Bad News Cruise Update : Alaska Cancelled, Masks, Kid Ban, River Plans, Vaccines & More - The Comprehensive Minds

BAD NEWS CRUISE UPDATE: ALASKA CANCELLED, Masks, Kid Ban, River Plans, Vaccines & More

Cruise News Update


Has a new CDC ruling set cruising back much further than it appears? The first US   cruise lines make vaccines mandatory! Is Alaska cruising a no-go this year? Are Europe river cruises off the cards for non-Europeans? What cruises have children actually been banned from?   This is the latest of my cruise updates where I unpick the latest developments, and what they mean for you and for me as cruisers. There are lots to cover, so let's get going.  

Alaska Season?

I had been talking about the big hurdles for the Alaska opening, but one of the big hurdles has now become a huge issue. Canada has announced that they have put a ban on all cruise ships for a year right through to February 2022.   

This means that it's likely that there will be no Alaska season since those cruise ships are able to go into Canada and under US law all ships that leave from Seattle, or any other part of the US or going into the US - so calling to Alaska - have to call it a foreign port, and they all call on Canada. 

It's extremely unlikely that the US will lift the Passenger Act which requires that, so certainly that is a huge deal, and it certainly looks like the 2021 season is going to have to be canceled. The actual order bans adventure-seeking pleasure craft, all passenger vessels carrying more than 12 people, and all cruise vessels carrying 100 or more people are prohibited from operating in Canadian waters. 

Importantly also, the Canadian government strongly increases advice for Canadians not to go on cruises anywhere in the world. More to come as this happens, but the Alaska season you'll likely see being canceled because of this ban. 

Resumption Date?

First, a reminder that no-one knows when cruises will be returning in the USA and beyond. It certainly is not soon. This has just been confirmed by Richard Fain, head of the Royal Caribbean Group,   who in his most recent video said: "My answer is consistent, I don't know".

At the start of February, the US CDC issued an order on the wearing of masks on all forms of transport including trains, planes, taxis, ride-shares, and cruise ships. It has some really big implications for cruising when it returns in and out of the USA. 

The rules are much stricter than the lines had proposed in their return-to-cruise protocols and even harsher than what is in place for the Italian and German lines sailing in Europe. There is also a key ruling in there about testing and vaccines that most media reporting on the order seems to have missed. 

Stronger Mask Rules?

The CDC order says (and I quote) "Conveyance operators traveling into or within the United States may transport only persons wearing masks and must use best efforts to ensure that masks are worn when embarking, disembarking, and throughout the duration of travel" They go on to say masks must be worn until arrival at the foreign destination. Here are 4 big things that struck me on all of this: 

First, and most important, masks covering both nose and mouth have to be worn during the entire journey except (quote) "While eating, drinking, or taking medication,   for brief periods". Note the emphasis "entire journey" and on "brief periods". 

This entire journey ruling is pretty big. It seems to follow more the approach used in Asia, rather than Europe. For example, Royal Caribbean Quantum of the Seas sailing out of Singapore require passengers to wear face masks in nearly all public places, both indoor and outdoor, regardless of physical distancing measures. 

So for example, masks have to be worn around the pool, but not when in the pool itself This CDC order makes wearing at all times even when distancing is possible. 

Secondly, the lines will have to have strict enforcement, as the order says if people do not comply,  the carrier should "at the earliest opportunity, disembark any person who refuses to comply". This too mirrors the Singapore approach. The line was forced to increase people monitoring mask-wearing and increase warnings to guests. 

Thirdly, everyone over the age of 2 has to wear masks. This seems pretty low age. The only exception for not wearing is for a registered disability who cannot safely wear a mask, which will need documentation of some form it seems. 

Fourthly, and this is key too, masks are still required for anyone who has been vaccinated as well as those who have recovered from COVID-19. The CDC says the reason for this is that while “vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe or symptomatic COVID-19,  at this time there is limited information on how much the available COVID-19 vaccines may reduce transmission in the general population and how long protection lasts" Once we see the final technical details for the test cruises required by the CDC, we will no doubt have this spelled out in more specific detail by the lines. 

Vaccines required Closer?

In a big development, two more cruise lines - and the first   USA-based ones - have announced they are to make vaccines required, joining Saga cruises. The lines are the American Queen Steamboat Company and Victory Cruise Lines, which will require them from 1 July. 

By then they estimate that their target passengers will have had the opportunity to be vaccinated. There is a development in the United States that is now likely to make it easier for, and may eventually even require, the lines to go down this route. 

The CDC  in their recent order said that travel operators like cruise lines can (another quote) “impose requirements, or conditions for carriage . . . as well as require evidence that the person does not have COVID-19 . . .” So they are giving permission for lines to lay down conditions on who they will take. 

It seems possible to me that as the CDC is now requiring the wearing of a mask and testing as a   condition of cruising, the next logical step will be to add vaccines to that, as they do see these as the most effective way to stop the serious illness from with the virus as I mentioned already. 

The CDC requiring it would certainly make it easier for the lines to move down this route. It is worth noting that 50% of cruiser passengers, based on 2019 data from CLIA (Cruise line association) are over 60, and almost three-quarters are over 40 years of age. The biggest age group of passengers is in the 60 - 69 age. So these ages are ones that are all high on the vaccine priority lists, are likely to have had them before cruising resumes so and lines that focus on these like the US river cruise and Saga Cruises went that way, will others follow? 

River Cruising?

I get a lot of people asking for updates and news about river cruising, mostly for Europe. There has been some recent news and updates. 

We are already seeing some lines pushing the hoped-for start of their season into May and June, with TUI River Cruises being the latest now moving into June. There has also been a River Cruise Europe industry meeting (held virtually of course) with 30 of the river cruise line members taking part which revealed a lot. 

They see this year as a transition year after the wipeout of 2020 and what they think will be a major return in 2022. Most are not expecting to return all their fleet into service, and many expecting just half of their ships to sail. 

It all hinges on which travelers they cater for, Lines with mostly European guests, like CroisiEurope,   are still hopeful they may be able to start sailing in  April, May, or June) for Lines that rely on English-speaking guests, mostly from the United States, like Amawaterways, say when and how the season starts will depend on when travel between the United States and into Europe opens freely, with the pace of vaccine roll out on both sides likely to be the determinate of that. 

They hope that if a significant number of Americans are vaccinated for COVID-19,   which is possible as much of their audience is in the older age group who have priority, then river cruise ships that cater to North Americans will be back to operations by later on the summer (July / August or not long after thereafter). 

They are working on the assumption too that airlines or countries in Europe may make vaccinations a requirement to travel freely and without restrictions, which would make Americans more able and willing to join European river cruises. 

Protocols that were used in the few 2020 sailings will remain for 2021, including reduced capacity,  mask-wearing, pre-boarding health screenings, COVID-19 tests for the crew, daily temperature checks for passengers and crew, and the removal of self-service dining. 

If you want to river cruise in Europe this year, push your booking as late in the season as possible is my advice. American river cruise lines, like the American Steamboat Company and Victory cruises, are hoping to resume in March and April. I hope you found this all helpful. 

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