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1st cruise ship from U.S. sails away since beginning of the pandemic

A small boat passes near a docked cruise ship.
The Celebrity Edge cruise ship is docked in Port Everglades before departing for its seven-day trip.
(Lynne Sladky / Associated Press)

The first cruise ship to leave a U.S. port since the coronavirus pandemic brought the industry to a 15-month standstill sailed away on Saturday with nearly all vaccinated passengers on board.

Celebrity Edge departed Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at 6 p.m. with the number of passengers limited to about 40% capacity, and with nearly all 1,100 passengers vaccinated against COVID-19. Celebrity Cruises, one of Royal Caribbean Cruise’s brands, says 99% of the passengers are vaccinated, well over the 95% requirement imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A giant greeting was projected on a wall of one of the port buildings: “Someday is here. Welcome back.” The port is less than 15 north of the Surfside building collapse site where rescue crews continued to search for victims Saturday.

Passengers arrived for the cruise in matching T-shirts with phrases such as “straight outta vaccination” and “vaccinated and ready to cruise.”

The vice president is in El Paso to visit the U.S.-Mexico border in perhaps her most politically charged trip since taking office.

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“Words can’t describe how excited we are to be a part of this historic sailing today,” said Elizabeth Rosner, 28, who moved from Michigan to Orlando, Fla., in December 2019 with her fiancé just to be close to the cruise industry’s hub.

To comply with both the CDC’s requirement and a new Florida law banning businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccination, Celebrity Cruises asked guests if they would like to share their vaccination status. Those who did not show or say they are vaccinated face additional restrictions.

Saturday’s sailing kicks off the cruise lines’ return to business with Carnival vessels already scheduled to depart from other ports next month.

Celebrity Cruises had unveiled the $1-billion boat in December 2018 — betting on luxury cruising, offering a giant spa and multifloor suites. The seven-night cruise will sail for three days in the Western Caribbean waters before making stops in Costa Maya, Cozumel and Nassau.

The ship is led by Capt. Kate McCue, the first American woman to captain a cruise ship, who has more than 1 million followers on TikTok.

“You can truly feel the palpable sense of excitement and energy amongst the group as we prepare for our welcoming of our first guests,” McCue said. “I’ve never honestly seen a group so excited to get back to work.”

Industry officials are hoping all goes smooth to move past a chapter last year of deadly outbreaks on cruise ships that prompted ships to be rejected at ports and passengers to be forced into quarantine. Some passengers died of COVID-19 at sea, while others fell so ill they had to be carried out of the vessels on stretchers.

The CDC extended no-sail orders repeatedly last year as the pandemic raged, and came up with strict requirements for the industry that have already been contested in court by the state of Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis says the industry generates billions for the state’s economy.

On Saturday, officials at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale said only that the port lost more than $30 million in revenue in fiscal year 2020 from the cruise shutdown.

During that hiatus, Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, the three largest cruise companies, have had to raise more than $40 billion in financing just to stay afloat. Collectively they lost $20 billion last year and another $4.5 billion in the first quarter of 2021, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.


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