Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) directly asked that the CDC lift its Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) and enable the company to resume sailing on July 4, and it said it would require full vaccination of all guests and crew when it relaunches.
The parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises brands sent a letter to the CDC today outlining its plan to resume cruising from U.S. ports in July that includes a multilayered health and safety program that it said is consistent with the CDC's updated guidance that international travel is safe for fully vaccinated individuals and that Covid vaccination efforts will be critical for the safe resumption of cruise travel.
"By requiring full and complete vaccinations of guests and crew, we believe our extensive health and safety standards share in the spirit and exceed the intent of the CDC's existing [CSO] to advance public health goals and to protect guests, crew and the communities we visit," said NCLH CEO Frank Del Rio in the letter. "Therefore, we respectfully request the CDC lift the CSO for all NCLH cruise vessels departing from U.S. ports effective July 4, 2021."
In contrast to the vaccine mandates from Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity and UnCruise, NCLH is not exempting children from the vaccine requirements.
"We look forward to the day when we can safely welcome onboard our ships minors who have not yet been eligible to be vaccinated, when the public health environment allows us to modify our protocols accordingly," the company said.
Del Rio argued that the line's protocols "extend well beyond the protocols of other travel, leisure and hospitality sectors, all of which have already reopened, including hotels and resorts, casinos, restaurants, sporting venues, theme parks and airlines."
In the letter, NCLH said that the line would incorporate the protocols developed by the Healthy Sail Panel (HSP) of experts led by former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt and former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Dr. Scott Gottlieb, including universal testing of guests and crew and launching at an initial reduced capacity of 60%, gradually ramping up its fleet departing from U.S. ports and increasing capacity by 20% every 30 days.
"We believe that a cruise ship with a fully vaccinated population when combined with the virus protection defenses provided by the HSP protocols is one of the safest vacation options available," Del Rio wrote.
NCLH became the first cruise line to directly call on the CDC to lift its CSO, joining a growing list of travel groups, senators, governors and mayors also asking that cruise companies be permitted to resume service with a phased-in approach.
Del Rio stressed that because the return to service plan mandates the entire population on its ships be vaccinated, it "reduces the risk of outbreaks and severe Covid-19 cases. Accordingly, we will not require federal, state or local governments to incur time and/or resources in providing medical assistance to our brands' guests as we have invested tens of millions of dollars in enhanced onboard health and safety protocols, including, but not limited to, enhanced hospital-grade air filtration systems, cutting-edge contact tracing technology and significantly upgraded ICU and quarantine medical facilities. Our vessels are well equipped to handle the one-off case of infection that could occur, and our procedures are well detailed and resourced to treat, address and otherwise handle any isolated case onboard."
In its request to resume sailing, NCLH noted that over the past eight months the cruise industry has carried nearly 400,000 passengers in more than 10 major cruise markets outside the U.S. "with only a few isolated Covid-19 cases that were effectively identified, contained and mitigated without impacting the health or interrupting the vacations of others. This was all done prior to the availability of widespread vaccinations."
NCLH's request came shortly after the CDC released long-awaited technical guidelines on the CSO that included a recommendation that all port personnel, passengers and crew have a Covid-19 vaccine once it is available to them, but did little to move the industry closer to a restart date.