Big-ship cruising finally restarts this weekend in the Caribbean — here’s what you need to know

Jun 4, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Get ready for a celebration in the cruise world this weekend. The long-awaited comeback of big-ship cruising in North America is, finally, at hand.

One of the world’s biggest cruise lines, Celebrity Cruises, on Saturday will kick off the first big-ship voyage in North America since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, breaking a 15-month spell without a single sailing in the hemisphere by a major cruise vessel.

The last cruise departures out of a North American port by a major cruise vessel took place in early March 2020.

For more cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG’s cruise newsletter.

The Celebrity sailing will be a seven-night voyage out of Philipsburg, St. Maarten (the Dutch side of the island of St. Martin), that features calls at the islands of Barbados, Aruba and Curaçao.

The trip will take place on the line’s 2,218-passenger Celebrity Millennium — a ship that originally was scheduled to spend the summer in Alaska.

Celebrity Millennium will be just the first of several major cruise ships to restart operations in North America in the coming weeks. Royal Caribbean — the world’s largest cruise line — will launch its first North America sailings since the start of the pandemic on June 12, with sailings to the Bahamas and Mexico out of Nassau in the Bahamas. And Celebrity has another ship starting up Caribbean sailings out of Fort Lauderdale on June 26.

Luxury line Crystal Cruises will follow a week later with a startup of Bahamas sailings out of Nassau.

The 2,218-passenger Celebrity Millennium will resume cruising on Saturday after a 15-month hiatus. (Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises)

In addition, seven separate major cruise lines have announced plans to restart cruises to Alaska out of Seattle in July and August.

While many vacation spots on land in North America have reopened to tourists in recent months as COVID-19 cases have fallen, cruise lines have been delayed in restarting sailings in North America due to restrictions implemented by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Until recently, the CDC had blocked all but the smallest cruise ships from sailing in U.S. waters, which has effectively shut down big-ship cruising in North America. Most big cruise ships that sail in North America use U.S. ports as a base.   

The CDC restrictions are behind Celebrity’s decision to operate this weekend’s sailing out the island of St. Martin and only include stops at non-U.S. ports. By originating the trip in a non-U.S. port and not including U.S. port stops, the line does not need the approval of the CDC to operate the voyage. Celebrity only requires the approval of officials in the destinations that Celebrity Millennium will visit, which the line now has.

While Celebrity Millennium is the first big cruise ship to restart operations in North America since the coronavirus pandemic began, it’s not the first cruise ship of any size to restart — or at least attempt to restart — operations.

Celebrity’s restart in the Caribbean comes seven months after small-ship specialist SeaDream Yacht Club attempted to resume voyages in the Caribbean with a small, yacht-like vessel called SeaDream 1. Alas, the sailing did not go particularly well. It ended with a COVID-19 outbreak and a quarantine for passengers. SeaDream subsequently canceled months-worth of sailings that it had planned for the winter and spring in North America.

There also have been several dozen cruises on small riverboats and other small vessels operated in the past two months on U.S. rivers and intracoastal waters. All of the trips have been on vessels that carry fewer than 250 passengers and crew, which are not subject to CDC regulation.

Still, the Celebrity Millennium sailing this weekend marks what many consider the true kickoff to a comeback of cruising in North America, and it is a major milestone for the comeback of cruising around the world. Big-ship sailings in North America — particularly in the Bahamas and the Caribbean — account for a significant percentage of all cruises taken worldwide.

Like all of the lines in the midst of restarting departures, Celebrity is implementing a long list of new health and safety measures designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on board Celebrity Millennium.

The new measures include a requirement that all passengers 16 years and older must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19, with final doses administered at least 14 days prior to sailing.  Starting Aug. 1, all U.S. passengers age 12 and older must be fully vaccinated.

The line also is requiring that all passengers — even vaccinated passengers — be tested for COVID-19 before boarding Celebrity Millennium.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image of courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 100,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $2,000

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Our best offer ever! Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 100,000 points are worth $1,250 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.