Cruising is not safe.
It doesn't matter if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just swapped out its stern "don't cruise" advisory with a milquetoast guide to cruising. It doesn't matter that the CDC said it was time for travelers to "make their own risk assessment."
Nor does it matter that the cruise industry insists all is well because it uses the "highest levels of COVID-19 mitigation of any industry."
Fact is, cruising isn't safe and hasn't been safe for a while. No government declaration or industry promise can change that. But the government is correct about one thing: You have to make your own risk assessment. I'll help you do that in just a minute.
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Why did the CDC lift its warning?
If you read the coverage of the CDC's decision, you're probably curious about one thing. Why did it lift its Level 4 warning with no real explanation? What was the science behind it? You'll recall that three months ago, the CDC posted the warning after investigating ships with COVID outbreaks.
The answer is on the page that replaced the warning. It's a convoluted information dump with advice on cruising and linking to a cruise ship status dashboard with information about infections.
You can look up the COVID status of your vessel on the dashboard. But the color coding is so vague that I can't tell a safe ship from an unsafe one. Even if I consulted this dashboard before I booked a cruise, would it tell me anything about the vessel's safety on the day I boarded? No.
This is just an ad for the cruise industry — safe (orange), safer (yellow), safest (green).
Share if you dare
It takes real courage to share this edition of Elliott Confidential with a friend, especially if your friend loves to cruise. Do you care enough to do it? Push the red button. Go ahead. I dare you.
This goes much deeper than COVID
COVID is the least of the cruise industry's worries. Safety problems have plagued the industry for years. It got so bad that in 2010, Congress passed The Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act, which prescribed security and safety requirements for most cruise ships that sail to or from ports in the United States. The law required cruise lines to report criminal activity to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
But once again, the cruise industry's lobbyists forced the government to compromise, and the resulting reports tell us almost nothing about cruise ship safety. Instead, we have to rely on the sensational headlines about passengers falling overboard or getting assaulted on a cruise ship to give us only the vaguest idea of what awaits onboard.
Even if you can sidestep on-board crimes and mishaps, you can't always avoid getting sick. Seeing a ship's doctors can be expensive, and not all are trained to western standards. If you fall ill or are injured, chances are the ship will forcibly disembark you at the next port, leaving you to find appropriate medical care and make your way home on your own. No wonder insurance is so popular among cruise passengers!
And if you have a problem with any of this and want to take a cruise line to court, good luck. You'll need a lawyer trained in maritime law, and you'll have to go to federal district court, which is impractical for many passengers.
So even if you'd asked me back in 2019 if cruising was safe, I would have given you the same answer. No, not particularly.
If you were a full subscriber, you would already know
We had a lively discussion about the safety of cruises in our private, members-only forum on Friday. If you were a paid subscriber, you would have received an invitation to participate. And you’d already know the answer. Please join now as a full subscriber so you don’t miss the next discussion. A full subscription is just $5 a month.
You have to decide if it's safe for you, and here's how
Your travel advisor will tell you it's perfectly safe to go on a cruise, but your hypochondriac aunt might warn you to avoid a vacation at sea. Somewhere between the two extremes lies the truth. And because people have different risk profiles, the "truth" might be different depending on who you are.
Here are a few questions you'll want to ask:
Am I a high-risk passenger?
If you're unvaccinated, immunocompromised, or otherwise in a high-risk group, you shouldn't be heading out to sea. Not now — and maybe not ever. You could end up in the infirmary, in quarantine, or in a third-world hospital where you either pay in cash or don't get the treatment you need. Hey, you're one of my subscribers, and I want you to come home alive and healthy.
What are my chances of getting sick?
Without a crystal ball, who knows? What "color" is my ship? How are infections trending on the week of my departure? Have I been vaccinated and boosted? And if you haven't been vaccinated — I realize I'm repeating myself here — please don't even try to take a cruise. Most cruise lines won't let you board without a vaccine card, anyway.
Do I believe the cruise industry's promises?
If you're a trusting soul, then all the promises by the travel industry that cruising has never been safer might move you to book a cruise. But if you're a skeptic, and I know you are a skeptic because you read this newsletter, then the vague promises will give you pause. The cruise industry is just trying to sell more cruises, so of course, it will say anything to get you on board. Look at facts and pay no heed to the rhetoric.
But I have to admit, when my friends at Disney sent over a picture of their newest ship, the Disney Wish, my kids were ready to set sail. Disney cruises are a notch above the rest. I forwarded a draft of this story to the kids. ("Is this your way of saying 'no'," they asked me. To which I replied: 'Maybe.'")
I wouldn't mind seeing the Wish when she gets back to the States. Just two minor issues — I'm not in the States, and I think it may be way too early to cruise. But if I were to take a cruise, it would probably be with Disney.
And that brings me to my final point: If you go, choose the cruise line carefully. It's far less likely you'll get sick on a reputable cruise line. Also, preferably one that is not teetering on bankruptcy.
Is it safe for you to cruise?
Are you ready to head out to sea yet? Why — or why not? The comments are open.
About the art
Artist Dustin Elliott imagined Raoul Dufy painting his Southern French coastal pieces while drinking lemonade during a sunset. "Instead of peaceful scenery, I depicted masked passengers fleeing from a traumatic event with bulging pupils with wild loose gestures," he says. Well, that's a calming thought. Dustin says he enjoyed implementing a multilayered, colorful effect that juxtaposes the raw fear of death with the happiest and most joyful colors.