The Carnival Vista cruise ship is seen sailing during a full Pink Super moon in Miami Beach, on April 26, 2021. (Photo: CHANDAN KHANNA, AFP via Getty Images)

The return of passenger-filled cruise ships sailing in U.S. waters is in sight.

On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released additional guidance for cruise ships with instructions for trial voyages with volunteer passengers meant to take place in advance of sailings that include paying passengers.

“With the issuance of these next two phases, cruise ship operators now have all the necessary requirements and recommendations they need to start simulated voyages before resuming restricted passenger voyages and apply for a COVID-19 conditional sailing certificate to begin sailing with restricted passenger voyages,” the CDC said on its website, noting it may adjust requirements and recommendations in the future. 

Cruise ships with a vaccine requirement of at least 95% of passengers vaccinated and 98% of crew vaccinated will be able to bypass the test sailing requirement and go straight to sailings with paying passengers, Caitlin Shockey, CDC spokesperson, confirmed to USA TODAY Wednesday, pointing to clarifications issued by the CDC to the cruise industry in a letter last week.

Wednesday’s guidance comes more than a year after the cruise industry was shut down and a week after the health agency said cruising could resume in mid-July.

The order, announced in October, requires cruise lines to abide by CDC-instituted phases to return to cruising in U.S. waters but hasn’t allowed them to resume sailing just yet.

Test cruises will have at least 10% passenger capacity and can last two to seven days.

All volunteers for test cruises must be 18 years of age or older, but passengers aren’t required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, though if they aren’t, they must have written documentation from a health care provider or must self certify that they aren’t at a heightened risk for COVID-19, according to the CDC. And all must agree to be evaluated for COVID-19 symptoms before embarking, and after disembarking along with an agreement to be tested for COVID-19 three to five days following the cruise.

At least one test sailing is required for each ship for those lines that don’t meet with the vaccination requirement. It is unclear when cruise operators will be able to begin test sailings. 

Cruising could resume in July

Cruising could restart in midsummer in American waters, the CDC said last week in a letter to the cruise industry that USA TODAY obtained. 

In a statement about the letter, spokesperson Caitlin Shockey gave USA TODAY a more specific timeline. Cruises could begin passenger voyages from the United States in mid-July, depending on cruise lines’ pace and compliance with the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order. 

While the CDC outlined a potential restart date for cruises departing from U.S. ports this summer, that doesn’t mean that the restrictions on cruises are lifted. The CDC still expects cruise lines to meet its requirements before sailing can resume.

Cruising’s return subject to of tug of war

At the end of March, the cruise industry pushed for the CDC to lift its Conditional Sailing Order, calling the agency’s restrictions “outdated.” Other travel sector members voiced their support for a hastened return to sailing, too.

And some legislators are pushing the CDC to allow cruises to restart while others are asking the agency to continue to  delay allowing ships to sail due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

A lawsuit was even filed by Florida against the CDC, which Alaska joined, and new legislation proposed by Republicans to override the CDC’s restrictions on cruising and get ships sailing by July.

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