As part of the Alaska itinerary, Disney Cruise Line guests experience the unparalleled natural beauty of the Alaskan fjords. These scenic destinations are home to towering waterfalls, mammoth glaciers, rugged mountaintops and wildlife. (Matt Stroshane, photographer)

Those of us who consider ourselves DCL junkies (guilty as charged) have been patiently (and not so patiently) rocking back and forth in our chairs waiting to find out when DCL will begin sailing again.

Answering that question requires a few things – a lot of reading and a tarot deck among them (and maybe some tea leaves).  

We all became a bit breathless on October 31st when the CDC announced that it was approving a “conditional” return to sailing.  At that point, Disney had still not canceled its mid-December cruises and many thought (myself included) that maybe, just maybe we might see limited sailings resume over the holidays.

Those hopes were dashed when Disney announced they were going to cancel all sailings for the remainder of 2020.  We were left wondering the same question we’d been asking for months – “If not now, when?”

To try and divine an answer, we need to look at what the CDC’s “conditions” are.  First, it’s important to remember that when the previous no-sail order was scheduled to expire at the end of September, the CDC wanted to extend it through February 2021.  The White House, however, intervened and said it wanted the order lifted on October 31st.  

The CDC complied and ‘lifted’ the order on October 31st, but it set conditions that would make it impossible for any cruise line to begin sailing in US waters much before February.  Check-mate.

Before I go on, let me explain why the CDC matters in any of this.  The CDC is responsible for setting and enforcing the health and safety guidelines that apply to any cruise ship departing from US ports. The CDC has the authority to fine or even shut down any cruise vessel that it feels has violated its requirements or poses a threat to public safety.  The CDC routinely inspects all cruise ships sailing from US ports (often without notice) to monitor and enforce those guidelines.  

When COVID-19 came into public consciousness, many of the biggest horror stories were coming from cruise ships.  Mass outbreaks, ships turned away from ports, passengers stranded on ships for months.  It was the biggest PR disaster for the industry since the Titanic.  The first mass closures related to COVID happened when the CDC ordered all cruise lines operating in US ports to suspend operations on March 14th, 2020.  You remember March 2020, right?  That simple time when we thought this would all be over in a few weeks?

The CDC has laid down several requirements that cruise lines must meet before they will be allowed to resume operations.  Among the conditions are:

  • Testing and additional safeguards for crew members.  
  • Cruise ship operators will build and operate the necessary laboratory capacity to test future passengers
  • Simulated voyages to test a cruise lines ability to mitigate COVID-19 risks
  • Certification for ships that meet specific requirements

Once cruise lines meet those criteria, they will be allowed a “phased return to cruise ship passenger voyages in a manner that mitigates COVID-19 risk among passengers, crew and U.S. communities.”   Of particular note is a line in the order that reads “These phases are subject to change based on public health considerations and cruise ship operators’ demonstrated ability to mitigate COVID-19 risk.”  In other words, these guidelines are a moving target that can change, so even if cruises resume, they could be shut down again very quickly if a particular line or ship is proving unsafe.

So, back to the original question – when can we cruise again?  I’m going to make a prediction, but I’m going to give the caveat that EVERY PREDICTION I’VE MADE THIS YEAR HAS BEEN WRONG

First, let’s look at where the ships are right now (you can monitor their locations by using our Ship Locator. As of the time I’m writing this, the Fantasy, Dream, and Wonder are all at sea. The Fantasy and Wonder are en route to Port Canaveral, the Magic is docked in Dover and it appears the Dream has left wet-dock in Brest France and is heading to the UK as well.

I think that we will see “simulated voyages” starting before the beginning of February.  I think they will need to conduct several of these test voyages before they get certified to sail again. One reason I don’t think it will be sooner than that is that Disney’s weekly updates of available discounts have now been pushed back to late March (as of this writing, the first cruise showing for discounts is 3/26). Two weeks ago, they had early February sailings open for discounts. Normally, I wouldn’t use that as a marker, but it’s the only real insight we have into DCL’s thinking about when they’ll have staterooms available. Of course, that’s also been a moving target for the last 9 months, so take that with a grain of salt.

I think the test sailings will be done with cast members as Disney looks to get certification from the CDC.  I know a number of you were excited when you heard that cruise lines would have to conduct volunteer sailings before they could be certified, but I don’t believe DCL will allow guests to act as guinea pigs on these sailings.  In advance of the theme parks reopening, it was cast members who were let in first and I think we’ll see the same thing here. I think once certification is given, you’ll see very limited itineraries resume in the March/April timeframe. 

I also think Disney has something else up its sleeve.  Disney has always tried to exceed CDC guidelines when it came to health and safety and it’s one of the reasons you rarely hear about norovirus outbreaks on their ships.  I’ve always had that feeling that when the time came, Disney would announce something big – like rapid testing before embarkation or bleach enemas. In the course of writing this (just for fun), I went to Astrology.com and picked one tarot card for Disney Cruise Line.  The card that came up?  The Magician.

So, let me ask you the question – are you ready to sail when DCL does finally resume cruising?

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