Cruise lines seeking volunteers for CDC-ordered ‘test’ voyages
Tens of thousands of cruise enthusiasts have offered to volunteer for “test voyages” that the cruise lines have been ordered to run before they’ll be allowed to resume operations out of United States ports.
And while cruise lines are so far keeping mum about what the actual test cruises will entail, requirements by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control suggest they’re not intended to be fun days at sea.
Still, responses so far show many sea-starved cruise fans are desperate to escape dry land.
Kelli Holder Guffey, one of the fans posting on Royal Caribbean’s volunteer Facebook page, Volunteers of the Seas, said she’d be “happy to be a test cruiser and docking there for a few days. Anything anything on a ship will make me happy.”
More than 100,000 people have clicked a sign-up link posted by Royal Caribbean International last week seeking volunteers for “simulated trial sailings” that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says are necessary to perfect their COVID-19 prevention measures.
Volunteers likely won’t be lounging all day on the Lido decks if chosen. A 40-page framework outlining what cruise lines must do to get back in operation requires the simulations to include run-throughs of check-ins, evacuation procedures, on-board activities, including at dining and entertainment venues, evacuation procedures, transfer of symptomatic passengers and crew members from cabin rooms to isolation rooms, quarantining of all remaining passengers and non-essential crew members, plus lab tests of all passengers before getting on and after getting off the ships.
Industry experts expect destinations for initial passenger sailings could be restricted to cruise lines’ own private islands, where embarkations and debarkations, along with passengers’ onshore activities, will be easier to observe and control. Plus, sailing to private islands will avoid transmission of the virus between passengers and residents of port cities.
Most of the major cruise lines own private islands. Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas is called Perfect Day at CoCo Kay.
Spokesmen for Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line said Nov. 16 that nothing has been scheduled yet, and no decisions have been made about where, if anywhere, the simulated cruises will go — or whether volunteers will be expected to pay for them.
“Royal Caribbean has some of the most loyal guests in the cruise industry and we have been overjoyed with their interest to take part in our simulated trial sailings,” spokesman Jonathon Fishman wrote by email. “We have a lot of details to work out to make sure everyone’s experience onboard is as safe and as enjoyable as we can make it.”
The cruise line has also been gathering information from its Facebook page facebook.com/groups/rcbackatsea where fans are signaling their willingness to volunteer to help the cruise line fine tune protocols it must have in place to prevent spread of the coronavirus.
The test voyages are part of a series of measures that the CDC said on Oct. 30 must take place before cruise lines can resume operating what the CDC calls “restricted passenger voyages.”
All cruise lines operating from U.S. ports have been shut down since March, when most business and leisure activities were halted to help prevent the virus’ spread. Several cruise ships reported outbreaks among passengers and crew members, while long voyages were cut short and forced to debark passengers far away from their scheduled return ports.
Carnival Cruise Line spokesman Vance Guilliksen said prospects of test cruises are being evaluated along with other CDC guidelines for getting passengers sailing again. Carnival is not yet soliciting volunteers.
“As we complete our analysis and a plan to comply with the CDC’s directive, we will update guests about deployment and scheduling plans for our fleet and homeports. We appreciate the ongoing support of our guests, travel advisor partners, and local officials in homeports and destinations,” Gulliksen said.
The CDC plans a “phased approach” to resuming passenger operations, according to the Oct. 30 guidelines.
Roger Frizzell, spokesman for Carnival’s parent company, Carnival Corp., said all Carnival-owned lines, including Holland America and Princess Cruises, will conduct their own simulated test voyages. Norwegian Cruise Line did not respond to requests for comment about this report.
In addition to simulated voyages to test cruise lines’ abilities to prevent the virus on ships, the phases will include establishing laboratory testing for crew members and a process to obtain a “conditional sailing certificate.”
Volunteers must be informed in writing that they are participating “in a simulation of unproven and untested health and safety protocols for purposes of simulating a cruise ship voyage and that sailing during a pandemic is an inherently risky activity,” according to the CDC’s resumption framework.
All volunteers must be at least 18 and provide written certification from a healthcare provider that they have no pre-existing medical condition that would put them at high risk for COVID-19. Cruise lines must monitor and test volunteers prior to the simulated voyage.
Simulated voyages should include private island shore excursions if any are planned when operations resume, the CDC said.
Masks and social distancing will be required at all public gathering spots aboard the ships, the CDC said.
A Nov. 16 post on the consumer-oriented website cruisecritic.com suggested fun might be in short supply. While volunteers might enjoy “fun activities” like testing restaurant and getting drinks at the bar, “they might also end up having to go through several versions of getting on or off the ship or having to stay in their cabins while a quarantined exercise is being performed,” the post said.
In addition, the CDC might require additional testing. If anyone becomes ill on the simulated voyage, the cruise line might require additional testing during the voyage, and might require that the voyage be cut short.