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CDC Approves Additional Cruises, but Disney Postpones Over COVID Tests

Disney postpones cruise while CDC approves more cruises
Oasis of the Seas has been approved for a test cruise to resume service (Royal Caribbean)

Published Jun 29, 2021 4:54 PM by The Maritime Executive

The cruise industry continues to make progress with its efforts to resume sailing from the U.S. ports, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorizing additional cruise ships to begin sailing, including one of the largest cruise ships in the world. The COVID-19 virus, however, continues to challenge the cruise lines while they await word on the resolution of Florida’s lawsuit that could potentially relax the rules to restart service.

In the latest high-profile setback for the industry, Disney Cruise Line announced that it had to indefinitely postpone its first planned simulated cruise under the CDC’s requirements to resume revenue service. Disney had planned a two-night cruise aboard its ship the 129,690 gross ton Disney Dream departing today, June 29, from Port Canaveral with 300 employees as the volunteers to test the health and safety protocols. In addition to being Disney’s first cruise, the trip would have been the first for a cruise ship with passengers from the central Florida port.

“The trip was postponed until next month, pending approvals, because a small number of employees had inconsistent results for COVID-19,” Disney said in its official statement. Reportedly, several crew members aboard the Disney Dream tested positive for the virus during the routine testing required by the CDC, although none were reporting any symptoms. The cruise line repeated the tests the following day, but under CDC rules conflicting tests are considered positive results.

The Disney Dream’s status has been updated to red on the CDC’s Color Status system, meaning that the ship cannot operate a simulated voyage at this time. The vessel needs to return to either green or orange status, which requires negative tests for all the crew members and restricts movement of crew on and off the ship during this period. The Disney Dream is the second of Disney Cruise Line’s ships with the Disney Wonder also currently coded as red, although ships can also receive a red status for reporting issues or crew movements not following the CDC restrictions. As of June 28, a total of 11 cruise ships are currently listed with red status, including ships operated by MSC Cruises, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Royal Caribbean International.

It is not the first instance where positive crew tests have delayed simulated voyages. Royal Caribbean International delayed by a month the planned first simulated voyage aboard its newest cruise ship, the Odyssey of the Seas, after 10 crew members tested positive two and a half weeks ago. Cruise ships that have entered service, however, have not been barred from continuing to sail despite positive COVID-19 tests among some of the first passengers. Both Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International reported positive tests for passengers on their first cruises, but in both cases the passengers were isolated, and the protocols worked with no additional reports of the virus aboard the ships.

The CDC has now approved a total of 11 cruise ships to operate simulated voyages and another eight for revenue voyages under the rules that require 95 percent of passengers and crew to be vaccinated. Among the ships to be approved for a simulated voyage, Royal Caribbean International announced that its 225,282 gross ton Oasis of the Seas, one of the world’s largest cruise ships, has been approved for a simulated voyage from the port in Bayonne, New Jersey on August 22. 

Today, June 29, Royal Caribbean also announced that its Freedom of the Seas has become the first ship to successfully complete the simulated voyage process and receive a conditional sailing certificate. The ship operated its simulated cruise earlier in June and now will sail its first revenue cruise on July 2 from PortMiami to the Bahamas.

All of this comes as the cruise industry waits for a resolution in Florida’s lawsuit seeking to overturn the CDC’s authority to restrict cruise operations from U.S. ports. In granting a temporary restraining order, the judge gave the CDC till July 2 to respond with a narrower set of restrictions within the court’s perception of the agency’s authority or to appeal. Otherwise, the restraining order goes into effect in mid-July, changing the current CDC restrictions to recommendations. At the same time, the judge extended the deadline for the CDC’s response to the lawsuit until July 22. The judge’s order also still calls for a new round of mediation seeking to settle the case.