First cruise to the United States in 15 months ready to sail as restrictions ease

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Guests lined up until Embark on Sunday aboard Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.’s Freedom of the Seas, marking the first cruise from a U.S. port since the pandemic suspended operations 15 months ago.

Passengers dropped off at PortMiami with suitcases in tow, a sight last seen at the world’s largest cruise port in March 2020. Freedom of the Seas maycarry around 4,500 guests, and it’s expected to take around 650 on this first two-night loop, all Royal Caribbean employees who volunteered and were allowed to bring a guest 18 and over.

“I Feel really safe with my mask i’m vaccinated everyone is vaccinated so i Feel really good about it, ”said Carolina Jimenez, a 25-year-old law student who was invited as a plus-one. “It’s unfortunate how long it took to get back, but I think it’s something that no one could have controlled, and I’m just glad that now we’re here and going back.”

The trip is dubbed a “simulated trip,” a concept devised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to essentially prove that ships can navigate safely with Covid-19 still circulating around the world.

For a year and three months, companies have been in a state of suspended animation. They were essentially banned from the United States, the world’s largest cruise market, and had to bear the enormous costs of keeping their fleets in a zero-income environment. But the federal government’s caution towards the industry came after dramatic epidemics at sea last year that killed passengers and crew and taxed public health resources.

The “vaccine is obviously a key player here, and a game changer for us and for all of society,” said Captain Patrik Dahlgren, senior vice president of global maritime operations for Royal Caribbean, who spoke from cruise terminal Sunday.

The CDC has created a two-pronged approach to get cruise lines back to sea: they can take the mock trips, or they can immediately restart paid cruises if they verify a 95% vaccination rate among passengers and crew. . Royal Caribbean follows both paths more or less simultaneously, with the first paid cruise scheduled for Saturday.

But there is another wild card in the process of reopening. The state of Florida sued the CDC in April to completely lift restrictions on cruises, saying the industry was unfairly chosen for the strictest treatment possible, endangering the jobs of many Floridians.

Florida won ainjunction against CDC rules, but U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday suspended it until July 18 and gave the CDC until July 2 to propose a more restrictive order.

The deal may give cruise lines more flexibility, but is unlikely to significantly accelerate their gradual resumption of operations. The companies say it typically takes around three months to get a ship ready to sail, so the schedule for departures is unlikely to accelerate much in the short term.

Free cruise

During this time, the volunteers were eager to participate in the free cruise program. Other mock cruises will include volunteers from outside the company, and the cruise line says it has received more than 350,000 requests to participate. The first paid cruise, Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity Edge, will depart from Port Everglades on Saturday.

Victoria Ryan, a 64-year-old woman who began working in leadership development for Royal Caribbean shortly before the pandemic, said Freedom of the Seas would be her very first cruise and that she was traveling with her long-time friend. dated.

“I was like, ‘OK, this is a free cruise, this supports the company and I’m going with someone who knows what I’m supposed to be doing,’” Ryan said. “How could I not do that?” “


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