The cruise industry continues to make progress in its efforts to resume sailing from U.S. ports as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has cleared more cruise ships, including one of the world’s largest. However, the COVID-19 virus continues to challenge cruise lines as they await word on the resolution of the Florida lawsuit, which could relax rules to resume service.
In the latest high-profile setback for the industry, Disney Cruise Line announced that it had to indefinitely postpone its first mock cruise planned under CDC requirements to resume revenue service. Disney had planned a two-night cruise aboard its 129,690-gross-ton ship Disney Dream, which was to depart last June 29, from Port Canaveral, with 300 employees volunteering to test health and safety protocols. In addition to being Disney’s first cruise ship, the voyage would have been the first by a cruise ship with passengers from Central Florida Harbor.
“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. Apparently, several crew members aboard the Disney Dream tested positive for the routine tests required by the CDC, although none of them had symptoms. The cruise line repeated the tests the next day, but according to CDC rules conflicting tests are considered positive results.
The Disney Dream’s status has been updated to red in the CDC’s Color Status system, which means the ship cannot conduct a simulated voyage at this time. The ship must revert to green or orange status, which requires negative tests for all crew members and restricts crew movement on and off the ship during this period. The Disney Dream is the second of Disney Cruise Line’s ships, as the Disney Wonder is also currently on red status, although ships can also receive a red status for reporting problems or crew movements that do not follow 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.
This is not the first case in which positive crew tests have delayed mock voyages. Royal Caribbean International delayed the first planned simulated voyage aboard its new cruise ship, the Odyssey of the Seas, by a month after 10 crew members tested positive two and a half weeks ago. However, cruise ships that have entered service have not been prevented from continuing to sail despite positive COVID-19 results among some of the first passengers. Both Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International reported positive tests in passengers on their first cruise ships, but in both cases the passengers were isolated and protocols worked without further reports of the virus aboard the ships.
CDC has now approved a total of 11 cruise ships for mock voyages and another eight for business voyages under rules requiring 95% of passengers and crew to be vaccinated. Among the ships approved for a mock 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 mock voyage from the port of Bayonne, New Jersey, on August 22.
Royal Caribbean has 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 conducted its simulated cruise in early June and will now conduct its first revenue cruise from PortMiami to the Bahamas.
All this comes as the cruise industry awaits a resolution in the Florida lawsuit seeking to overturn the CDC’s authority to restrict cruise ship operations from U.S. ports. In granting a temporary restraining order, the judge gave the CDC until 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 will go into effect in mid-July, changing the CDC’s current restrictions to recommendations.