(CNN) – The first major cruise ship open to Americans since the industry was halted more than a year ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic set sail on Sunday.
Celebrity Millennium, part of the Celebrity Cruises line owned by Royal Caribbean Group, set sail from Philipsburg, St. Maarten, with paying passengers on Saturday at 10:30 pm
Royal Caribbean had not taken cruises since March 2020.
«Today, we sail, again! This is such an important time for our company, our industry and the Caribbean. That this day is finally here for our guests and our team is truly special, beyond words, actually, “said Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, said in a release.
“What an honor to now be the first to enthusiastically say, once again: ‘Welcome aboard!'”
The 7-day cruise from St. Maarten will include stops at the ports of Barbados, Aruba and Curaçao.
Approximately 500 passengers on board, more than 95% are fully vaccinated. Children who were not yet able to receive vaccines were required to test negative for COVID-19.
All members of the ship’s crew are also fully vaccinated.
“More than 80% of our passengers said they would rather sail on a boat with fully vaccinated people,” Colleen McDaniel, editor-in-chief of Cruise Critic who is aboard the Celebrity Millennium. “It’s like traveling in a bubble.”
“This is the first big ship to sail in the Caribbean, so it feels very special,” he added. “The energy and excitement here is so powerful. The crew is so eager to finally have people on board. So many people were clapping, you can tell that this finally feels normal again and is making everything very happy.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that for cruise lines to sail in US waters again, they must complete “test” cruises to reproduce real-world cruise conditions or meet CDC vaccination requirements.
Celebrity Cruises has opted for the latter, which involves submitting a certification to the CDC stating “that 95% of the crew (excluding any newly quarantined crew) are fully vaccinated and submit to the CDC a clear vaccination plan and specific and a schedule to limit cruise trips to 95% of passengers verified by the cruise operator as fully vaccinated before sailing.
While the ship generally sails from a US port, it now does so from St. Maarten because there are still a number of obstacles that cruise lines must go through with the CDC in order to navigate.
However, Celebrity Edge is poised to be the first major cruise ship to sail from the United States in June 2021. This reigning Celebrity cruise ship will depart from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on June 26, and all crew and Passengers over the age of 16 must show proof that they have been fully vaccinated before boarding.
And that regulation will not disappear: after August 1, the vaccination rule will be expanded to include travelers over 12 years of age.