This Week in Cruise Recovery: Largest Ship Sets Sail From U.S. Since COVID

On Sunday, Royal Caribbean International’s Freedom of the Seas became the first large cruise ship to sail from a U.S. port in more than 15 months. The ship departed from PortMiami on a non-revenue “test cruise” with 600 volunteer passengers who are Royal Caribbean employees and their spouses/friends.

A representative from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also sailing aboard to assess the protocols put in place to protect guests and crew. During the next two days, the cruise will be evaluated on all the cruise processes—such as embarkation/disembarkation, dining, activities and even spending a shore ashore at Perfect Day at CocoCay, the line’s private Bahamian island.

Employees sailing on this cruise are vaccinated, but that’s not going to be a requirement for guests sailing from Florida ports when revenue cruises resume. While Royal Caribbean says it will strongly encourage guests to be vaccinated, it will accept those who aren’t—but they’ll have to undergo additional testing and pay for those tests.

In U.S. federal court last week, a judge granted the State of Florida a preliminary injunction against the CDC and its required regulations for cruise lines sailing from U.S. ports under the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO). The judge said that those regulations can remain in place only through July 18, when they’ll become non-binding and akin to guidelines.

The court questioned the CDC’s authority, gave the agency until July 2 to propose more limited guidelines, and sent the parties back to mediation, which had failed in the first “go-around.”

More Cruise Recovery News

Last week, Celebrity CruisesCelebrity Millennium sailed for the first time in more than a year with guests onboard from St. Maarten, the line’s new Caribbean home port. Travel Agent was aboard for the weeklong sailing, which was the first “big-ship restart” in North America. During our time onboard, we put together a slideshow and shared our "parting thoughts" about the ship.

Today, Travel Agent is aboard Windstar CruisesStar Breeze, recently revitalized and stretched, and now operating cruises from St. Maarten. Look for our first report later Monday. Due to issues getting vaccines for crew, the line was forced to change the first cruise’s itinerary. That said, the ship is now sailing through the Caribbean with some revenue guests, cruise line executives and the media.

Viking sailed back into Bermuda this past week and is now welcoming its first U.S. passengers aboard since the pandemic shut down cruise operations more than a year ago.

In a bit of a setback, though, eight crew members on Royal Caribbean International’s Odyssey of the Seas tested positive for COVID-19 and that ship’s restart has been delayed.

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