(4:30 p.m. EDT) -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's long-standing No-Sail Order is set to expire at midnight Saturday, once again raising the question as to whether the order will be extended, or expire and allow cruise to resume from select ports in the United States.
Originally issued March 13 as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic swept across the globe, the CDC's No-Sail Order was extended April 9, July 16 and September 30.
In the case of the latter date, the CDC opted to extend the No-Sail Order just hours before it was due to expire.
Saturday, October 31 is also a big day for other cruise industry restrictions: It is the day that CLIA's voluntary operational pause for member lines sailing out of the United States expires; and the date that Transport Canada's current ban on most cruise vessels in Canadian waters is set to lapse.
What Will Happen Saturday?
Cruise industry executives expressed optimism earlier this month that limited operations would be able to resume within the United States before the end of the year. With the industry's Healthy Sail Panel formally submitting a list of 74 recommendations for the safe resumption of cruise to the CDC in late-September and the successful restart of operations in parts of Europe and the Caribbean, the cruise industry has largely demonstrated that sailings can safely resume thanks to measures like rapid testing, masking, and physical distancing.
Last week, Palm Beach, Florida-based Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line stated that it fully expected the CDC's standing No-Sail Order to be lifted in announcing it would resume sailings to Freeport, Bahamas, on December 18 aboard Grand Classica.
"We're very pleased with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) decision to lift its No Sail Order on October 31st, 2020," Bahamas Paradise CEO Oneil Khosa said in a statement October 16.
When asked about Khosa's statement, a CDC spokesperson told Cruise Critic, "The no-sail order is in effect until October 31, 2020." The agency did not provide further comment as to whether an extension to the order was expected.
Whether the order is extended presents cruisers with two scenarios:
Scenario 1: The Order Expires, or Is Lifted
Should the CDC's order be lifted -- or simply expire at midnight -- cruises would technically be allowed to resume in the United States.
However, cruise executives have already stated that any restart would be a gradual one, most likely utilizing a handful of ships sailing out of one or two homeports.
That will pave the way for some vessels to restart, but significant changes will likely be in-store for itineraries. Much of the Caribbean is dealing with competing sets of regulations and testing requirements. It is more likely that cruise lines will opt to visit their private islands in the Caribbean or focus on cruise-friendly ports of call in a handful of countries, when cruising resumes.
Even under this best-case scenario, passengers should expect further sailing cancellations and changes while the industry gets back on its feet.
Scenario 2: The No-Sail Order is Extended
The other option is a further extension of the No-Sail Order.
An Axios article published September 29 suggested that CDC Director Robert Redfield wanted the No-Sail Order pushed into February 2021 but was allegedly overruled by the White House.
An extension of the no-sail order would further destabilize the cruise industry, just weeks after the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission's Fact Finding 30 inquiry reported significant losses and hardships for Florida and Alaska as a result of the No-Sail Order. The cruise industry contributes millions of dollars in direct and indirect spending within the United States and accounts for thousands of jobs, particularly in Alaska where cruise tourism provides a substantial economic lifeline.
Many lines have already canceled voyages through December 31, while some lines like Azamara, Cunard, Holland America and Princess have suspended operations well into 2021.
At the same time, the CDC has allowed hotels, airlines, resorts and theme parks to resume operations nearly unfettered as coronavirus cases continue to grow within the United States.