The first cruise ship to leave a US port since the coronavirus pandemic brought the industry to a 15-month standstill sailed away on Saturday, with mostly vaccinated passengers on board.
Celebrity Edge departed Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with the number of passengers limited to about 40 per cent capacity, and with nearly all 1,100 people aboard vaccinated against Covid-19.
Celebrity Cruises, one of Royal Caribbean International's brands, says 99 per cent of passengers are vaccinated, above the 95 per cent requirement imposed by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A giant greeting was projected on a wall of one of the port buildings: "Someday is here. Welcome back."
Passengers arrived with matching T-shirts that read slogans such as “straight outta vaccination” and “vaccinated and ready to cruise".
“Words can’t describe how excited we are to be a part of this historic sailing today,” said Elizabeth Rosner, 28.
To comply with both the CDC’s requirement and a new Florida law banning businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccination, Celebrity Cruises asked guests if they would like to share their vaccination status. Those who did not show proof or say they are vaccinated face additional restrictions.
Saturday’s sailing kicks off the cruise lines’ return to business with Carnival vessels already scheduled to depart from other ports next month.
“This is an emotional day for me. When I stepped on board the ship, I was proud. It’s a beautiful ship,” said Royal Caribbean Cruises’ chief executive Richard Fain.
Celebrity Cruises had unveiled the $1 billion boat in December 2018 – betting on luxury cruising, offering a giant spa and multi-floor suites. The seven-night cruise will sail for three days in western Caribbean waters before making stops in Costa Maya, Cozumel and Nassau.
The ship is led by Captain Kate McCue, the first American woman to helm a cruise ship, who has more than one million followers on TikTok.
“You can truly feel the palpable sense of excitement and energy amongst the group as we prepare for our welcoming of our first guests,” McCue said. “I've never honestly seen a group so excited to get back to work.”
Industry officials are hoping all goes smooth to move past a chapter last year of deadly outbreaks on cruise ships that prompted ships to be rejected at ports and passengers to be forced into quarantine.
The CDC extended no-sail orders repeatedly last year as the pandemic raged, and came up with strict requirements for the industry that have already been contested in court by the state of Florida.