CDC to allow big-ship cruising from U.S. ports to restart in June
The return of big-ship cruising out of U.S. ports is finally at hand.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) late Wednesday cleared Celebrity Cruises to restart sailings from Fort Lauderdale with a single ship, the 2,908-passenger Celebrity Edge, on June 26.
The vessel will be the first big ship to sail from a U.S. port in more than 15 months.
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“Someday is here,” Celebrity president and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo tweeted late Wednesday in what was the first announcement of the news. The line later followed up with a formal press announcement to media outlets.
“For the past 15 months our conversations with friends and loved ones about seeing the world have been accompanied by the phrase ‘someday,’" Lutoff-Perlo was quoted as saying in the press announcement. "I’m beyond proud and excited to say that day has arrived.”
Celebrity will require that all U.S. passengers over the age of 16 be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to sail on Celebrity Edge. The age cut-off will drop to 12 on Aug. 1.
Celebrity plans to operate Celebrity Edge with at least 95% of passengers vaccinated for COVID-19. As a result, the CDC will not require the ship to undergo simulated 'test cruises' before resuming operations with paying passengers.
When it returns to service, Celebrity Edge will sail alternating, seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean voyages out of Fort Lauderdale.
The two-year-old ship will be under the command of Kate McCue, the first American female captain of a major cruise ship and a social media star.
In its announcement of the sailings, Celebrity said the ship's initial comeback voyages would be available for booking starting immediately.
A major milestone
The CDC's clearance for Celebrity Edge to resume sailings out of a U.S. port is a major milestone in the cruise industry's multi-month attempt to return to normalcy. Cruises from U.S. ports account for a significant percentage of all cruises taken worldwide.
While we have seen a few cruise ships resume operations in Europe and other destinations around the world since last summer, most of the hundreds of vessels operated by major cruise lines around the world have been out of service since the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic in March of 2020.
The CDC has been blocking all but the smallest cruise ships from operating in U.S. waters since that month due to worries about the spread of COVID-19 on ships. Regulators in many other countries including Canada and Australia also have been blocking cruise lines from operating in their waters.
The only cruise ships that have resumed sailing this year in U.S. waters are very small vessels that sail on U.S. rivers and intracoastal waterways. Such vessels are not subject to CDC regulation.
Several cruise lines including Celebrity already have announced plans to restart cruises in North America in the coming weeks from ports located outside of the U.S., where they don't need CDC approval to sail.
Celebrity will resume Caribbean cruises on June 5 with one ship sailing out of the Dutch side of the island of St. Martin (known as St. Maarten). Sister line Royal Caribbean will resume Caribbean cruises on June 12 with one ship sailing out of Nassau in the Bahamas.
Other lines that have announced plans to start up sailings in North America from non-U.S. ports in the coming months include Crystal Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line.
For now, the CDC only has approved Celebrity Edge to sail from a U.S. port. But cruise industry executives in recent days have said they expect approvals for more ships soon.
The lines have begun submitting requests to restart operations on a ship-by-ship basis to the CDC, as required by CDC rules.
To be allowed to restart, cruise lines must prove to the CDC that they have new health and safety protocols in place on ships designed to prevent outbreaks of COVID-19 and manage an outbreak should one occur.
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