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Carnival Receives CDC Approvals as Cruise Restart Plan Progress

Carnival receives CDC approval as it prepares to restart cruises
Carnival's cruise ships returned to Galveston on May 1, 2021 to prepare for a return to service (Carnival Cruise Line)

Published May 28, 2021 4:42 PM by The Maritime Executive

Carnival Corporation received notification from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention that it has accepted the company’s agreements with PortMiami, the Port of Galveston, and Port Canaveral as a key step in the restart of cruise operations for Carnival Cruise Line. The CDC’s approval for Carnival comes in the same week the health agency also approved Celebrity Cruises to become the first large ship cruise line to restart cruises from a U.S. port and approved Royal Caribbean International’s plan for a simulated cruise.

The CDC’s Conditional Sail Order requires each cruise line to develop plans and reach agreements with the ports regarding operations and a protocol in case COVID-19 is identified aboard the ship. The CDC said this was to prevent the situations that happened in the spring of 2020 when cruise ships became stranded at sea after passengers were diagnosed with the virus and also to prevent the cruise ships from overloading the health care system in the regions from which the ships are sailing.

“These agreements move us one step closer to sailing with our loyal guests,” said Lars Ljoen, executive vice president and chief maritime officer for Carnival Cruise Line.  “We appreciate the support from not just these three homeport partners, but all of our homeports, that are eager to have us back as soon as possible.”

While Carnival announced that it had received these approvals, the cruise line did not provide details on its next steps. The CDC is requiring the cruise lines to apply for permission to operate simulated cruises with volunteer passengers to demonstrate the effectiveness of their onboard protocols and adjust any deficiencies that are found during the cruises. The lines can then apply for permission to resume revenue cruises.

Alternately the cruise line can certify to the CDC that their ship is operating with 95 percent of both the passengers and crew fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and then they can skip the required simulated voyages. Celebrity Cruises opted for this route but all the cruise lines face an additional hurdle with the state of Florida where the governor signed an executive order making it illegal for a business to ask for proof of vaccination or limit services only to people who are vaccinated. Florida has the right to fine a business if it asks for proof of vaccination. So far, the cruise lines have only said that they are in discussion with Florida on this issue. 

Recently, the CDC also relaxed some of its guidelines for the operation of the cruise ships reflecting the increasing number of Americans that have received COVID-19 vaccinations. The CDC is no longer requiring fully vaccinated passengers and crew to wear face covers or to maintain social distancing in an increased number of setting aboard cruise ships. For ships that are not exclusively carrying vaccinated passengers, the CDC is saying that the cruise ships could designate areas for only vaccinated passengers where masks are not required.

Carnival Cruise Line has not said if it intends to limit its first cruises to vaccinated passengers and if it has made arrangements for all of its crew to be vaccinated. 

Previously, Carnival Cruise Line announced that PortMiami and the Port of Galveston were its priority and that it planned to restart cruises from both of those ports in July 2021. The Carnival Horizon is expected to be the line’s first cruise ship sailing from Miami, while both the Carnival Vista and Carnival Breeze are expected to start sailing from Galveston. Carnival also said that it has identified Port Canaveral as a restart priority. The line said it would announce plans for operations from the central Florida port over the coming days.