Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

With the CDC set to make its Conditional Sailing Order voluntary starting Jan. 15, cruise lines will be able to decide whether to maintain the protocols they've had in place in order to operate from U.S. ports.

As of now, executives are saying they will let science and the pandemic trajectory determine whether they'd make changes to the protocols they've already put in place.

The CDC said last month that it plans to transition to a voluntary program in coordination with cruise operators to assist the industry in detecting, mitigating and controlling the spread of Covid-19 on ships.

Current ship protocols include a combination of vaccination thresholds, test sailings, mask mandates and many other technical instructions and agreements with land-based facilities such as hospitals.

At Norwegian, vaccine rules will stay

The Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings brands are among those with the strictest vaccine requirement: no shots, no cruise. And CEO Frank Del Rio said he has no current plans to drop it.

"We have indefinitely extended our 100% vaccination requirement," he said during the company's third-quarter update. "I think that today that continues to be a competitive advantage to our three brands. I think that our three brands emerged from this Covid crisis in much better standing in the consumers' eyes because of our strong early stance on health and safety vaccinations, etc. And it's something we want to build on."

Del Rio said that research indicated that cruising's target market is more likely than the general population to be vaccinated and that the CDC's approval of the vaccine for 5-to-11 year-olds will translate into more children being vaccinated and therefore eligible to cruise on Norwegian ships.

"So it's a bit of a self-selection situation," he said, adding that the company will not "sacrifice the health and safety of anyone for the sake of adding a point or two or three or whatever the number is to load. So we will continue mandating 100% vaccination as long as the science dictates that that's what we ought to do."

Royal Caribbean will collaborate with CDC

Royal Caribbean International CEO Michael Bayley indicated during a recent earnings call that the line would continue to collaborate with the CDC and that the line would "voluntarily operate" the CDC's protocols even after the order comes to a technical end on Jan. 15.

Bayley also believes that the protocols in general will be less burdensome next year.

"Some of the protocols that we have in place will naturally fall away as the pandemic moves further and further in the rearview mirror," he said. "So I think as we move into '22, hopefully, what we'll see is the protocols become easier and less cumbersome for our customers."

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