Cruising’s Responsible Return to Sailing

What you need to know about the safety of cruising
in the current travel landscape

Cruising’s Responsible Return to Sailing

Why I feel safer now on a cruise ship than in my hometown

– The Points Guy –

As we officially and finally transition from an exhausting two years of global pandemic into a declared epidemic – that still threatens lives, vitality, economies and certainly the travel sector – we are also seeing the return to some normalcy and resuming our lives with closer resemblance to pre-COVID familiarity than we have experienced in two years.

With pandemic fatigue, missing our social ties, and the yearning to connect with the world again, we are seeing a steep resurgence in travel – an unparalleled boom in travel bookings for an industry hard hit by the pandemic. Arguably the most severely affected of these sectors has been the cruise industry, which voluntarily suspended operations initially for 30 days in March of 2020 and extended its pause well beyond any foreseeable projections. While cases spiked onboard cruise ships – as it did everywhere in the world – at the outset of the pandemic, pausing operations was the right thing to do. Now, cruise lines all over the globe have gone through extreme lengths to responsibly return to sailing.

As a Cruise Director having worked onboard ships for 20 years, I can personally attest to the measures painstakingly put in place, the companies’ dedicated adherence and enforcement to the unparalleled protocols in the travel industry, and very personal guest experience over the past several months of how safe our guests have felt onboard. It has been extraordinary to witness and take part in the comeback and to partake in the guests’ enjoyment of being back at sea and, often, feel safer than they do on land.

But don’t take my just-one-person word for it. Let’s consult with some of the biggest names in the industry: CLIA, ASTA, The Points Guy, and even the CDC.

Gene Sloan from The Points Guy writes, “After seeing what I’ve seen on ships and comparing it to what I’m seeing at home, there’s not much doubt in my mind about which environment presents more risk right now for me as I try to avoid exposure to COVID-19. It’s being in North Carolina, by a mile. If I had to pick one place to be — ship or shore — to feel most safe during this new era of COVID-19, it’d be ship. Hands down.”

In his article, Gene continues with some of the reasons why “he feels safer now on a cruise ship” and concludes with a sentiment familiar to many of us, “There is one sure way for me to never be exposed to COVID-19. I could never leave my home (and allow no one from the outside to enter it, either). I suppose I could pull that off for at least a few months if I stockpiled food. But assuming that I want to at least partially engage with the world and other humans in more than a virtual way, I feel just as safe right now going on a cruise as I do heading out in my hometown. Indeed, I feel safer on a cruise.”

Having lived on cruise ships for two decades, I couldn’t agree more. When I’m not on contract at sea, I am a Travel Advisor who frequently cruises for leisure and advocates cruising with a high volume of cruise bookings. As such, I belong to CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association), the leading authority on cruise resources, data, and the state of the industry.

According to CLIA, cruise operations are indeed responsibly resuming around the world. “With science-backed protocols at the helm, CLIA and our ocean-going cruise line members continue to work closely with governments around the world to facilitate a smooth resumption of operations – helping to put people back to work and serving as a model of responsible travel.”

In their article, Cruise Industry COVID-19 Protocols and Information, CLIA outlines what we should know about the current state of cruising safely:

CLIA ocean-going cruise line members are sailing today with some of the highest levels of COVID-19 mitigation of any industry
Cruise industry protocols are unique in their approach to effectively monitor, detect and respond to potential cases of COVID-19. The relatively rare instances of COVID-19 that have occurred since operations resumed have been addressed swiftly based upon pre-arranged response plans onboard every CLIA ocean-going member cruise ship.

The cruise industry is leading the way with stringent health and safety measures
Cruise industry COVID-19 protocols incorporate testing, vaccination, screening, sanitation, enhanced ventilation, mask-wearing, physical distancing, and other proven public health measures that are facilitating a responsible return to sailing.

CLIA projects nearly 80 percent of global capacity to be back in operation by the end of 2021
The resumption of cruise tourism around the world is putting ships back in the water and, as a result, helping to contribute to the global economic recovery from the pandemic. CLIA projects that the industry will reactivate 100% of global capacity by mid-2022.

Cruisers love to cruise and are eager to return to the seas
Demand for cruising remains strong, with 82 percent of cruisers saying that they plan to cruise again soon—exceeding pre-pandemic levels. In addition, 62 percent of non-cruisers say they are open to cruising, an increase of 9 percent since June 2020. These numbers reflect growing confidence amongst international travelers as cruising is increasingly seen as one of the safest holiday choices thanks to robust protocols and an unwavering commitment to public health.

The resumption of cruise tourism is putting people back to work and contributing to the global economic recovery from the pandemic.

In 2019, cruise tourism supported nearly 1.2 million jobs and contributed $155 billion to the world’s economies. On average, cruisers spend about $750 USD per passenger in port communities over the course of a typical seven-day cruise. These dollars directly benefit hundreds of thousands of small and medium businesses around the world, with cruise activity supporting jobs across a wide range of industries—from ports and ground transportation, to air lift and lodging, restaurants, travel agencies, retail, and many more.”

CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) is the world’s largest cruise industry trade association that supports policies and practices that foster a secure, healthy, and sustainable cruise ship environment. The organization includes the most prestigious ocean, river, and specialty cruise lines, represents 54,000 highly trained & certified travel agents, and 95% of the world’s ocean-going cruise capacity. And, it also works with the CDC to navigate the waters of the cruise industry’s safe sailing measures.

The recent CDC’s guidance on COVID-19 and cruise ship travel no longer recommends that cruise travel be avoided regardless of vaccination status – a welcome announcement to an industry that has continued to take the blows until as recently as a couple months ago when CDC issued its Level 4 warning against cruise travel.

President and CEO Zane Kerby of The American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) responded to the CDC’s downgraded warning for cruise travel by issuing the following statement, “ASTA welcomes the CDC’s action to downgrade its extreme ‘Level 4’ warning against cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status, which we roundly criticized when it was instituted. This level of warning was completely unnecessary given the extraordinarily stringent anti-COVID measures put in place voluntarily by the cruise lines in close consultation with the CDC. We call on the Administration to continue moving toward a consistent, predictable regulatory environment for cruise and broader travel industry stakeholders as COVID moves into the endemic phase.”

When the CDC issued their Level 4 warning against cruise travel at the outbreak of the Omicron Variant stating that it should be avoided, both ASTA & CLIA responded with data-driven, measurable results within the current state of the cruise industry. ASTA’s January Press Release stated:

“An increase in reported COVID cases on cruise ships should surprise no one given the worldwide spike driven by the highly-transmissible omicron variant. The difference between enjoying a cruise vacation and visiting your local grocery store or restaurant, however, is the extraordinarily stringent anti-COVID measures put in place voluntarily by the cruise lines, in close consultation with the CDC. These measures include testing, vaccination, sanitation, mask-wearing and other science-backed measures, as well as protocols to respond to potential cases of COVID-19.

“If the average cruise ship were a U.S. state, it would be the safest in the country – by far. According to Royal Caribbean Group, since cruising restarted in the U.S. in June 2021, its ships have carried 1.1 million guests with 1,745 people testing positive – a positivity rate of 0.02 percent. Among U.S. states as of January 4, Alaska’s positivity rate is the lowest at 9.4 percent, with Georgia’s the highest at 38.7 percent.

“Cruising is no more responsible for the spread of the Omicron variant than travelers from southern Africa were at the outset of the current crisis. But we continue to see knee-jerk reactions singling out travel for discriminatory treatment. Because the travel industry is regulated more heavily than other activities, when COVID caseloads rise or new variants emerge, travel takes the hit. It brings to mind the old saying, ‘if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ This pattern needs to stop.”

The data, proven track record, and anecdotes provide a foundation to make an informed decision about whether or not you are ready, and willing, to get back out onto the high seas and be embraced by an eager welcome perhaps more personal than any other travel sector. But, with the responsible return to sailing led by the cruise industry itself is our responsibility to be informed and make the best decision based on our comfort level.

We certainly look forward to welcoming you back to cruising – to traveling and reconnecting to this remarkable world. And when you are ready, we are here to help you plan and book your travel every step of the way.

Rebekah is Redwood Travel Partners’ Director of Travel Services and Senior Travel Advisor. She has worked in the travel industry for over two decades as a Travel Advisor and Cruise Planners franchise owner, Cruise Director, and performer at sea and has traveled to over 95 countries on all 7 continents.
Redwood Travel Partners is an independently owned and operated Cruise Planners franchise formed as the official travel partner for charter cruises while offering a full range of travel services.

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