The Great Pause in U.S. cruising looks to be coming to an end. On June 26, Celebrity Cruises plans to be the first major ocean cruise line to sail from a U.S. port in more than a year when the 2,918-passenger Celebrity Edge departs from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, for a seven-night Caribbean cruise.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has given the go-ahead to Celebrity on the basis that all crew members will be vaccinated for COVID-19 and all U.S. passengers age 16 and older will be fully vaccinated as well. (All vaccine doses must be administered at least 14 days prior to sailing.) Starting August 1, 2021, all U.S. guests age 12 and older on Celebrity vessels must be fully vaccinated, too.
In late April, the CDC sent a letter to cruise lines clarifying its rules for the restart of sailings from the United States amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The agency stated that ships must show that 95 percent of crew and guests are vaccinated to avoid a rigorous test cruise process. The 5 percent leeway for vaccinated passengers would mean only a very limited number of unvaccinated youngsters could sail onboard.
There is one small (OK, potentially major) problem—just as Celebrity announced its CDC-approved plans to restart sailings, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis stated that cruise lines operating out of Florida can’t make being vaccinated a requirement for passengers.
In April, Florida filed a lawsuit against the CDC claiming that the agency’s stringent guidelines for the restart of U.S. cruising constitute an unlawful year-and-a-half-long nationwide lockdown of an entire industry. The suit has since been sent to a mediator in an effort to find a resolution to the dispute.
“What the CDC has done by closing the cruise industry for over a year, they do not have the authority to do it. You cannot have just some bureaucracy that doesn’t have the legal authority to do this . . . shut down commerce,” Governor DeSantis said during a May 28 press conference.
He added that he is confident that Florida will win its case against the CDC and said that whatever the outcome, “We are going to enforce Florida law. We have laws to protect the people and the privacy of our citizens and we are going to enforce them.”
Christina Pushaw, press secretary for the Florida governor, told The Points Guy that “companies that violate this law would be subject to a fine of $5,000 each time they require a customer to present a ‘vaccine passport’ for service.” She specifically mentioned Celebrity Cruises as one of the companies that could be subject to a penalty.
In response, Celebrity has not rescinded its intentions to restart U.S. cruises on June 26.
“We are grateful to the governor for his support of the industry and his efforts to advance the return of operations from U.S. ports beginning this summer, and look forward to continuing productive conversations for a smooth resumption of cruising in Florida,” Celebrity said in a statement sent to AFAR. The cruise line stated that it is working with the CDC as well as with local and state authorities “to finalize our health and safety measures for cruises departing from U.S. ports, including Florida.”
Following the relaunch of sailings on the Celebrity Edge, Celebrity plans to bring the Celebrity Equinox back to U.S. waters on July 18, with CDC-approved departures from Ft. Lauderdale. The two vessels will sail a seven-night western Caribbean itinerary that includes the Bahamas, Grand Cayman, and Costa Maya and Cozumel in Mexico. They will also sail a seven-night eastern Caribbean cruise making stops in the British Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.
Those relaunches follow the reintroduction of the Celebrity Millennium, which returned to service in the Caribbean island of St. Maarten on June 5 with seven-night cruises that include Aruba, Curaçao, and Barbados.
All of the above cruises are currently available to be booked along with the new Celebrity Apex, which will begin sailing seven-night Greek Isles cruises out of Athens on June 19. Additionally, starting July 4, the luxury mega-yacht Celebrity Flora will resume sailing Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands, followed by the Celebrity Xpedition and Celebrity Xploration, which will begin sailing the Galápagos on July 24 and September 18, respectively.
And beginning July 23, Celebrity also plans to return to Alaska, following the signing of legislation that made summer Alaska cruises a real possibility for 2021.
Celebrity stated that it plans to make additional announcements regarding the return to service of the remaining vessels in its fleet in the coming weeks.