NATIONWIDE — Cruise voyages in U.S. waters could resume by midsummer under an updated Conditional Sailing Order released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

What You Need To Know

The "CDC remains committed to the resumption of passenger operations in the United States following the requirements in the CSO by midsummer, which aligns with the goals announced by many major cruise lines and travelers," an agency spokesperson said in a released statement. "CDC looks forward to continued engagement with the industry and urges cruise lines to submit Phase 2A port agreements as soon as possible to maintain the timeline of passenger voyages by mid-July."

The mid-July timeline isn't definite; it hinges on cruise lines’ pace and compliance with the updates to the CDC's Conditional Sailing Order.

The five "clarifications" to the order are:

  1. If a ship has 98% of its crew and 95% of its passengers fully vaccinated, ships may proceed to open-water sailing with passengers instead of the previous requirement to conduct "simulated" voyages, or test sailings without passengers.
  2. The CDC will review and respond to applications for simulated voyages within five days, down from the anticipated 60-day waiting period. 
  3. Cruise ship operators may enter into a multiport agreement (as opposed to a single-port agreement), provided that relevant port and local health authorities are signatories to the agreement.
  4. Testing and quarantine requirements for cruise passengers and crew will more closely align with the CDC’s guidance for fully vaccinated persons. Fully vaccinated individuals will no longer need to undergo NAAT testing (often a nasal test); instead, they can now take a simple viral test (NAA or antigen) upon embarkation. This testing change is for the restricted revenue sailings in Phase 4 of the CSO.
  5. The CDC clarified guidance on ventilation systems, and passengers who live within driving distance will be able to quarantine at home.

Port Canaveral Director Captain John Murray said Similar to international airline flights, the cruise industry will likely have to comply with overseas requirements for certain restrictions, such as requiring vaccinations, Port Canaveral Director Captain John Murray said.

“The cruise industry will be driven by international requirements, as opposed to state requirements,” Murray said. “Obviously, it’s something that we’ll have to work out with the governor, but I don’t think that’s a big problem.”

Murray declined to say which of the cruise lines he expects to return first and during which month, saying cruise lines should provide that information, but he said he is optimistic.

“Very optimistic that we could have something by summer time. We have multiple cruise partners, as you know, and everybody is excited to get going again,” Murray said.

The CSO order from October directed cruise lines to take steps to protect crews and passengers before they could resume sailing, such as safety inspections and simulated sailings. It was set to expire in November.

Earlier this month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state is suing the federal government over the continued shutdown of the cruise industry. That shutdown began in March of last year with the CDC’s no-sail order.

Peter Cranis, the executive director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism, said the pressure likely helped move things more quickly. 

“After a year of not having cruising, the cruise industry, our governor, our state’s senators, the Congress have been looking at this," Cranis said. "I mean, we’re just excited that we have an opportunity to get back to cruising again.”