After a 2-year absence, cruise ships are finally returning to the Cayman Islands

Mar 22, 2022

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The Cayman Islands are finally back on the map for cruisers.

This week, the popular Caribbean cruise destination is welcoming cruise ships for the first time in two years – ending one of the longest COVID-19-related cruise ship bans in the Western Hemisphere.

Disney Cruise Line‘s 1,754-passenger Disney Magic was the first vessel to return to the Cayman Islands since March 2020, arriving early Monday for a day visit.

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Two more cruise vessels, Carnival Cruise Line‘s 2,052-passenger Carnival Paradise and 2,984-passenger Carnival Sunrise, are scheduled to call in the Cayman Islands on Wednesday.

Three more vessels operated by Celebrity Cruises, Carnival and Princess Cruises are scheduled to visit the Cayman Islands later in the week.

The six cruise ship calls are part of a four-week “phase 1” trial period for the resumption of cruising in the Cayman Islands during which cruise passenger arrivals will be limited to 40% of previous volumes.

The self-governing British Overseas Territory halted cruise ship arrivals in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning and has remained closed to cruise ships ever since, unlike most other cruise ports in the region.

Most major Caribbean cruise destinations reopened to cruise ships over the summer of 2021 as cruise lines resumed operations in the Caribbean.

In a tweet on Monday, Cayman Islands governor Martyn Roper called the arrival of Disney Magic on Monday “a major milestone” for cruise tourism to the destination.

As part of the phase 1 reopening, the Cayman Islands has authorized 21 cruise ship calls over the coming four weeks that will bring about 74,000 cruisers to the destination.

In addition to Disney, Carnival, Celebrity and Princess vessels, the island has authorized ships operated by MSC Cruises and Holland America to visit during the trial period.

As part of this initial phase, the Cayman Islands is prohibiting COVID-19-positive passengers and crew, and their close contacts, from disembarking during calls.

Cruisers also will have to abide by Cayman Islands mask-wearing rules that require everyone over the age of 5 years to wear a face covering or mask if they are indoors in a public place and unable to maintain a distance of 6 feet from every other person.

An expanded “phase 2” for the resumption of cruising will begin after the successful completion of the first phase. Still, it’s unclear if cruise arrivals ever will return to pre-COVID-19 levels.

Over the past two years, Cayman Islands officials have signaled the territory was likely to place limits on the number of cruise ships and cruisers that can visit the island destination when cruising resumes — a major policy shift that will have ramifications for more than half a dozen major cruise lines.

In a briefing in early 2021, Cayman Islands premier Alden McLaughlin suggested that residents of the Cayman Islands, including business leaders, had made it clear they want a more balanced approach to tourism.

“I think we have a very clear signal from just about every source that … we can survive without those large numbers [of cruisers] and … we need more balance. We need to not overwhelm the systems that we have by [the] sheer volume of people,” McLaughlin said.

Home to just 65,720 people, the Cayman Islands traditionally has drawn more than 1.8 million cruisers a year who arrive on hundreds of cruise vessels. At times, four or even five large cruise ships will visit in a single day, depositing more than 10,000 cruise tourists in the destination’s capital, George Town.

Only two other Caribbean destinations — the U.S. Virgin Islands and Cozumel, Mexico — have traditionally received more cruisers in a year.

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Featured image by Westend61/Getty Images.

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