MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- Miami-based Royal Caribbean Group sailed its first cruise ship on Saturday with its first paying passengers in North America since the pandemic caused an industry wide shutdown.
Celebrity Millennium, part of the Celebrity Cruises line owned by Royal Caribbean Group, sailed from Philipsburg, St. Maarten with paying passengers on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. Royal Caribbean has not held cruises since March 2020.
"We have 648 passengers, all of them hailing from North America," said Stewart Chiron, a Miami-based cruise expert and travel agent known as "The Cruise Guy."
Out of those 648 passengers on board, over 95% are fully vaccinated. Children who could not yet receive vaccinations were required to show negative COVID-19 tests.
All ship crew members are also fully vaccinated.
The sailing fulfills he promise by U.S. cruise ship companies to depart elsewhere while the CDC, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and cruise ship companies hassle over proof of vaccination as a condition for cruise ships to depart Florida ports.
Florida cruise facilities have remained idle for 14 months.
"I can tell you on board the ship it is an excited mood, people are ecstatic to actually be on a cruise," said Chiron.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that for cruise lines to recommence sailing in US waters, they must either complete "trial" cruises to replicate real-world cruising conditions, or comply with the CDC vaccination requirements.
Celebrity Cruises has opted for the latter, which involves submitting an attestation to the CDC stating "that 95% of crew (excluding any newly embarking crew in quarantine) are fully vaccinated and submit to CDC a clear and specific vaccination plan and timeline to limit cruise ship sailings to 95% of passengers who have been verified by the cruise ship operator as fully vaccinated prior to sailing."
While the ship usually sails from a port in the US, it is sailing from St. Maarten because there are still a number of hoops cruise lines have to pass through with the CDC to be allowed to sail. Caribbean nations have relaxed vaccine protocols which ease the proof of vaccination issue.
"The destinations themselves feel more confident and are willing to open up knowing vaccines are safe. People are getting them and they are more comfortable welcoming them into their borders," said Alexander Britell, founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Caribbean Journal.
Travelers must have a negative COVID-19 test to get back into the U.S. so many Caribbean resorts are providing rapid antigen tests to make it super easy.
"Some destinations already had that infrastructure in place so it is pretty seamless," said Britell.
On June 10, a "CDC sanctioned test cruise will depart PortMiami and June 26, the Celebrity Edge will depart Port Everglades despite the governor's ban on proof of vaccination.
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