June 28 (UPI) — The Celebrity Edge on Saturday became the first cruise ship to set sail from the United States with paying customers since COVID-19 shut down the cruise industry early last year.
The ship departed from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at 6 p.m. on a seven-day trip with stops in Mexico and the Bahamas, marking the beginning of U.S.-based cruising after 15 months.
Passenger Cynthia Mitchell told South Florida’s NBC 6 she was “beyond ready” to depart on the cruise.
“We’ve been flying, you know traveling different places,” said Mitchell. “We’ve taken road trips, but our cruises we missed dearly.”
The ship is sailing at 36% with all crew members and at least 95% of passengers fully vaccinated, per guidelines requested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that the CDC cannot enforce its guidelines requiring that passengers be vaccinated, suspending them through July 18, in response to a lawsuit from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Celebrity, a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean, said that future cruises departing from ports outside of Florida will require all passengers aged 16 and older to be fully vaccinated with the requirement extending to passengers 12 and older beginning Aug. 1.
As of Sunday 66% of U.S. adults had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 146,691,387 adults, or 56.8% were fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
Sixteen states had surpassed 70%, which is the goal of President Joe Biden by Sunday: Vermont, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Maryland, California, Washington, New Hampshire, New York, Illinois, Virginia. Mississippi is the worst at 45.9%.
Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain on Friday thanked DeSantis for advocating for the cruise industry but said the company will look to encourage passengers to get vaccinated.
“We recommend that people take vaccinations and we really encourage it, but we do accept that there are some who don’t, some children who can’t get vaccines,” Fain said. “We will manage the process so that we will make sure we never go too far with unvaccinated people and if necessary we’ll close down a cruise. But we think that’s all workable.”
Vaccinated passengers will not be required to wear masks while on the ship, but some restrictions will be in place upon going ashore in Mexico and the Bahamas.
About 5% of cabins on the ship have been set aside for unvaccinated passengers, who will be required to wear masks and to subject themselves to COVID-19 testing at their own expense.
Other precautions include staggered arrival and departure times, spaced out cabins and having crew serve buffet meals rather than having guests serve themselves.
Two passengers sharing a cabin tested positive for COVID-19 aboard a “test cruise” aboard the Celebrity Millennium where 100% of crew and passengers were fully vaccinated, and two unvaccinated passengers under the age of 16 tested positive aboard Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas earlier this month.
Royal Caribbean also delayed the inaugural sailing of its Odyssey of the Seas after eight crew members tested positive for the virus.
The Edge set sail with additional medical resources, including capacity for 33 patients and four ICU beds, on board in the event of an outbreak.