On Saturday, the Celebrity Edge became the first cruise ship to depart from the United States with paying passengers since the COVID-19 shut down the cruise industry early last year.
At 6 p.m., the ship left from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on a 7-day voyage that included stops in Mexico and the Bahamas, marking the return of US-based cruising after a 15-month hiatus.
Cynthia Mitchell, a passenger, told South Florida’s NBC 6 that she was “beyond ready” to embark on the cruise.
“We’ve been flying, you know traveling different places,” said Mitchell. “We’ve taken road trips but our cruises we missed dearly.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the ship is sailing at 36% capacity, with all staff members and at least 95% of passengers completely vaccinated.
In response to a lawsuit filed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a federal court decided earlier this month that the CDC cannot enforce its rules requiring passengers to be vaccinated, suspending them until July 18.
Celebrity, a Royal Caribbean subsidiary, said that all guests aged 16 and older on future cruises departing from ports outside of Florida would be required to be completely vaccinated, with the obligation extended to travellers 12 and older beginning Aug. 1.
According to the CDC, 66 percent of U.S. adults have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Sunday, with 146,691,387 individuals, or 56.8 percent, completely vaccinated. Vermont, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Maryland, California, Washington, New Hampshire, New York, Illinois, and Virginia had all surpassed President Joe Biden’s target of 70% by Sunday: Vermont, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Maryland, California, Washington, New Hampshire, New York, Illinois, and Virginia. Mississippi is the worst at 45.9%.
Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain on Friday thanked DeSantis for advocating for the cruise industry but said the company will look to encourage passengers to get vaccinated.
“We recommend that people take vaccinations and we really encourage it, but we do accept that there are some who don’t, some children who can’t get vaccines,” Fain said. “We will manage the process so that we will make sure we never go too far with unvaccinated people and if necessary we’ll close down a cruise. But we think that’s all workable.”
Vaccinated passengers will not be required to wear masks while on the ship but some restrictions will be in place upon going ashore in Mexico and the Bahamas.
About 5% of cabins on the ship have been set aside for unvaccinated passengers, who will be required to wear masks and to subject themselves to COVID-19 testing at their own expense.
Other precautions include staggered arrival and departure times, spaced out cabins and having crew serve buffet meals rather than having guests serve themselves.
Two passengers sharing a cabin tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month on a “test cruise” aboard the Celebrity Millennium, where all crew and passengers were fully vaccinated, and two unvaccinated passengers under the age of 16 tested positive earlier this month on Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas.
The first voyage of Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas was also postponed after eight crew members tested positive for the virus.
In the event of an epidemic, the Edge set sail with additional medical resources on board, including capacity for 33 patients and four ICU beds.