Given up hope of taking that late summer or fall cruise? Starved for some Caribbean sun?
Hang on. The battle to reopen cruising out of South Florida—the world’s largest cruise market—has moved into high gear.
Under intensifying pressure from American political, travel, and cruise industry heavyweights, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is being forced to explain and justify the continuation of its ban on cruises out of US ports now that vaccination efforts are far outpacing the spread of COVID transmission and the cruise industry has itself committed to stringent new protocols designed to mitigate future spread onboard its ships.
Leading the charge to reopen cruising, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has threatened to sue the CDC to lift its Conditional Sailing Order (issued almost five months ago) banning cruise vessels with capacities exceeding 250 passengers from sailing in US waters, and to do so this summer. “This has a kind of ripple effect throughout all businesses… it affects a lot of jobs. What we need is a way forward,” says DeSantis, adding rhetorically: “Is it OK for government to idle an industry for a year with no end in sight?”
Kelly Craighead, CEO of Cruise Lines International Association, which represents more than 90 per cent of the world’s cruise ship companies, has charged that “The outdated CSO, which was issued almost five months ago, does not reflect the industry’s proven advancements and success in operating in other parts of the world, nor the advent of vaccines, and unfairly treats cruises differently from other… travel, tourism, hospitality and entertainment sectors.”
The American Society of Travel Advisors has also called for the CDC to “immediately lift its restrictions… and set July 1 as the date that cruising can resume from US ports.”
The barrage of demands for reopening cruising has rocked the CDC back on its heels. When Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski asked about the process for lifting the ban, CDC director Rochelle Walensky admitted that the decision to apply the CSO five months ago was not solely up to the CDC, but she was unsure which other federal agencies were involved. As it stands, the CSO remains in effect until Nov. 1, 2021. But given the broadsides from increasing sources, it may not hold up much longer.
Richard Fain, CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, summarized the cruise industry’s position simply: “The CSO was a very positive step at the time… But that time has passed.”
Repositioning ports is a short-term solution—at best
Within the past few weeks several cruise lines have repositioned vessels to ports outside of US waters, taking business away from ports in Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami—among the world’s largest cruise centres. But flying to offshore ports such as Bermuda, the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, Barbados, St. Lucia, or other ports to connect to your cruise of choice is an expensive supplement to the actual cruise cost. Not quite as easy as boarding in familiar “home” ports of South Florida, Texas, California, or British Columbia.
In addition, there still remains Canada’s own restrictions on out-of-country travel (or the ordeal for returning from international travel) that necessitates additional protection if you’re planning a cruise. You need to be especially diligent in selecting travel insurance that not only covers you for medical emergencies on board the ship or while in port stops along the way, but also protects you in case of itinerary changes, transfer delays, and especially cancellation or interruption occurrences.
Though most cruise lines now offer cash-back options (as well as future cruise credits) in their cancellation coverage, make sure you know the contract details. Many insurance packages offered by cruise lines are tailored for Americans and they don’t normally offer the extensive medical and emergency repatriation or cancellation benefits that are available in travel insurance products available in the Canadian market.
If and when cruising returns to some degree of normalcy, there are bound to be special deals, hard-to- believe prices, and a plethora of choices. But cruising is an expensive proposition. And you’ll need to do your homework.
Dream about the cruise. But navigate your contract.
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