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Cruising is Back in the U.S.!


On Saturday, June 26, Captain Kate McCue, the first female cruise ship captain in the US, gave the order to cast off the lines and the Celebrity Edge became the first revenue cruise in the United State in over 15 months.

Three of us packed a small picnic and some wine to toast her (of course) and headed down to Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park to see this momentous sailing. What a magnificent sight! Horns blasting, fire boats shooting their water cannons, people waving from the ship, from the park and from the Point of Americas condos across the channel.

Photo: Susan Leven

What About COVID-19 on the Ships?

Cruise ships have been sailing for months in many other parts of the world, with safety protocols used as models for the ones to be used on ships sailing from the U.S. Safe cruises have already sailed in the Far East, the Mediterranean, and Scandinavia. There have been no serious outbreaks of COVID.

Although there have been several instances of positive tests among passengers and crew, the safety regimens have successfully prevented any spread. In fact, the rate of the virus detected among passengers and crew is far below anywhere else you might find yourself – reportedly only about 50 cases in 500,000 people who sailed.

Ports From Which Ships Are Sailing

As a travel agent and an avid cruiser, I could not be more excited for the return of cruising from the US here in South Florida. After the Edge set sail, Carnival Vista sailed from Galveston and the Horizon sailed from Miami along with Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas and Celebrity’s Equinox, which joined the Edge cruising from Fort Lauderdale. We expect other lines will start sailing in the near future and other ports will be opening soon.

The other big cruise market that has opened up for the 2021 season is Alaska. A change in regulations now allows ships to sail round trip from the U.S. without a stop at an international port, so round-trip cruises from Washington state (Seattle or Vancouver) are now possible.

Safety Protocols and Regulations for Sailing from the U.S.

There are currently two classes of cruises – the so-called “vaccinated” cruises with 95% minimum vaccinated passengers/100% vaccinated crew, and cruises where the number of non-vaccinated passengers is not controlled.

On vaccinated cruises, passengers must indicate their vaccination status before sailing and bring their Covid-19 Vaccination Record Card showing they have completed the required vaccination at least 14 days prior to departing. On these cruises there will be exemptions allowed for up to 5% of the total passengers, including children too young to be vaccinated or others who are not or cannot be vaccinated.

What Does All This Mean for the Passenger?

Prior to the cruise, every passenger will have to check in and complete a health questionnaire and confirm their vaccination status. All passengers will have to wear masks in the terminals during embarkation and disembarkation, in the U.S. and in the various ports of call. Unvaccinated travelers will have to be tested upon arrival at the port terminal, at their own expense (about $150 per person for two tests, including one prior to returning to the U.S.). On some cruises, vaccination status will be indicated by a wristband, or a hole punched in the sea pass card. This will determine access to certain areas on board.

Once on board, vaccinated travelers generally will not have to wear masks. Unvaccinated passengers may be required to wear masks indoors (when not in their stateroom) or at crowded venues outdoors. There may be separate areas for vaccinated and non-vaccinated passengers in some venues, like dining rooms, and non-vaccinated guests may be prohibited from certain venues, like the Casino, Spa or certain bars. Unvaccinated passengers may be required to purchase travel insurance to cover costs in case they contract Covid while traveling.

In most cases, vaccinated passengers will be allowed to visit and tour independently at ports of call. Unvaccinated passengers will be required to take only approved tours booked through the cruise line. All passengers will be required to follow the local health protocols when visiting a port.

The Experience On Board

On the so-called vaccinated cruises, vaccinated passengers will be allowed full access to the amenities onboard. Early reports from the Edge were that it seemed like a perfectly normal cruise, although there were a lot fewer passengers, as most ships will sail at reduced capacity (40-60% occupancy). Dining venues with buffets will be open but will now be served by staff. Self-serve beverage stations will now be staffed. There may be reduced or no programs for children under the age of vaccination.

Safety of Cruising: A Travel Professional's Opinion

Personally, I believe cruise ships will be one of the safest places to be. There are so many safety protocols in place – air filtration using high efficiency surgical grade filters for individual staterooms using fresh air feed, increased frequency of cleaning staterooms and public areas, and widely available hand washing stations and hand sanitizer, just to name a few. Keep in mind, the science behind all these protocols is changing almost daily, so these policies may change by the time you are ready to travel.

In fact, I believe so strongly in the safety of cruising that I will be cruising on the Carnival Sunrise from Miami in mid- August, on Virgin Voyages Scarlett Lady in December, and on the Celebrity Edge in January 2022. If you would like to sail along with me, please reach out to me at polly.hemstock@cruiseplanners.com or give me a call at 954-702-0040 – the more the merrier!


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