As the U.S. based cruise industry is trying to resume operations, two passengers aboard the Celebrity Millennium tested positive for COVID-19 today. The cruise ship supposedly has a 100% vaccinated crew of around 650 and 600 passengers (except for children). The Celebrity Millennium left from the port of St. Maarten.

I first learned of the positive cases from a tweet from @CruiseGuy on Twitter who appears to be on the cruise ship, along with other cruise commentators:

Celebrity issued a press statement that: “all guests on Celebrity Millennium were required to show proof of vaccination as well as a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before sailing.” The company is now “conducting contact tracing, expediting testing for all close contacts and closely monitoring the situation.”

Once this news broke on social media, the usual cruise cheerleaders immediately attempted to down-play the significance of the positive COVID-19 cases on the Celebrity ship. Twitter quickly turned into an ugly scrum:

Recent COVID-19 Cases On Cruise Ships

There have been a steady number of COVID-19 cases outside of the U.S. primarily involving European cruises in the last month, with the Asuka II and Costa Smeralda each having a passenger test positive for COVID during the first week in May. The Odyssey of the Seas experienced as many as 5 (per news outlets) crew members test positive for COVID on May 24th, and the MSC Seaside had two unrelated passengers test positive earlier this week.

The two cases on the Millennium bring the total to around at least 225 positive COVID-19 cases since the cruise industry stopped sailing in the U.S. last year.

Cruise Lines Have Disclosed Only 22% of COVID-19 Cases On Cruise Ship Outside of the U.S. Since Last March

Unfortunately, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) initially published false and misleading information that there were only “less than 50 cases” during this time period.  In a March 24, 2021 press release aimed at convincing the CDC to drop its Conditional Sailing Order, CLIA said that “nearly 400,000 passengers sailed over the last eight months in Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific with fewer than 50 COVID cases.”

Many cruise CEO’s, travel writers and cruise bloggers repeated CLIA’s false talking points and continue to do so to this day. The CruiseGuy downplayed the positive COVID-19 cases by repeating the “less-tham-50-cases’ myth in a tweet just today:

This assortment of cruise lines, cruise executives, industry leaders and travel writers have consistently understated the true number of COVID-19 cases by over 77%, disclosing “less than 50” out of around 225 cases.  Our firm has meticulously followed the number of positive COVID cases on cruise ships since last summer involving passengers and crew members based on news reports, primarily from Europe and the Caribbean which are based on cruise line press releases, public health authorities and witness accounts. The cases involved MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, TUI Group/Mein Schiff, AIDA, SeaDream, Hurtigruten and a number of smaller river cruise ships.

You can read a detailed analysis of the cases in our article: Cruise Lines Continue to Misrepresent Number of Positive COVID-19 Cases During Cruises Outside of the U.S.

In its legal briefing in the litigation initiated by the state of Florida against the CDC, the federal health agency filed a summary of the cases outside of U.S. ports and arrived at a similar number of COVID cases with this analysis.

The Cruise Lines’ Understating of the True Number of COVID-19 Cases Leads to a Fundamental Distrust of Cruise Lines

It is essential to the cruise lines that they regain the trust* of the public if the industry’s is going to successfully return to sailing. But the public is right to view cruise line promises with suspicion. The cruise line’s talk of having “ironclad” health protocols and “safe cruises bubbles” appear doubtful when the cruise lines, CLIA and cruise supporters consistently understate the actual number positive COVID cases outside of the U.S.

Confusion at Sea

The state of the cruise industry is currently a chaotic, confused mess. There is no consistency between cruise lines whether to require vaccinations, which is obviously the only way to cruise. The Florida governor is threatening to sue any cruise business which prudently inquires into the vaccine status of their own customers. From the cruise lines’ wild complaints about the CDC’s conditional sailing orders to the misguided lawsuit filed by Florida against the CDC claiming that the federal health agency somehow has no authority to regulate the health and safety of cruise passengers during a deadly pandemic – prudent consumers should come to a healthy pause and think whether cruising during a deadly pandemic is, perhaps, a bad idea.

Forbes interviewed me earlier this week and I posted this prediction:

“‘I’m not sure what will happen first,’ says Walker. ‘Judge Merryday ruling against the state of Florida and upholding the right of the CDC to enter Conditional Sailing Orders? Or a Covid outbreak on a cruise ship, which returns to a port in Florida with its tail between its legs?'”

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June 11, 2021 Update:

There are a number of travel writers on the cruise to discuss one of the first cruise in the last year from North America. Here’s one review by a cruise fan writer, @SlyJabroni, for the popular Points Guy. So what information do you learn? The cruise line gives away sparkling wine, chocolate, free internet & free on demand movies, & delivers “hot beautifully plated and delicious” dinner to quarantined travel writers via room service.

One readers of this blog who is on the ship commented:

“I asked what will happen to the ill passengers when we reach St. Maarten in two days — we have a sea day tomorrow — and I was told that they will have to disembark, go straight to a hotel and stay there until they return negative test results.”

The question naturally arises: who will be responsible for the costs of the housing, medical services and transportation home? Celebrity and parent company Royal Caribbean have not disclosed their agreements with port authorities regarding the procedures for the quarantine, housing, and medical treatment for infected guests and their close contacts, or their transportation home or who will pay for these expenses.

Whether they realize it or not, Celebrity and the other cruise lines are doing themselves a disservice by not disclosing this basic information. They are effectively creating an image that they are not transparent regarding important matters of the health & safety, as well as the economic well-being of their guests.

Image Credit – Celebrity Millennium – IanKAus – CC BY-SA 4.0, commons /wikimedia.

*Forbes recently reported that:

“Only half of Americans (50%) are confident that the cruise industry can reopen safely coming out of the pandemic, according to a recent Harris Poll Covid-19 tracker survey fielded May 26-28 to 1,999 U.S. adults . . . When asked whether they were confident that various industries could keep customers safe, respondents rated the cruise industry dead last, behind everyday businesses such as retail stores (82%), restaurants (80%), movie theaters (63%) and sports and concert venues (59%). Notably, consumer confidence in the cruise industry’s ability to keep passengers safe also lags well behind other travel subcategories such as hotels (79%), airlines (69%) and amusement parks (63%).”