For the first time in more than a year, a Royal Caribbean ship is setting sail in North America

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It’s finally comeback time for Royal Caribbean in North America.

In a major milestone in the cruise industry’s long-delayed return to operations in the region, the world’s largest cruise line on Saturday will operate its first Caribbean sailing since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020.

The voyage will be a seven-night trip out of Nassau in the Bahamas on the line’s 3,114-passenger Adventure of the Seas. It’ll feature calls at Cozumel in Mexico and Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas.

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Adventure of the Seas will be just the second big cruise ship to resume operations in North America since March 2020. Royal Caribbean’s sister line, Celebrity Cruises, began sailings out of St. Maarten (the Dutch side of the island of St. Martin) on June 5 with a single ship, Celebrity Millennium.

The Royal Caribbean and Celebrity sailings are just the start of what soon will be a flood of cruise vessels resuming operations in North America.

For starters, Celebrity has another ship starting up Caribbean sailings out of Fort Lauderdale on June 26. Luxury line Crystal Cruises will follow a week later with a startup of Bahamas sailings out of Nassau.

In addition, seven separate major cruise lines have announced plans to restart cruises to Alaska out of Seattle in July and August.

While many vacation spots on land in North America have reopened to tourists in recent months as COVID-19 cases have fallen, cruise lines have been delayed in restarting sailings in North America due to restrictions implemented by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Video: Royal Caribbean first cruise line with CDC approval to sail US waters (USA TODAY)

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Until recently, the CDC had blocked all but the smallest cruise ships from sailing in U.S. waters, which has effectively shut down big-ship cruising in North America. Most big cruise ships that sail in North America use U.S. ports as a base.   

The CDC restrictions are behind Royal Caribbean’s decision to operate this weekend’s sailing out the Bahamas and only include stops at non-U.S. ports. By originating the trip in a non-U.S. port and not including U.S. port stops, the line does not need the approval of the CDC to operate the voyage. Royal Caribbean only requires the approval of officials in the destinations that Adventure of the Seas will visit, which the line now has.

While Adventure of the Seas and Celebrity Millennium are the first two big cruise ships to restart operations in North America since the coronavirus pandemic began, they’re not the first cruise ships of any size to restart — or at least attempt to restart — operations.

The Royal Caribbean and Celebrity restarts in the Caribbean come seven months after small-ship specialist SeaDream Yacht Club attempted to resume voyages in the Caribbean with a small, yacht-like vessel called SeaDream 1. Alas, the sailing did not go particularly well. It ended with a COVID-19 outbreak and a quarantine for passengers. SeaDream subsequently canceled months-worth of sailings that it had planned for the winter and spring in North America.

There also have been several dozen cruises on small riverboats and other small vessels operated in the past two months on U.S. rivers and intracoastal waters. All of the trips have been on vessels that carry fewer than 250 passengers and crew, which are not subject to CDC regulation.

Still, the Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Millennium sailings this month mark what many consider the true kickoff to a comeback of cruising in North America. Big-ship sailings in North America — particularly in the Bahamas and the Caribbean — account for a significant percentage of all cruises taken worldwide.

Like all of the lines in the midst of restarting departures, Royal Caribbean is implementing a long list of new health and safety measures on Adventure of the Seas designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on board.

The new measures include a requirement that all passengers 16 years and older must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19, with final doses administered at least 14 days prior to sailing.  Starting Aug. 1, all passengers age 12 and older must be fully vaccinated.

The line also is requiring that all passengers — even vaccinated passengers — be tested for COVID-19 before boarding Adventure of the Seas on the day the ship sails. This latter requirement was just added on Thursday — just two days before the ship’s first departure.

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Featured image of courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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