Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
After two years of navigating the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday (March 30) removed its COVID-19 notice against cruise travel.
"Travel Health Notices" are issued by the CDC to notify Americans about issues that could impact health, such as disease outbreaks or natural disasters.
While cruising no longer carries a COVID-19 risk warning, that doesn’t mean risks have disappeared completely, the CDC clarified yesterday.
"While cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission, travellers will make their own risk assessment when choosing to travel on a cruise ship, much like they do in all other travel settings," the U.S. health agency said in a statement.
The CDC's latest move offers hope to U.S.-based cruise lines, such as Carnival Corp, Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which have struggled to kickstart business as the sector faced some of the strictest of COVID-19 measures.
The CDC’s guidance for cruises – which can influence global policies and consumer confidence – no longer shows a scale for warnings on the agency’s website.
Instead, the CDC now only advises cruise passengers to make sure they are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines before boarding ships.
“This was a long time coming”
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) issued a statement on Wednesday, applauding the news.
“Today’s decision by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to altogether remove the Travel Health Notice for cruising recognizes the effective public health measures in place on cruise ships and begins to level the playing field, between cruise and similarly situated venues on land, for the first time since March 2020,” CLIA stated.
“From the onset of the pandemic, CLIA’s cruise line members have prioritized the health and safety of their guests, crew, and the communities they visit and are sailing today with health measures in place that are unmatched by virtually any other commercial setting.”
Caroline Hay, president of Cruise CEO, a cruise-focused host agency that launched in Canada last year, had two words: "All aboard!"
The "wonderful news" is proof that the industry has "successfully shown time and time again that their health and safety protocols are effective," Hay told PAX.
"Clients and agents alike can be assured that cruising today is one of the best vacation options," Hay said. "We’ve seen a surge of bookings over the past month for sailings this year and clients now eager to use their FCCs as well as making new future voyages."
Hay added that cruise line partners have been "great to ensure that we have incentives, promotions, and knowledge."
"Now it’s up to us to fill the ships!" Hay said. "Cruising is back and it's back with a vengeance!"
Brenda Lynne Yeomans, strategic market manager at Celebrity Cruises Canada, said the announcement "proves that the CDC trusts and is confident with our healthy at sea protocols and they want the world to know it."
"It’s safe to cruise! We actually have known that all along," Yeomans told PAX.
Celebrity has been back in service for 10 months now and "we really want to thank our travel partners for their support and trusting us," Yeomans added.
"We definitely see more Canadians booking cruises now. Especially guests who have Future Cruise Credits that they must use on a sailing before Dec. 31, 2022," she said. "Guests are also spoiling themselves by choosing more luxury accommodations like Retreat Class."
"And once our beautiful ships arrive in Vancouver for the Alaska season this May, this will inspire many more Canadians to call their travel partner and book a Celebrity cruise. We are ready."
"An important step forward"
Tom McAlpin, CEO of Virgin Voyages, said Wednesday that he was “absolutely thrilled” to see the CDC remove cruise travel as a health notice.
In a statement Wednesday, McAlpin said “this was a long time coming” and called it “refreshing to see them meet us where we’re at, and clearly where our consumers are at considering the major uptick in demand we’ve seen.”
Holland America Line President Gus Antorcha also chimed in, calling the update “an important step forward in recognizing the work we have done to protect our guests.”
“At Holland America Line, we continue to operate vaccinated cruises and have created a safe and healthy environment for our guests, our teams, and the communities we serve, helping to ensure cruising is among the safest forms of socializing and travel,” Antorcha stated.
“With the remainder of our ships set to return to service in the coming weeks, Holland America Line is looking forward to safely welcoming more guests back to cruising this spring and summer as we explore Alaska, Canada, New England, and Europe.”
Canada lifted its ban on cruise ships on Nov. 1, 2021, and earlier this month, federal officials downgraded its warning against cruise travel, instead advising fully vaccinated passengers to exercise caution.
With files from the Miami Herald.
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