Celebrity Cruises made history over the weekend with its re-launch of the Celebrity Edge, the first cruise ship to leave a United States homeport with ticketed passengers since March of 2020 when COVID-19 threw the American cruise industry into a tailspin.
Setting sail to the Caribbean from Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida on June 26, the milestone event was complete with a pre-cruise press conference and reception.
"To survive for 15 months with zero revenue is not something they teach you in business school," Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of the Royal Caribbean Group - which includes Celebrity Cruises - said. "But we're a strong company," he noted, adding he's happy to have the "flywheel cranked up again in this industry."
Under the CDC's Framework for Conditional Sailing Order (CSO), cruise ships can sail if 95% of the crew and paying passengers are fully vaccinated. Before boarding the Celebrity Edge, passengers were required to fill out a health questionnaire form and provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
However, cruising in Florida has become a political debate as the state's Gov. Ron DeSantis has fought against the notion of "vaccine passports" and chafed under the CDC's COVID-19 restrictions. Most recently, a federal judge in Florida ruled that the CDC's conditional sailing orders for Florida-based ships would become "non-binding" guidelines on July 18.
According to Brian Abel, Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations for Celebrity Cruises, the June 26 Celebrity Edge cruise is sailing with "95% of our guests fully vaccinated, almost a 100% vaccinated crew, and only a 37% load factor, around 1,200 passengers on a ship that normally carries just over 3,000 passengers." For Abel, the idea is to keep the landmark June 26 cruise as "close to the experience of a pre-COVID-19 cruise as possible. We want to give our guests a vacation."
Captain Kate McCue, the first and only female American cruise ship captain, - along with crew members welcomed guests like cheerleaders saluting victorious football players - is optimistic about the return of cruising and let listeners in on a Celebrity Edge ritual that occurred over the last 15 months.
"After everything shut down, we'd blow the ship's horn every night at 7: 30 to let everyone know we were safe and happy," she recalled. "Today, we're blowing the ship's horn again: hope floats, and it can and will rise."