This isn't the first time Carnival has announced a return to cruising in the last month. What's needed here is specifics on how things will be different (and safer) when ships set sail again.
Carnival Cruise Line on Monday announced a partial return to North American cruising for eight of its vessels on Aug. 1. The resumption would be just several days after the Centers for Disease Control’s current no sail order is set to expire.
The eight vessels would operate out of the home ports of Miami, Port Canaveral, Florida, and Galveston, Texas, the cruise line said. All other vessels in the fleet would stay docked further, until Aug. 31.
And then, Carnival seemed to backtrack slightly, issuing a second press release hours later, saying that “some of the media reports have not fully conveyed” its previous message. In the second release, it emphasized its plans were still tentative, and that the “current plan [is] contingent on a number of factors,” including “continued efforts in cooperation with federal, state, local and international government officials.”
The news of a resumption of some cruising came just a few days after the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure opened an inquiry into Carnival’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Cruising has been halted in the U.S. since March 14, when the CDC issued its first no sail order and all major lines paused itineraries.
While the plan to return to cruising may have raised some eyebrows — not to mention wonderment about who would be willing to go on a cruise ship so soon after harrowing scenes on some vessels — it’s worth pointing out that Carnival was at one point even more optimistic about setting sail. In mid-April it said it would resume cruising on June 27. This date was, bafflingly, roughly a full month before the CDC said it would be allowed to do so. Nevertheless, the company said yesterday all North American cruises it sold between June 27 and July 31 are now cancelled. It’s worth noting that there is always the possibility that the CDC may extend its no sail order once again.
In reference to yesterday’s second announcement, a spokesperson for Carnival told Skift that there is no guarantee ships will set sail on Aug. 1, “but the eight ships remain in the schedule as we continue to work with government officials on a potential return to service.” When cruising does resume, it will be with a “phased-in approach, no matter when that it is, and focus resources and new protocols on a limited number of operations – and from homeports where we have more frequency, and thus more resources to implement new procedures.”
The spokesperson added added that re-starting sailing out of homeports means more passengers can drive rather than fly commercially to the port of departure. “Regardless of when we return to service, it will not be an across-the-fleet return. And if we need to make additional adjustments to our schedule, we will do so, and inform our guests accordingly.”
Convoluted corporate communications aside, the question on many people’s minds is what changes the cruise line will make to ensure it doesn’t see a repeat of caseloads on its vessels. Despite CEO Arnold Donald and cruise line line lobbyists insisting cruise ships are no different than a theater or a restaurant when it comes to the virus’ spread, the CDC and other public health experts have repeatedly said that cruise ships “exacerbate the global spread of Covid-19″ and are “uniquely vulnerable.”
Carnival did not release any specifics on enhanced protocols in either of its Monday announcements. When asked by Skift about what changes it was planning to make, it similarly did not offer specifics.
“We are continuing to discuss internally and with government officials and public health experts on various new protocols. The CDC is very important in all this. But we also need to engage with the destinations we call on,” the company spokesperson said. “As our media statements have said, beyond the CDC, we must also secure the support of many other governmental officials so that they have confidence in our protocols and procedures. Those will be coming together as the result of all of those discussions at all levels over the coming weeks and months.”
In April, all cruise lines were asked to submit a detailed plan to the CDC about how they would curb the spread of Covid-19 on board vessels, and prevent being a drain on U.S. shoreside resources in terms of rescue and medical logistics. (Carnival’s vessels, like almost all of the cruise industry’s, are registered outside in the U.S. in nations with anemic enforcement capacity.) The industry lobbying group the Cruise Lines International Association was also part of a consortium of travel sectors who proposed guidelines to the White House and state leaders on Monday on how travel companies can safely resume.
Skift reached out to the CDC to ask for comment; we will update this post if it responds.
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Photo credit: The Carnival Legend docked in port. Chris O'Meara / Associated Press