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Royal Caribbean to resume sailing from U.S. ports this summer

Cruise ships set to sail again after shutdown
Cruise ships set to sail again after pandemic shutdown 01:57

After being docked by the pandemic for more than a year, the U.S. cruise industry is gearing up to resume operations this summer. Royal Caribbean on Friday said six of its ships would start sailing from ports in Florida and Texas beginning next month.

The Miami-based cruise line credited the successful rollout of vaccines in readying for its comeback after getting shut down by COVID-19 in March 2020, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a "no-sail" edict barring passenger cruise ships from leaving domestic ports. 

"As of today, 90% of all vacationers booking with Royal Caribbean are either vaccinated or planning to get vaccinated in time for their cruise," Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean's president and CEO, said in a statement

All crew members aboard the cruises will be vaccinated, and guests are strongly encouraged to get their shots. Patrons who are not vaccinated or who are unable to show evidence that they are will be required to undergo testing and follow other protocols, to be announced at a later date, Royal Caribbean said. 

The ship Freedom of the Seas will depart from Miami on July 2 to the Bahamas, kicking off a season that will expand by the end of August to include 12 Royal Caribbean ships carrying vacationers to the Caribbean, Alaska and Europe, the company said.

Royal Caribbean ships will start sailing from Fort Lauderdale on July 3; from Seattle on July 19; from Port Canaveral on August 8; and from Galveston, Texas, beginning August 15, according to the cruise line. 

The company's summer lineup includes international ports across the Atlantic, such as Barcelona, Rome and Provence, France. 

Royal Caribbean previously announced its return to sailing with departures this month from the Bahamas and in July from the U.K. and Cyprus. 

Competitor Carnival Cruise Line is also eyeing a July restart in the U.S., with tentative plans for three of its ships to set sail from Galveston and Miami.  

Norwegian Cruise Line in late May said it expected to resume cruise operations from the U.S. starting Aug. 7 with departures from Seattle to Alaska.

The effective halt to operations has had major cruise lines bleeding cash, with Royal Caribbean reporting a net loss of $1.1 billion in the first quarter. 

The CDC has since set conditions for cruise lines to resume sailing, including a provision that an overwhelming majority on board be immunized against the coronavirus.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed a law to prohibit companies from requiring customers be vaccinated against COVID-19, with his state previously filing suit to block the CDC requirements. 

Cruise ships are often settings for disease outbreaks because of their closed environment and close contact between travelers from many countries, according to the CDC. Cruise lines have long contended with outbreaks of the norovirus, for instance, one of which sickened more than 300 passengers and crew on a Princess Cruises ship in February 2020.

Then the novel coronavirus emerged. From February 3 to March 13 of last year there were roughly 200 cases of COVID-19 confirmed among returned cruise travelers from multiple ocean voyages, including Carnival Cruise Lines' Diamond Princess and Grand Princess, according to the CDC. 

The Diamond Princess and Grand Princess had more than 800 total COVID-19 cases, including 10 deaths, the CDC stated last year.

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