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Just the other day, I drove 33 miles from my home in northern San Diego to Coronado Island simply to spot and pine for the two cruise ships anchored off our coast for many months. Providing a melancholy backdrop to visiting beachgoers, Celebrity Cruises’ vacant Celebrity Millennium and Celebrity Eclipse sat idly on a hazy horizon awaiting their returns to service. It’s a moment I and many others have been awaiting, but one that keeps getting pushed back — now until 2021.
Similar to how the state of California is prohibiting Disneyland Resort and other local theme parks to reopen when Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., and others around the globe have safely done so, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is forbidding cruise travel to resume even though Cruise Lines International Association and member companies have submitted extensive health protocols and European sailings have proven successful. (And by successful, I mean that even if COVID-19 is detected, it is at least properly isolated.)
All the while, here in the U.S., planes are freely flying passengers again, hotels and theme parks outside of California are welcoming back guests and Las Vegas is luring gamblers once more. But cruise travel, according to draconian CDC decree, remains off limits until several extraneous steps are taken.
To be sure, CDC’s often-extended “No-Sail Order” is now thankfully off the table, but in its place is the fresh “Framework for Conditional Sailing Order.” The new mandate heads in the right direction, but with it, comes additional hurdles to overcome before cruise ships can whisk away clients once again.
Comparing conditions of cruise resumption to other segments, U.S. airlines were never expected to prepare COVID-19 lab capacity to fly again (and are just recently considering testing themselves); hotels and theme parks were never required to first simulate full operations with volunteers; and Las Vegas was never mandated to follow a multitude of measures only to open in an aggressively restricted way.
This double standard underscores CDC’s bias against the cruise industry — in my opinion, to a maddening degree.
Of course, I have heard the argument that air travel is essential and cruising is not, but consider this: In the U.S. alone, cruising is responsible for 421,000 jobs, more than $53 billion of annual economic activity and many travel agents’ livelihoods.
Plus, just as Disneyland offers a fantastical departure from reality, cruises provide a necessary and much-deserved mental escape, especially from the pandemic. So, I will always argue in their favor.
Of course, we all want cruise ships to return in a safe and healthy manner — and they definitely will — but there’s a breaking point when excessive regulation tips the scales unjustly. The coronavirus brought the world to a standstill when we knew very little about how the disease may wreak havoc, but now we understand much more and enough about it to permit nearly all other forms of travel to restart — save for one glaringly notable exception: cruising.
Well, enough is enough.
As a lifelong advocate of cruise travel, I’ll perpetually exclaim what has become the latest battle cry of an industry desperate to return to operations, and I’ll do so until government agencies stop playing favorites and allow cruise ships to sail from our shores.