USVI To Welcome First Cruise Ship To St. Thomas In 15 Months This Morning
CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The Celebrity Edge will be the first cruise ship to return to St. Thomas since March 2020 when it arrives just before noon today.
The U.S. Virgin Islands tourism industry has benefitted from an increasingly popular charter yacht business and Airbnb visits in the months after the COVID-19 pandemic first took hold worldwide — but the cruise ship industry itself was eventually brought to a complete halt.
Today’s ship, part of the Celebrity Cruises brand owned by Royal Caribbean Group, is scheduled to dock at 11 a.m. at the Austin “Babe” Monsanto Marine Terminal in Crown Bay. The ship will depart at 7 p.m.
The Celebrity Edge will be carrying around 1,500 passengers and 700 crew members when it calls on St. Thomas. That is only about half of the ship’s normal capacity of 2,908 passengers, according to Virgin Islands Port Authority marine manager Matthew Berry
In compliance with Centers for Disease Control guidelines, Celebrity Cruises will be sailing with at least 95 percent of passengers fully vaccinated.
According to the Virgin Islands Health Department, unvaccinated passengers must submit a negative COVID test within five days of embarkation and another at the time of boarding at the cruise ship port.
“These documents will be shared with the Department of Health for review and analysis to ensure compliance of set requirements. This protocol mirrors the Travel Entry Portal requirements that travelers by air are required to submit,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Tai Hunte-Ceasar said.
Cruise passengers coming to St. Thomas can expect a warm welcome.
The ship will be greeted by a water cannon salute from the pilot boats. On land, entertainment will be provided by the Virgin Islands Tourism Department, including performances by the Rising Stars Steel Orchestra, dancers and mocko jumbies.
“The USVI Department of Tourism welcomes our first cruise call to the territory in more than a year,” the department said on Facebook today. “To the passengers and crew of Celebrity Edge, welcome to St. Thomas! We wish you a safe and enjoyable visit.”
Stringent health protocols will be implemented, according to Alani Henneman-Todman of the V.I. Tourism Department.
On June 26, the Celebrity Edge was the first cruise ship to leave a U.S. port since the coronavirus pandemic brought the industry to a standstill.
On its first cruise, nearly 99 percent of the passengers were vaccinated, according to Royal Caribbean.
To comply with both the CDC’s requirement and a new Florida law banning businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccination, Celebrity Cruises asked guests if they would like to share their vaccination status. Those who did not show or say they are vaccinated face additional restrictions.
The ship is led by Capt. Kate McCue, the first American woman to captain a cruise ship.
“You can truly feel the palpable sense of excitement and energy amongst the group as we prepare for our welcoming of our first guests,” McCue told the Associated Press prior to the ship’s return sail. “I’ve never honestly seen a group so excited to get back to work.”