CDC issues cruise restart guidelines governing face masks, social distancing

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its Operations Manual for cruise ship operators, setting a series of rules such as mask wearing, social distancing and a restriction on independent shore experiences.

It’s the guidance that the cruise industry has been waiting on for months  and it won’t make everyone happy. The rules are part of the Conditional Sail Order to allow cruising to resume in the U.S., and will be in effect through October.

The extensive new rules are not dissimilar to those that have allowed European cruises to restart. But they go considerably further than the opening-up of U.S. hotels, restaurants and attractions on land — and make no allowances for people who have been fully vaccinated, as opposed to those who have not.y

To make sure cruise ships follow the rules, the CDC reserves the right to conduct inspections “in-person or by remote means.”

Here are some of the specifics.

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Mask wearing

The CDC makes clear that it expects guests and crew, as well as port personnel, to wear masks in indoor and outdoor areas except for brief periods while eating and drinking and says that “removal of the mask for extended meal service or beverage consumption would constitute a violation of this Order.”

The mask order includes while guests are seated in outdoor pool areas.  If you are swimming you can remove your mask as long as you maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet –with the number of bathers restricted. Cruisers will not have to wear masks in their own cabins.

The CDC also suggests as a best practice that face-to-face interactions between crew and passengers be reduced “to the extent possible.”

Social distancing

The CDC order requires social distancing of at least 6 feet “between individuals who are not traveling companions or part of the same family.”

Cruise ships must also put in place crowd reduction measures in all areas where passengers congregate and high traffic areas such as limiting capacity in restaurants and entertainment venues. In theaters and casinos, ships have to provide social distancing between seats — and “set up physical barriers where it is difficult for individuals to remain at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart.”

In fitness centers, ships will have to provide social distancing between equipment — by having people clock out or removing some equipment. Capacity will be limited for rock-climbing walls, mini-golf, sports courts, jogging tracks, video arcades and similar activities.

Pool loungers and tables will also be set up to be socially distanced. Hot tubs will be restricted to members of the same family or your own travel companions.

The agency further suggests that entertainment venues and activity areas such as fitness centers and spas be limited to reservation-only timeslots.

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