“When will Disney Cruise Line return?” and “will my DCL vacation be cancelled?” are common questions. This covers the lawsuit between Florida and the CDC, vaccination & test options, DCL’s cancelled simulation sailing, and when cruising will resume. It also includes an update on the latest cancellations for Summer & Fall 2021 itineraries. (Updated June 29, 2021.)
We’ll break the post down into two parts. The first is a timeline of events that collectively establish what’s necessary for Disney Cruise Line to resume sailings and the earliest possible date that can occur. Nothing speculative about this–it’s all public info released by the CDC, CLIA, and Disney Cruise Line.
The second part will digest all of that and offer predictions as to what it means for the future of Disney Cruise Line sailings in 2021. Obviously, we don’t have a crystal ball, and this is an evolving situation. It’s less unpredictable than it was months ago, but litigation between Florida and the CDC still throws a monkey wrench into when and how Disney Cruise Line will be able to restart sailings. Accordingly, our goal is to offer an informed analysis of when cruising might be possible again…
As noted above, we’ll begin with a timeline of events leading up to the latest updates from the United States federal government and the cruise industry. Late last year, the CDC issued a Framework for Conditional Sailing Order that would allow a phased approach to resuming cruise ship passenger operations in U.S. waters, charting a course for Disney Cruise Line and other companies to begin sailing again.
However, it’s not as simple as that. The Conditional Sailing Order created onerous requirements. To get there, the cruise industry needs to assure the CDC that they are responsible with respect to the needs of crew, passengers, and port communities. You can read the full CDC Order for yourself here. For those whose idea of fun does not include combing 40 pages of arcane legal jargon and footnotes, we’ll break down what it means and offer a summation here…
The initial phase would be crew-centric, consisting of testing and additional safeguards for cruise employees. During that, the CDC would ensure that cruise ship operators have adequate health and safety protections for crew members while the operators build laboratory capacity needed to test future passengers.
Cruise ship operators would run simulated voyages to test the ability to mitigate risk. This phase will have simulated mock voyages of increasing duration, complexity, and numbers in order to test and implement scaling up and the feasibility of how each company implements the CDC plan.
In order to resume passenger sailings, Disney Cruise Line and other companies must earn a “Conditional Sailing Certificate” from the CDC based upon its ability to meet the established health safety protocol and requirements. Once the cruise operator earns its Conditional Sailing Certificate, there will be a phased return to cruise ship passenger sailings in a manner that mitigates risks among passengers, crew members, and communities.
Basically, there is an initial ramp-up of establishing proper protocol and health safety measures, followed by phases of mock or simulated sailings with crew and voluntary participants, followed by another phased process with normal guests. To complicate matters further, the CDC indicates that these phases are subject to change based upon public health considerations and cruise ship operators’ demonstrated ability to reduce risk.
Last month, the CDC issued new guidance that could have rendered moot the Conditional Sailing Order. If cruise lines certify that 98% of their crew and 95% of their passengers are vaccinated, they wouldn’t need to do test cruises before restarting passenger operations. This would essentially allow Disney Cruise Line and other operators to fast forward past the steps of the Conditional Sailing Order that they haven’t yet completed.
However, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a vaccine passport bill banning businesses from requiring proof of vaccination. There was the opportunity to create a carve out in that law for cruise lines, but the state declined to make that. Consequently, the Conditional Sailing Order applies to cruise lines operating in Florida, which has delayed the restart from Port Canaveral and Miami.
But wait, there’s more! Florida filed a lawsuit against the CDC, challenging the Conditional Sailing Order and arguing that the agency overstepped its authority. A federal judge agreed with the state, and preliminarily enjoined the CDC from enforcing the Conditional Sailing Order. Pending further action from the CDC, that will become simply a recommendation on July 18, 2021.
“This order finds that Florida is highly likely to prevail on the merits of the claim that CDC’s conditional sailing order and the implementing orders exceed the authority delegated to CDC,” the ruling said. However, it also provides that the CDC has until July 2, 2021 to propose new guidelines for cruises that permits ships to sail timely, while remaining within CDC’s authority.
In other words, the saga between Florida and the CDC isn’t over. The latter is likely to more narrowly tailor its guidance so it doesn’t run afoul of the federal court’s ruling, but they will undoubtedly issue a modified Conditional Sailing Order. Which means the two will either end up in court again or test sailings will still be necessary. Basically, the whole exercise will have been pointless if the goal was an expeditious restart to cruising that minimized economic harm to Florida.
For its part, Disney Cruise Line has completed most steps necessary in obtaining a Conditional Sailing Order, and plans to proceed with the test cruises. In fact, DCL’s first simulation cruise aboard the Disney Dream was scheduled to begin June 29, 2021.
However, the voyage was postponed until July 2021 because a small number of crew members had inconsistent test results, “which is considered positive by the CDC,” Disney Cruise Line said in a statement to the Orlando Sentinel. “The rigorous health and safety protocols we have in place helped us identify the situation, though the test results were ultimately negative.”
Other cruise lines have begun resuming passenger operations, with Celebrity Cruises in particular reporting that they’ve exceeded the vaccination threshold set by the CDC to bypass the test sailings. However, Disney does not plan to require vaccines for passengers, with the company instead opting to attempt simulated sailings. This is not a huge surprise–when the vaccination option was first announced by the CDC, we predicted that DCL would still go the test cruise route, as Disney has thus far steered clear of vaccine passport “controversies.”
While cruise lines departing from Florida ports won’t be able to mandate passengers are vaccinated, other cruise lines are sidestepping Florida’s law. They’re doing this by finding ways to either discourage unvaccinated passengers from sailing or making it as burdensome as possible for them to do so.
Royal Caribbean is requiring unvaccinated passengers pay for costly testing and travel insurance for passengers over the age of 11. Additionally, unvaccinated adults will not be allowed in certain areas of the ship, nor will they have access to certain activities. The motivation for deterring unvaccinated guests from sailing is not simply punitive; if there’s an outbreak aboard a cruise ship among crew or passengers, sailings could be cancelled or cut short.
While the CDC resumption framework and test cruise situation gets sorted out, Disney Cruise Line has cancelled numerous sailings. Guests who have paid their reservation in full will receive the choice of a 125% future cruise credit to be used for a sailing prior to September 30, 2022 or a full refund.
To date, Disney Dream departures through August 6, 2021, Disney Fantasy departures through August 28, 2021, Disney Wonder departures through September 19, 2021, and Disney Magic departures in the US through November 4, 2021 are cancelled.
From all of the above, we know with certainty that Disney Cruise Line won’t set sail before August 2021 at the absolute earliest. That’s if DCL gets its cancelled simulation sailing rescheduled for early July, manages to get approval from the CDC shortly thereafter, and there aren’t more problems between Florida and the CDC.
Prior to all of this, Disney CEO Bob Chapek indicated that “with some luck and the increase in the number of vaccinations and encouraging trends that we are seeing that maybe by this fall we might be able to have some limited operations of our cruise ships.” It would now appear that DCL could beat that Fall 2021 goal if the cruise line so desires.
In such a scenario, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Disney Dream’s scheduled sailing departing on August 13, 2021 could actually happen. In short, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and we’re optimistic about late August 2021 given where things currently stand.
With that said, I’ve seen enough to not want to be a guinea pig on an early return sailing aboard Disney Cruise Line. With so many viable vacation opportunities back in nearly normal form and without restrictions, cruising just is not as attractive to me right now. While I’m not concerned about my own safety as someone who is fully vaccinated, I am also worried about the possibility of a cruise being cancelled or cut short due to an outbreak. All of that, plus the standoff between Florida and the CDC, presents too many question marks for my comfort about how any situation would be handled. To each their own, but I’d rather watch how early cruises go for others, and consider sailing for Christmas 2021 or maybe in early 2022.
Do you think Disney Cruise Line will resume sailing by Fall 2021, or is the holiday season or even 2022 more reasonable at this point? What’s your predicted timeframe? Are you expecting significantly modified operations once DCL returns? Would you sail with Disney Cruise Line next year, or will you wait longer? Do you agree or disagree with our advice and assessment? Any questions? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!