Since March of last year, cruise ships carrying more than 250 people have been prohibited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from sailing in U.S. waters. To start again, they need to follow a complex process that, in some cases, involves simulated cruises designed to test Covid-19 protocols. Hundreds of thousands of frustrated and restless cruise fans have lined up to be guinea pigs.

Jennifer Juenke is one of them.

“Ever since the C.D.C. shut down the cruise industry, we have been living through a complete nightmare,” said Ms. Juenke, one of more than 250,000 people who signed up for a test sailing with Royal Caribbean, a major cruise company. “It has been too long, and we are just raring to go.”

On Tuesday, Royal Caribbean became the first cruise line to receive approval from the C.D.C. to conduct simulated voyages, which are planned for its Freedom of the Seas ship starting from PortMiami in Florida in late June.

For some of the volunteers, it’s a way to offer support to the $150 billion industry, which has been decimated by the pandemic. For others it’s a chance to get a feel for what post-pandemic cruising will feel like. But for most who’ve raised their hands, it’s a way to sate their longing to get back on a boat after more than a year of being stuck onshore.

“The C.D.C. has been holding us all captive and I really can’t wait any longer, I can’t wait until July,” said Justin Marks, a 59-year-old retired Alabama resident, referring to one target date that has been floated for when ships might start sailing.

Mr. Marks, who has 12 cruises booked through 2022, is undeterred by the outbreaks onboard cruise ships at the start of the pandemic last year.

“I’m dying to be picked for the test cruise, mostly because I need to start cruising again for my sanity,” he said, “but also because I want to show the world how much safer a cruise ship is than any plane or hotel that has been allowed to operate throughout the whole pandemic.”

Exactly how the cruise lines will return to operations in the United States remains unclear. Earlier this month, the C.D.C. said it would allow cruise lines to skip test voyages if they attest that 98 percent of the crew and 95 percent of passengers on board a cruise are fully vaccinated.

Several major cruise companies have already announced Alaska sailings starting in late July, which will require all passengers to prove that they are vaccinated. But in Florida, the cruise lines’ biggest U.S. departure point, recently enacted state law bans businesses from requiring proof of immunizations from people seeking to use their services.

Florida officials have said they will not exempt the cruise lines. If cruise companies decide to sail with a mix of vaccinated and non-vaccinated passengers, they will have to carry out simulation cruises with volunteers to test health and safety protocols.

That has avid cruisers like Mark

Passengers setting sail again out of the U.S. is on the horizon.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday issued new guidance for cruise operators to move toward resuming operations with guidelines for test voyages where travelers could volunteer before operators reopen for business. 

“With the issuance of these next two phases, cruise ship operators now have all the necessary requirements and recommendations they need to start simulated voyages before resuming restricted passenger voyages and apply for a COVID-19 conditional sailing certificate to begin sailing with restricted passenger voyages,” the CDC said on its website. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday issued new guidance for cruise operators to move toward resuming operations with guidelines for test voyages where travelers could volunteer before operators reopen for business. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday issued new guidance for cruise operators to move toward resuming operations with guidelines for test voyages where travelers could volunteer before operators reopen for business. 
(iStock)

The announcement follows the agency targeting mid-July for when the cruise industry will be able to get up and running again following an industry-wide closure amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The CDC, in October, put out a Conditional Sailing Order for cruise ships detailing a phased plan for bringing back passengers on board ships safely. And after major revenue losses, last week the CDC said if operators can show proof that 98% of crew members and 95% of travelers are fully vaccinated they could resume by mid-summer.

HOLLAND CRUISE LINE ANNOUNCES RETURN TO SEA

Volunteers for the trial cruises must adhere to a COVID-19 health screening before the trip and agree to be tested three to five days after the cruise. Passengers for the test voyages must be 18 years old or older. Passengers must wear face masks on board and practice social distancing. 

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The guidance does note, however, that if  98% of crew members are fully vaccinated, and 95% of passengers are vaccinated, cruise companies do not need to conduct a test sail. 

Port Canaveral in Florida became the first port to start distributing COVID-19 vaccines, officials announced earlier this week. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report