Cruises Still Sailing Despite COVID Outbreaks

The Cruise Lines International Association said cases in recent weeks make up a slim percentage of the total population on board.
Posted at 9:48 AM, Dec 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-30 09:48:49-05

While the Omicron variant spreads, COVID-19 is not sparing cruise ships. 

The CDC lists nearly 90 ships that are under observation or investigation, including major cruise lines. 

But on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, passengers set for sail on a Royal Caribbean cruise out of Tampa. 

"When I’m seeing the number of people that kind of got on the ship I'm nervous but they said that everybody has to be double vaccinated and the boosters so we were comfortable about that," said Maissa King before boarding. 

"You gotta enjoy life, you can't hide away in a house all the time, you have to at least try," John Lunshof said. 

The CDC is also monitoring four other ships. The threshold for an investigation includes cases in at least 0.10% of passengers or in at least one crew member. 

Britany and Raymond Kelly said they looked forward to a vacation over Christmas with their daughter on a Royal Caribbean cruise out of Miami. 

"Kind of like a mixture between a comedy movie and a horror movie," Raymond Kelly said of their experience.

The Kelly’s said Britany first tested positive while on board the cruise. While Raymond and their daughter tested negative initially, they said the next day Raymond also tested positive. 

"It seemed like they didn't want to test me or my daughter again because they didn’t want another positive case on board," he said. 

They describe confusion with what tests to take before boarding, and later, frustration with the service and care they received after they said they tested positive on the ship and isolated in a hotel. 

"I'm just disappointed they were not prepared for the what if. I was honestly impressed with them like cleaning the boat and stuff but they didn't think it all the way through," said Britany Kelly. 

Royal Caribbean had not yet responded to Newsy's request for comment at the time of publication, but tells customers on its web site. "An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people gather." 

The cases come as the Omicron variant spreads. Some public health officials say some data shows it appears the variant may be less severe. 

But when it comes to next steps, Senator Richard Blumenthal called for a pause. He tweeted in part, "Cruises are repeating recent history as Petri dishes of COVID infection." 

"The numbers are a much higher average today than they were even a month ago," said James Walker.

Walker is an attorney who represents passengers and crew members against cruise lines and runs the blog Cruise Law News. 

"If you're gonna go on a cruise prepare for there to be a disruption. Prepare yourself for the possibility the port communities won’t let whatever cruise ship you're on stop in your jurisdiction," said Walker.

This week the Mexican government announced it would allow ships with cases to dock. 

Cruise lines have pointed to the protocols they've implemented to mitigate the spread of the virus.

"We are working closely with the CDC and local health authorities in all ports and destinations that we visit. The rapid spread of the Omicron Variant may shape how some destination authorities view even a small number of cases, even when they are being managed with our vigorous protocols. Some destinations have limited medical resources and are focused on managing their own local response to the variant. Should it be necessary to cancel a port, we will do our best to find an alternative destination," said AnneMarie Mathews, the senior director for communications for Carnival Cruise line, in part in a statement. 

"Whenever we experience a positive case on board, we immediately enact a series of proven protocols, including quarantine, contact tracing and PCR testing to identify, isolate and mitigate any further transmission. That said, largely in part to our vaccination policy and thorough embarkation procedures, we've been able to detect any possible positive cases prior to boarding and ensure those folks are well taken care of. As we continue to navigate the challenges we’re collectively facing in the fight against COVID-19, we are confident in our health and safety measures and will continue them moving forward," a Virgin Voyages spokesperson stated. 

The Cruise Lines International Association said cases in recent weeks make up a slim percentage of total population on board. 

"No setting is immune from the impacts of COVID-19. The difference with cruise ships is that our members have measures in place that were designed specifically for moments like this, and those measures continue to prove effective to mitigate COVID-19 amongst cruise passengers, crewmembers, and communities," said Bari Golin-Blaugrund, Vice President of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs.

When it comes to future cruises, people are still booking. 

"We're seeing the demand especially. It was very strong until beginning of December, then when Omicron came out things slowed down. But we are seeing after February, we're still seeing strong traction on bookings," said Bob Cook, the director of sales with Go Travel.

The CDC notes "cruising will always pose some risk of COVID-19 transmission."