With more than 15 months after the pandemic halted the industry, the first big cruise Celebrity Edge became the first oceangoing cruise ship to sail from the US with yesterday’s embarkation at Port Everglades. The launch marks a major milestone for the cruise industry, which has been paralyzed since March 2020, when COVID-19 outbreaks forced companies to halt cruises.
A long-awaited moment
Carrying at least 95% fully vaccinated crew and passengers, Celebrity Edge becomes the first cruise ship to get the green light to resume service from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It will be calling at Mexico and the Bahamas.
It is the third Celebrity ship to resume service, following Celebrity Millennium on June 5 from St. Maarten and Celebrity Apex on June 19 from Piraeus, Greece. Eight of the fleet’s 14 ships are planned to carry passengers in 2021.
“This is a momentous sailing and one that we have been preparing for a long time” Royal Caribbean Group Chairman and CEO Richard Fain said. “It’s not only a huge honor to be the first ship back in the water, leading the industry in the long-awaited return to US-based cruising, it’s also an incredible achievement and testament to the tireless efforts of our shoreside team and on-board crew.’
Fain continued: “Travel is a powerful catalyst for positive change in our world. There’s nothing more enriching in life than exposing yourself to new cultures, sights and experiences” he added.
The ship is commanded by Capt. Kate McCue — a fitting choice since she was at the helm for the history-making first all-female bridge and officer team sailing in March 2020 and the last Celebrity cruise before the pause.
A diFficult return
Cruise companies have long sought to resume sailing from the U.S., their most lucrative market, but the path to return has not been easy.
The U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention lifted its “no-sail order” in October and replaced it with a “conditional sail order,” outlining four phases to get cruises up and running again amid the pandemic. Companies were required to expand COVID-19 testing capabilities onboard and report weekly test results for crew members and secure legal agreements with ports and local health authorities in the U.S. cities they planned to visit. Once those prerequisites are met, they must conduct test cruises to ensure COVID-19 protocols are working or prove that at least 95% of crew and passengers are vaccinated.
But a recently-passed Florida law prevents businesses from requiring patrons show proof of vaccination, throwing a confusing curve ball into restart plans.
Moreover, a recent decision by a federal judge in Tampa has further complicated the industry’s restart. In a lawsuit by Gov. Ron DeSantis against the CDC, U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday of the Middle District of Florida said the agency’s COVID-19 rules for cruise companies can remain in place for Florida cruises only until July 18, when they will become recommendations.