You can feel the optimism in the air -- it is palpable. We're going to beat this thing and, for many of us, we're literally going to sail away from it.
On April 28, the major cruise lines that had been arguing the impracticality of a series of "test" sailings won their argument. Now, in place of test cruises, each of the major lines will have to agree to vaccinate virtually all crew members while assuring the CDC that 95% of passengers will be fully vaccinated.
Thus, the CDC has lifted the cruise ban in North America that originally went into effect in March 2020. Since that time, we have had clear statements from the CDC about their assumptions about cruising.
In November of last year, the CDC rated cruising as a "Level 4" Covid Risk, which translates to "avoid at all costs." They then issued a statement that was not at all ambiguous:
"The CDC recommends that all people avoid travel on cruise ships, including river cruises, worldwide, because the risk of Covid-19 on cruise ships is very high."
That was clear enough to send cruise stock prices tumbling and instill fear in the minds of those anxious to begin planning a vacation at sea. This was a government body issuing "No Sail" orders to regulate an industry with worldwide reach and ramifications. This was a government-ordered shutdown.
All of which raised any number of questions in my mind. There may well be other viruses that challenge our industry in the future. In order to handle them better we should consider several basic operational questions:
Who gave the CDC the authority to determine how dangerous cruising is in a pandemic?
Without boring you with legalities, let's look at the three major areas that the CDC seems to regulate under its authority. They are hospitals, senior living facilities and cruise ships.
Under two CDC chiefs, Robert Redfield and the current Biden-appointed director Rochelle Walensky, the cruise industry has been in the Covid crosshairs. But where does this authority come from? How many other major industries in the U.S. can you name that were forced to operate under federally enforced rules set by the CDC? What other industries received formal statements from the CDC saying no citizen should support their products?
What other areas of travel received similar CDC scrutiny and "stop business" orders from the CDC?
Are citizens being told they must avoid all hotels? My cruise ship stateroom is always cleaned a minimum of two times a day. My clients are given reports showing the pre-Covid cleaning practices at various hotel chains. In some cases, sheets are changed at a "maid's discretion." That, in fact, is the norm at our most popular hotel chains. What about just issuing a "No Fly" order for any aircraft with more than 50 seats? How about shopping malls, theaters, concert venues and houses of worship? Are they receiving anything like the level of scrutiny the North American cruise industry has been forced to endure?
Why didn't the CDC's orders take into account that cruising has restarted in several major cruise centers worldwide?
Have you seen much media coverage of the fact that more than 400,000 passengers have been cruising in Asia and Europe with great success and an almost complete lack of reported Covid cases? Did the CDC publicly acknowledge that river cruises have been operating on a regular basis by simply filling their berths with guests from the countries where the ships are actually sailing?
Let's all vow to do better if there is a "next time." Thanks to the most recent CDC ruling, the graceful ladies will again take to the seas this summer. From my perspective, Mr. Donald, Mr. Fain and Mr. Del Rio have shown a level of patience that is almost beyond my comprehension.