CDC Approves First Cruise to Set Sail With Paying Passengers in June

May 28, 2021 Updated: May 28, 2021

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on May 26 announced that it was approving the first cruise to set sail with paying passengers since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Starting on June 26, the Celebrity Edge, a subsidiary Royal Caribbean Group, will depart Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, setting sail on a seven-night cruise of the Caribbean, marking the first time a cruise ship has sailed U.S. waters in more than a year.

Captain Kate McCue, the first and only American female Captain, has been asked to lead the fleet and the industry back into operation.

The Celebrity Edge has selected a vaccinated crew for the voyage and will be accepting U.S. guests aged 16 and older who are fully vaccinated. In August, all U.S. guests ages 12 and older on cruises must also be fully vaccinated, while requirements for non-U.S. guests will vary.

Prior to boarding, all guests will be  required to complete a health questionnaire and unvaccinated children will be required to undergo a complimentary COVID-19 test at the terminal.

In some homeport countries, testing may be  required for all guests regardless of their vaccination status.

A CDC spokesperson confirmed to The Hill that the agency “provisionally approved” the Celebrity Edge to start restricted revenue sailing after the company submitted a request for a conditional sailing certificate and a port agreement.

“CDC and the cruise industry agree that the industry has what it needs to move forward and no additional roadblocks exist for resuming sailing by mid-summer,” the spokesperson said.

In a press release on Wednesday, Celebrity Cruises said it has been preparing for this moment for months.

“For the past 15 months, our conversations with friends and loved ones about seeing the world have been accompanied by the phrase ‘someday.’ I’m beyond proud and excited to say that day has arrived,” stated Celebrity Cruises CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo.

Earlier in May, the CDC issued new guidance for cruise ships operating or seeking to operate in U.S. waters, and gave them two options; the first being simulated cruises with volunteer passengers to test the ships’ COVID-19 precautions before carrying paying customers.

The second option was for crew and passengers to meet a vaccination threshold of 98 percent and 95 percent respectively, in which case they can start revenue cruises immediately under the relaxed COVID-19 regulations.

Celebrity Cruises opted for the second choice for the Celebrity Edge, allowing the company to start cruises in June.

However, the announcement comes amid Florida’s state law banning vaccine passports, which goes into effect on July 1.

Gov. Ron DeSantis codified the prohibition of COVID-19 vaccine passports by signing Florida Senate Bill 2006 into law on May 3. He initiated the ban through an executive order in August last year.

The new bill prohibits a business entity from requiring patrons or customers to provide documentation certifying vaccination against or recovery from COVID-19. It also forbids governments and schools from requiring vaccination proof.

As a consequence, it may create disputes between the Florida government and the federal government over whether ships will indeed be able to set sail from Florida.

In a statement to WFTS, a spokesperson for DeSantis said: “The CDC has no legal authority to set any sort of requirements to cruise. Moreover, the CDC has acknowledged, on record, that the federal government chose not to make a legal requirement for vaccine passports. Now the CDC provides coercive ‘guidance,’ in the absence of any federal law or congressional authorization, requiring cruise ships to violate state law.

“Companies doing business in Florida, including Celebrity Cruises, should immediately cease to impose such discriminatory policies upon individuals. 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,” they added.