccinations (whether the Pfizer or Moderna two-shot vaccines, or the Johnson & Johnson single shot), then you can "resume [most] activities that you did prior to the pandemic ... without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart."
  • "If you travel in the United States, you do not need to get tested before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel."
  • "You do NOT need to get tested before leaving the United States unless your destination requires it."
  • "You do NOT need to self-quarantine after arriving in the United States."
  • But "you still need to show a negative test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before boarding an international flight to the United States."

Because cruise ships are transport vessels, and most people have to travel to reach their cruise ships in the first place, it's probably also important to note that the CDC says, "you will still be required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations." 

Now what

That all sounds like very good news for the cruise industry. Commenting yesterday, CruiseIndustryNews.com noted that "additional guidelines for the cruise industry are also expected to be released shortly," which may clarify whether masks and social distancing will still be required for vaccinated cruisers. But the momentum of the mandates appears to be shifting in favor of lifting old restrictions, and away from imposing new ones (or extending the old ones, a month at a time).

But to add one note of caution: Since the new "framework for conditional sailing order" was announced in November, the cruise industry is still awaiting clear guidance on when it will be able to resume cruising at all.

Until the CDC clears the cruise industry to resume cruising, there's still no guarantee of when these companies can get back to business, resume booking material revenue, and stop burning cash. In short, this cruise industry recession is not over yet.