Cruises return to seas amid excitement, some hesitation

READY TO GO: Celebrity Edge seen on a media preview sailing out of Port Everglades ahead of its first season of sailing the Caribbean. On Saturday, the ship was to be the first to leave from a Florida port since the pandemic began. Richard Tribou/Orlando Sentinal/Tribune News Service

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Steve and Vicki Lake were among the first passengers in line Saturday to board the Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Edge cruise ship at Port Everglades.

“It’s our 30th anniversary,” Steve said.

“We wanted to do something special,” Vicki added.

So, the Atlanta residents decided they’d take the first cruise to depart a U.S. port with passengers in 15 months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Celebrity Edge’s seven-day cruise will make stops at Costa Maya and Cozumel in Mexico, and then Nassau, Bahamas. The ship will also have seven-night cruises throughout the summer to St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Nassau.

Celebrity Edge, which has a capacity of 2,918, is scheduled to depart at 40% capacity. It says 99% of people onboard — passengers and crew — are vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

“I love that,” Vicki said.

Other passengers love it, too.

Davie residents Robert and Sandy Silver consider the vaccination rate “super important,” according to Sandy.

“We’re both vaccinated,” Robert said. “That’s why we decided to go on the very first (cruise).”

Passengers on cruises departing from Florida aren’t required to be vaccinated. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law that bans Florida businesses from requiring vaccinations. They’re subject to a $5,000 fine per incident for violating that law.

Celebrity Cruises, which is owned by Royal Caribbean, requires passengers to be vaccinated on cruises outside of Florida.

Celebrity Cruises said all ships departing Florida will have at least 95% of passengers and crew vaccinated, they’ll have reduced capacity to allow for social distancing, and vaccinated guests won’t have to wear masks. Vaccinated passengers must show their vaccination card on boarding day and it must show the passenger was fully vaccinated at least 14 days ago.

Celebrity Cruises said unvaccinated passengers must wear masks at all times, will have designated areas in restaurants, casinos and theaters, and will be subject to additional testing and protocols on board.

Still, there’s some hesitation. Vicki Lake was asked whether she was more excited, hesitant, or thankful about Saturday’s cruise.

“Kind of all of the above,” she said. “But excited really, like everybody else.”

The Celebrity Edge, under the guidance of Capt. Kate McCue, the first and only American female captain, according to Celebrity Cruises, has special adaptations to keep people safe such as staggered arrivals and departures, contactless transactions, and coronavirus testing and monitoring, according to Brian Abel, senior vice president of hotel operations for Celebrity Cruises. It also has expanded medical facilities and an enhanced air flow system, Abel said.

“I’m glad that today marks the beginning of the recovery from this economic challenge,” said Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of the Royal Caribbean Group.

Mark and Mindy Isaacs, who live in New Jersey, usually take two cruises per year. But they usually leave from their home state. They decided to come to Florida to take this cruise. They said they’ve been going to restaurants back home so the cruise should be safe.

“I think we’re absolutely fine,” Mindy said.


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