“When will Disney Cruise Line set sail again?” and “what’s the likelihood my DCL vacation will be cancelled?” have become common questions. This covers the CDC’s latest crew & passenger vaccination option for speeding up their restart in U.S. waters, and when DCL will resume sailings. It also includes an update on the latest cancellations for Summer and Fall 2021 itineraries. (Updated May 1, 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 a constantly changing and evolving situation. New information and data emerges and case numbers change on a daily basis. All of that–and more–impacts when Disney Cruise Line will restart sailings. However, our hope here is to offer an informed analysis of when cruising might actually 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.
The great news is that the Conditional Sailing Order might be rendered moot. In a new letter sent to ship operators last week, the CDC advised that cruise companies can speed up their restarts in U.S. waters if they guarantee most crew and passengers are vaccinated.
If cruise lines can certify that 98% of their crew and 95% of their passengers are vaccinated, they won’t need to do test cruises before restarting passenger operations, the letter said. 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.
The CDC estimates that passengers could be boarding cruise ships in U.S. waters as soon as mid-July 2021 depending on how quickly cruise companies meet the agency’s other requirements. (By other accounts, Disney Cruise Line is already otherwise compliant.)
The CDC also changed testing and quarantine requirements for passengers and crew. Once U.S. cruises restart, fully vaccinated people will be required to take a rapid antigen test, which produces results within 15 minutes, before boarding instead of a PCR test. Additionally, passengers requiring a post-cruise quarantine will be able to do so at their home if they live within driving distance of the ship.
It should go without saying, but this is a potential game-changer for the cruise industry. Several cruise lines have expressed that exact sentiment, with Royal Caribbean’s CEO Michael Bayley telling the Miami Herald that the “vaccines are the major foundational game changing element of this.”
Bayley also said the quicker timeline is a positive development, and the company’s mood had changed as a result of the constructive changes from the CDC following twice-weekly meetings between the CDC’s maritime team and the cruise industry and ports.
Disney Cruise Line has not yet released a statement about the changes, which could be because the mood there is not quite as positive. Disney’s demographic is obviously different than Royal Caribbean’s, and there has not yet been word as to whether the vaccine target requirement would apply to adults or all guests.
If the latter, it may be difficult or impossible for DCL to achieve since kids are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, and families are a large segment of Disney Cruise Line’s market. Still, with sky high pent-up demand and no shortage of childless “Disney adults,” it’s likely DCL could sell out the summer without kids. That would undoubtedly be more profitable than not sailing at all.
Although the CDC could handle this differently, the UK Magic At Sea Staycation Sailings for Summer 2021 states that guests under 18 years old are NOT required to be vaccinated, but must provide proof of a negative PCR test result taken between 5 days and 24 hours prior to embarkation.
However, that policy was dictated by the UK’s National Health Service. Originally, Disney Cruise Line was only going to require testing for all guests. Not only does it remain to be seen how the CDC handles younger guests not yet eligible to be vaccinated, but it also remains to be seen how Disney Cruise Line handles the vaccination option.
It’s entirely possible DCL will avoid the vaccine shortcut and instead opt to comply with the whole Conditional Sailing Order framework. Disney has thus far steered clear of vaccine passport “controversies,” but this one may be unavoidable.
While most guests will likely be understanding of DCL’s position, there are a lot of dumb people who can’t distinguish between a Disney-created policy and compliance with a government mandate. Disney may not want to alienate those coveted guests, face a fierce but meaningless online backlash, etc.
While the CDC resumption framework and vaccination shortcut 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.
The latest round of Disney Cruise Line cancellations occurred in mid-April 2021 (prior to the CDC issuing the vaccine shortcut). To date, all sailings on the Disney Magic are cancelled through October 9, 2021 and on the Disney Wonder through September 2021. The former is instead doing the UK resident Summer at Sea, whereas the latter will not be able to do its summer season in Alaska due to Canadian port restrictions.
The Disney Dream and Fantasy still have bookable options for July 2021 sailing to the Bahamas and Caribbean that have not been cancelled yet. What remains to be seen is how many more waves of cancellations will occur before Disney Cruise Line is prepared to resume sailings. It’s entirely conceivable those two ships could proceed with those itineraries as scheduled, pending the final details of the CDC’s vaccine shortcut.
Prior to that, 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.
From all of the above, we know with certainty that Disney Cruise Line won’t set sail before July 2021 at the absolute earliest. That’s if DCL opts to go with the vaccination shortcut rather than complying with the full Conditional Sailing Order. As noted above, Disney may not want to go that route, or may not be able to do so if there’s no exception to the 95% vaccinated requirement for guests under age 16.
Personally, I hope Disney Cruise Line opts for the vaccinated shortcut. Our expectation all along has been that the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order would be rendered obsolete by subsequent guidance from the CDC that vaccinations plus pre-cruise testing for kids is sufficient. In our view, that’s the most sensible solution, and also the best case one. This option could result in minimal disruption to the guest experience aboard the ships while also providing far more safety than a bunch of modifications–many of which are health theater, anyway.
In short, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and we’re optimistic about late Summer 2021 for a number of reasons. Even though CEO Bob Chapek indicated Disney Cruise Line could resume sailing “maybe by fall” in a limited capacity, the pace of vaccine rollout and subsequent CDC guidance on cruising still could be a potential game-changer. With all American adults now eligible to be vaccinated and Independence Day representing a timeframe for things to largely be back to normal, it’s also realistic to think Disney Cruise Line could return by July 2021. We’ll keep you posted!
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Do you think Disney Cruise Line will resume sailing by Summer 2021, or is fall or beyond more reasonable? 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!