The first major cruise ship open to North Americans since the industry paused over a year ago due to the coronavirus pandemic set sail on Saturday.
Celebrity Millennium, part of the Celebrity Cruises line owned by Royal Caribbean Group, sailed from Philipsburg, St. Maarten with paying passengers on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. Royal Caribbean has not held cruises since March 2020.
“Today, we sail, again! This is such a significant moment for our company, our industry and the Caribbean. That this day has finally arrived for our guests and our crew is truly special – beyond words, really,” Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, said in a statement. “What an honor to now be the first to enthusiastically say, once again – ‘Welcome Aboard!’”
The 7-day cruise from St. Maarten will include port stops in Barbados, Aruba and Curacao.
About 500 passengers are on board, over 95% who are fully vaccinated. Children who could not yet receive vaccinations were required to show negative Covid-19 tests.
All ship crew members are also fully vaccinated.
“More than 80% of our passengers said they would prefer to sail on a ship with fully vaccinated people,” Colleen McDaniel, the editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic who is aboard Celebrity Millennium, told CNN. “It’s like traveling in a bubble.”
“This is the first big ship sailing in the Caribbeans so it feels pretty special,” she added. “The energy and excitement is here is so powerful. The crew is so eager to have people finally on board. So many people were clapping, you can tell this finally feels normal again and it’s making everyone very happy.”
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that for cruise lines to recommence sailing in US waters, they must either complete “trial” cruises to replicate real-world cruising conditions, or comply with the CDC vaccination requirements.
Celebrity Cruises has opted for the latter, which involves submitting an attestation to the CDC stating “that 95% of crew (excluding any newly embarking crew in quarantine) are fully vaccinated and submit to CDC a clear and specific vaccination plan and timeline to limit cruise ship sailings to 95% of passengers who have been verified by the cruise ship operator as fully vaccinated prior to sailing.”
While the ship usually sails from a port in the US, it is sailing from St. Maarten because there are still a number of hoops cruise lines have to pass through with the CDC to be allowed to sail.
However, Celebrity Edge is poised to be the first major cruise ship to sail from the United States in June 2021. This re-inaugural Celebrity cruise will depart from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on June 26, with all crew and all passengers over the age of 16 required to show proof they have been fully vaccinated before boarding.
And that regulation won’t be going away – after August 1, the vaccination rule will expand to include travelers over the age of 12.
Correction: -An earlier version of this story gave the wrong day for when the first major cruise ship open to North Americans set sail since the coronavirus pandemic. It was on Saturday.