Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity Edge is less than 24 hours from the coast of Florida, the first passenger cruise from a U.S. port since the Covid pandemic shut down industry operations around the world last year .
“We’ve waited so long for this moment, and it’s here, and it’s beautiful,” Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain said in an exclusive interview Friday on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”
The Celebrity Edge is operating at 36% capacity to enable social distancing. Still, nearly 1,100 passengers will depart on Saturday from Port Everglades, Florida.
All crew members are 100% vaccinated and almost all passengers are vaccinated except for two adults and 24 children under 16, the company said. It is now equipped with a larger medical unit that has two doctors and three nurses, as well as additional beds and ventilators for the intensive care units.
“We want them to start slow, you know, we haven’t been running for 15 months,” Fain said. “Like anything else, we want to start slow and build, give people a chance to practice, give people a chance to come back to the experience. “
Celebrity Edge no longer requires passengers to be vaccinated after a Florida court temporarily blocked the CDC’s order banning cruises from U.S. ports. Those who are not vaccinated will be subject to additional restrictions and the cost of Covid testing, Fain said. Health experts say it could prompt people to get vaccinated before going on a cruise.
Fain, along with the broader cruise industry, have been fighting for their survival for more than a year after the United States and other countries suspended operations to contain the Covid epidemics spreading aboard ships. ships. Every major cruise line has raised billions of dollars in debt and issued shares to stay afloat.
Cruise lines hope to return to pre-pandemic shipping volume as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxes restrictions on the industry.
“I see the untapped demand, the people who are really eager to get back to sea, I see it as very strong,” Fain said. “In fact, we are inundated with people calling, we clearly want to come back and get back to normalcy. “
“People are fed up with being locked up in their homes. They want to go out and book accordingly, ”he added.
However, the Covid remains a challenge. On Thursday, Royal Caribbean revealed that two children had tested positive aboard the Adventure of the Seas.
Fain said it was unrealistic to think ships would sail 100% without Covid.
“There will be cases on board the cruise ships,” he said, adding that “the important thing is that we make sure that these are isolated cases and that they do not become an epidemic. “.
Fain said Royal Caribbean knows how to isolate travelers if someone becomes ill and almost everyone on their ships will be vaccinated.
“Every crew member anticipates when our first guest will step onto our bridge, and to say we’re excited is an understatement,” McCue said in an interview.
Passengers are also eager to get on board.
“Pretty excited to be a part of this revival. It’s been a long time coming, ”said Julie Spiech, a New Jersey resident, who will be one of the first to board the Celebrity Edge on Saturday.
Her husband agrees.
“We have sailed for many years. And we love it. And we missed it, ”said Phil Spiech. “I retired two years ago, and that’s what I wanted to do, sail and travel, and everything was put on hold. “
While Julie Spiech is excited to get on board, she said they will monitor cases overseas before making the decision to take speedboat trips.
“We don’t know yet if we’re going to go on excursions. We need to look… what’s going on in the other countries we’re going to, ”Spiech said.
– CNBC’s Pia Singh contributed to this report.