Why Carnival Cruise Line ships might not sail from Charleston until Labor Day

Another potential delay to setting sail on a cruise out of Charleston arrived last week.

Without making an official statement, Carnival Cruise Line deleted all trips off of its booking website through July except for 12 trips out of Galveston, Texas, and two out of Miami.

The move is the latest in close to a dozen delays and cancellations for the world’s largest cruise ship operator since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The company has pushed back the date it plans to resume sailing almost every month for much of the last year. The South Florida Sun Sentinel first reported the change to Carnival’s bookings.

The next scheduled trip out of Charleston is not until Sept. 4, a five-day trip to the Bahamas on the Carnival Sunshine ship, according to the company’s website.

When asked for details on why July sailings were pulled offline, Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said in an email that the company closed sale for all trips that month except for on the Horizon, Vista and Breeze ships. He said the company is waiting on new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to resume cruising from the U.S.

“We have taken no other actions on these cruises, and will update guests and travel agents once we finalize plans for the resumption of guest operations under the new CDC guidelines,” Gulliksen said in an email. ”We appreciate the support and understanding of our guests and travel partners, and commit to communicating more information as quickly as possible.”

Gulliksen did not provide information on whether there were any planned trips out of Charleston for the month of July. The company is in the middle of a pause on sailing that continues through June 30. However, final payment for any currently booked trips is not due until May 31, Gulliksen said, and guests can cancel up until that date without penalty.

“We have closed the voyages for sale but they are not canceled,” he said in an email. “We are in a pause (through) June 30, but it is still to be determined when we begin sailing again as we continue to finalize protocols as part of our return to service plan.”

Hard recovery for aquatic tourism

Cruise lines have struggled more than any other part of the tourism economy to recover. Planes, hotels, beaches and restaurants have all been able to reopen back to full capacity throughout much of the country. Cruise ships have been stuck in the water without passengers.

In January, Carnival announced cruises would resume March 31, then delayed the restart to April 30, which resulted in the cancellation of at least one trip out of Charleston. The latest official delay — to June 30 — was announced in early April.

“We know that this is very disappointing to our guests who continue to be eager to sail, and we remain committed to working with the Administration and the CDC to find a workable solution that best serves the interest of public health. We are asking that the cruise industry be treated on par with the approach being taken with other travel and tourism sectors, as well as U.S. society at large,” Carnival president Christine Duffy said in a statement.

CDC rules for setting sail

At the start of the pandemic, cruise ships were breeding grounds for the coronavirus and served as intractable challenges for countries around the world that both needed to get their citizens home but also didn’t want those people to bring the virus back with them.

The CDC released a host of rules last fall for what cruise lines must do before they can set sail again. The guidelines, among other things, required ships to have onboard COVID-19 testing and quarantine facilities. They also had to do test runs where the ship stayed in port but hosted several hundred passengers to prove the ship could handle or prevent virus outbreaks.

The CDC has now relaxed some of those rules, in light of rising vaccinations. It will let cruise lines skip out on the test sailings if they can prove that 95% of passengers and 98% of crew members are fully vaccinated.

Meeting that standard could prove difficult, as fake vaccination cards have become more common in recent weeks and government officials, including S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster, have spoken out against so-called “vaccine passports” that would allow people to definitively prove their immunization status.

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