After more than 15 months since cruises were suspended in March 2020, the two largest cruise lines in America — Carnival and Royal Caribbean — are both set to return to sailing from the United States this weekend.
While the first cruise with paying passengers departed June 26 aboard Celebrity Edge from Port Everglades, these new departures represent the start of a bigger push to return to sailing. Not only do these two lines plan to introduce more ships in the weeks ahead, but other cruise lines also plan their initial sailings from the United States soon.
Carnival’s First Cruise From Galveston (July 3), Followed by Miami (July 4)
Carnival will return to sailing from the United States with two ships — Carnival Vista and Carnival Horizon. It’s Vista’s sailing from Galveston on July 3 that will be the cruise line’s first official cruise back after the health crisis. Horizon will set sail from Miami the next day.
Carnival Vista departs Galveston on a 7-day cruise to Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel. The ship plans to sail with 95%+ of passengers vaccinated. A small portion of unvaccinated passengers ineligible for the vaccine (such as children) are being allowed to sail.
Unvaccinated passengers require a negative test within 72 hours of departure and again at the port before boarding. There will also be enhanced screening at the terminal for everyone before getting on the ship.
“I just do really want to convey to you how confident we have been from the start of this that our restart would come here [Galveston] and to the capital of cruising in Florida,” said Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy during a recent rally to support cruising that took place on the island. “We have been so impressed with what the port has done to prepare with the consistent message and support never wavering.”
If you want to watch Vista make history as the first Carnival ship back in service, then webcams are available with multiple views of the ship here. Vista is scheduled to depart at 4:00 p.m. Central on Saturday.
In addition, Cruzely will be on the ship offering live updates and sharing what the first Carnival cruise back after the pause is really like.
Royal Caribbean Sails From Miami (July 2)
Royal Caribbean also returns with its first cruise from the United States in nearly a year-and-a-half. This trip is aboard Freedom of the Seas, sailing from Miami on Friday, July 2.
Celebrity Cruises — a sister line to Royal Caribbean — made history as the first ship to return to sailing from the United States. Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean has already returned with trips departing Nassau aboard Adventure of the Seas. Now it’s the cruise line’s time to return to sailing from the United States.
Freedom of the Seas will make history as not only the first Royal Caribbean International ship to sail again, but also the first ship to go through the CDC’s simulated voyage path that allows the ship to sail without 95%+ of passengers vaccinated.
Since the cruise departs Florida where businesses can’t require the shot, the cruise line is not requiring a vaccine to sail. Instead, it is highly encouraging everyone sail vaccinated and putting strong incentives in place — such as hefty testing fees — for those who are eligible for the shot but don’t have it. As well, many parts of the ship will be closed to unvaccinated passengers, including the casino, spa, and some restaurants.
Freedom of the Seas departs Miami at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, on a three-night cruise to Nassau and its private island CocoCay.
You can check out the Port of Miami webcam here to watch the ship sail.
Challenges Ahead, but an Important Milestone
So far the North American restart — still in its early stages — has been relatively smooth, but not without its challenges.
Cruises departing from Caribbean ports have found a handful of virus cases on ships, even on trips where most passengers are vaccinated. Other ships have seen crew members test positive before sailings begin.
Still, cases seem to be contained so far with the protocols and contact tracing put in place by the cruise lines and the CDC. As more cruises return, however, it will put the protocols to a greater test — especially if fears of more transmissible variants of the virus become reality.
Furthermore, questions about CDC oversight of cruises has come into play as a Florida judge issued an injunction against the health agency’s Conditional Sailing Order — the rules currently overseeing the return of cruising.
Should that injunction go into place as currently scheduled on July 18, it would make the current rules simply recommendations instead of requirements. Still, it seems most likely that no matter the rules, cruise lines will do whatever is required to keep the number of cases to a minimum.
For now, that means vaccine requirements, testing, lower capacities onboard, and frequent sanitation on ships.
As Royal Caribbean and Carnival depart on their first cruises back, it’s an important milestone to celebrate for the industry, but few would argue it means everything is simply back to normal.