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CDC cruise guidance includes mask, excursion protocols

The CDC this week released guidance for the first cruises to launch from U.S. ports, which includes rules regarding mask use, shore excursions and social distancing.

Frank Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH), expressed disappointment in the regulations, especially given NCLH's plan to operate ships with 100% of the crew and passengers vaccinated.

"I am disappointed at first read. I'm going to give the CDC an opportunity to expand and clarify," he said on the company's earnings call May 6. "For example even though everyone onboard would be vaccinated, in between bites of your meal and in between sips of your beverage, you have to put on your mask, take off your mask. So nobody should order soup because your mask might get sloppy. So that, to me, is just preposterous."

Indeed, the operations manual for a trial cruise says that "removal of the mask for extended meal service or beverage consumption would constitute a violation" of the agency's current mask order.

Another place says that cruisers would have to be masked is on the pool deck. The CDC says masks should be worn while "congregating outside of recreational water facilities and while seated on the pool deck area."

The ships would also have to restrict whirlpools to the same family or traveling companions, since it is difficult to enable social distancing requirements of at least six feet between bathers.

The CDC also prohibits passengers from freely exploring in ports of call, something many cruise lines already do, although Norwegian Cruise Line said it will not have to do this because its contingency of crew and passengers on ships relaunching service this summer will be 100% vaccinated.

The rules prohibit "self-guided or independent exploration by passengers during port stops" and mandates that all shore excursion companies "facilitate social distancing to allow for at least six feet between individuals who are not traveling companions or part of the same family, mask-wearing, cleaning and disinfection."

The CDC also says that as a "best practice," cruise lines should limit shore excursions in foreign ports of call to countries listed as Level 1: Covid-19 Low in the CDC's Covid-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination. As of now, around 80% of the world is above Level 1, including the United States.

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