3 major cruise lines cancel December sailings in wake of CDC order

Gene Sloan

You’ll now have to wait until at least January to take a cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises or Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

The parent company of the three brands, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, on Monday said it would extend its halt to cruise operations through at least Dec. 31.

Until today, the company only had canceled sailings through the end of November.

The Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announcement comes just three days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lifted its longstanding “no-sail” order for cruise ships sailing in U.S. waters — a seemingly positive sign for the cruise industry. But the CDC replaced the no-sail order with a new “framework for conditional sailing” order that will require lines to jump through a number of hoops before they can resume sailing.

Among the requirements of the new order is that cruise lines apply for what the CDC is calling a Conditional Sailing Certificate at least 60 days before they want to resume sailing. That means that even if a cruise line applies for a certificate today, it wouldn’t be able to resume sailing in U.S. waters until at least Jan. 1 at the very earliest.

There are a number of other requirements in the new order that could push back the resumption of cruising for some lines even further in a best-case scenario.

The Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announcement also comes as COVID-19 case counts in both Europe and North America are soaring. The U.S. in recent days has been recording more than 80,000 new coronavirus cases per day, on average.

Cruising has resumed in a very limited way in recent months in parts of Europe, led by Europe-based lines such as MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises and TUI Cruises. A handful of lines in other parts of the world including French Polynesia also have resumed limited sailings.

But a surge of COVID cases in Europe in recent days, and resulting lockdowns in some countries, is prompting a growing number of ocean and river lines operating there to shut back down.

Germany-based AIDA Cruises last week canceled all sailings through the end of November just days after restarting limited operations in Europe. Costa Cruises last week also canceled a significant number of cruises and scaled back plans to expand voyages in the coming months. River cruising across Europe in recent days has essentially ground to a halt.

The CDC’s new order on Friday suggested that the epidemiologists at the CDC continue to see cruise ships as places that are inherently more likely to be hotspots for COVID-19 transmission than other settings.

“Current scientific evidence suggests that, absent mitigation measures of the type needed to prevent further transmission, cruise ships would continue to pose a greater risk of COVID-19 transmission than other settings,” the order said.

All cruise lines around the world halted departures in March as the coronavirus outbreak grew and many have yet to restart operations. Norwegian, Oceania and Regent are among the lines that haven’t operated a single departure since March.

Due to the CDC’s “no-sail” order, there has been no cruising since March in North America.