Celebrity Edge to become first cruise ship to sail from US port since pandemic shutdown

Richard Tribou
South Florida Sun Sentinel

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — The first major cruise ship to sail from the U.S. in more than a year will be Celebrity Edge from Port Everglades.

Celebrity Cruises announced it had received to OK from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to begin seven-night Caribbean sailings from the Fort Lauderdale port beginning June 26, according to the company.

“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,” said cruise line CEO and President Lisa Lutoff-Perlo in a release.

Celebrity Edge is seen on a media preview sailing out of Port Everglades ahead of its first season of sailing the Caribbean.

When the ship sets sail, it would make it the first major cruise vessel to sail from a U.S. port since CDC orders shut them down in March 2020.

“It’s fun to be first. But most importantly, we are ready for cruising to restart safely,” said Port Everglades CEO Jonathan Daniels. “We have worked with our cruise line partners for the past year toward a safe return to cruising, and now it is finally here.”

The cruise industry came to a halt as the global coronavirus pandemic took hold. Cruise lines have been working to get their ships back sailing from U.S. ports navigating COVID-19 safety protocols put forth by the CDC.

Part of those included allowing ships that commit to 98% vaccinated crew and 95% vaccinated passengers skipping over the test sailings other lines will have to perform in order to get their Conditional Sailing Certificate.

Celebrity mostly caters to adults, and the Celebrity Edge cruises will require any U.S.-based passengers 16 and older to have proof of vaccination, according to the release. Beginning Aug. 1, that requirement will include those 12 and older.

Just how that stance will mesh with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order and forthcoming law that goes into effect July 1 that bans vaccine passports has raised questions.

“We’ve been very clear, the law is clear in Florida,” Taryn Fenske, spokesperson for the governor told The Miami Herald. “You can’t mandate vaccine passports. We are interested to see how the CDC works with them so that they don’t get these exorbitant fines.”

The law threatens fines of up to $5,000 per violation.

Celebrity Cruises spokesperson Susan Lomax sent a statement to the Herald saying, “We are working with the Governor’s office to align on the path forward.”

Richard Fain, though, chairman of Celebrity’s parent company Royal Caribbean Group said the decision was the result of collaboration among the CDC, elected officials and industry group Cruise Lines International Association.

“We’ve consulted with the brightest minds in the health industry to ensure that our passengers and crew feel safe and comfortable on our ships while enjoying the uncompromised experience they know and love,” Fain said.

The ship will offer a selection of either Eastern or Western Caribbean itineraries.

In addition, the line announced Celebrity Equinox will also sail from Port Everglades on Caribbean itineraries beginning July 18, which means nine of the 15 ships in Celebrity’s fleet will be sailing worldwide in 2021.

The line already had announced plans for sailing in Alaska as well in July as Celebrity Millennium from new home port of St. Maarten, the first major line to return to the Caribbean when it begins voyages on June 5.

Several other lines have announced vaccine-required sailings in Alaska starting in July or August. Alaska does not have a ban on vaccine passports. As far as Florida goes, Royal Caribbean announced it had received the OK from the CDC to sail a test voyage in late June.

The simulated voyages aim to prove out cruise lines’ COVID-19 health protocols to ensure they can sail safely amid the pandemic. If all goes well, the CDC can approve the test sailing and allow that ship to sail with paying customers.

Lines that cater to passengers that include younger children would not be able to hit the CDC’s high-percentage vaccination goals since no vaccine is currently available for those 11 and younger.

Officials at Port Canaveral said they were optimistic that the CDC would give similar approvals soon for simulated sailings that could in a best-case scenario begin in late June.