Cruise ships, eager to sail, offer free trial voyages
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Cruise operators are eager to set sail again, even at limited capacity. But unless ships can book almost exclusively vaccinated passengers, the CDC is requiring U.S. cruise operators to run “trial voyages” to test COVID-19 safety protocols on volunteers. The first such trial is booked for this week.
Those trial cruises are experiments to see if measures like social distancing and ending self-serve buffets can prevent transmission on board. If ships pass the test, they can expand service to regular paying customers —including unvaccinated ones.
Brian Salerno of the Cruise Lines International Association said most of its member companies are planning test voyages. “It’s a free cruise, I mean, there’s been plenty of volunteers,” Salerno said.
Trial runs are a chance to reassure customers after those brand-damaging cruise outbreaks early last year, said Cornell University professor Chekitan Dev. It’s best, Dev said, to be upfront about the whole thing. “The companies that are literally livestreaming the test, in real time, are the ones that are going to build trust back the fastest,” he said.
Personally, though, Dev is holding off on booking any cruises for his family until 2022. “I would not go on a cruise today, period,” he said. He expects a full recovery could take the cruise industry a long time.
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