This is how the first test cruise in the US set sail 0:50
The world's cruise ships were once titans of the oceans, making billions of profits as their city-sized passenger populations traveled the globe.
But last year, many of these floating palaces became epicenters of the coronavirus, shunned from port to port as COVID cases on board increased and the pandemic intensified on land.
First the passengers, and then the crew members, struggled to get home.
By the summer of 2020, the world's cruise fleet was essentially out of action.
Most of the ships were put away and some were sold for scrap as the industry struggled to survive economically.
Now, the first passenger cruise ship to leave the US shores in more than a year has set sail.
The departure of the Celebrity Edge, a 300-meter ship with a pre-covid capacity of 2,918 guests, marks a significant step for an industry that has lost thousands of jobs and millions of dollars a day during the suspension of cruises. .
There are many cruise ship voyages that remain virus-free, navigating bureaucracy, restoring their reputations, and safely returning to the seas.
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State of the world cruise
Cruise ships have been returning to Italy for some time.
Here is the MSC Orchestra that will depart from Venice in early June 2021. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP via Getty Images
Celebrity Edge, owned by Royal Caribbean Group's Celebrity Cruises, may be the first cruise ship to leave the US, but it is not the first ship to sail after the pandemic.
Cruising's return after the outbreak came in August 2020 when MSC Cruises' flagship Grandiosa departed from the Italian port of Genoa for a seven-day Mediterranean voyage with comprehensive health and safety measures in place.
Italian national cruise ships have been operating ever since, navigating the choppy waves of the pandemic and the occasional forced pauses by Italian lockdown.
MSC Cruises now also operates ships in European destinations, including Spain, Croatia and Malta.
In the UK, 'holiday home' cruises confined to UK waters and ports began in May aboard MSC Virtuosa.
Similar UK voyages, including voyages from Disney, P&O and Virgin Voyages, on their maiden sailing, will soon follow suit.
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In Singapore, Royal Caribbean's 'Cruises to Nowhere' debuted in December 2020, while Celebrity Millennium is currently sailing the Caribbean.
In China, Royal Caribbean's Voyage of the Seas operates domestic voyages.
Martyn Griffiths of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the industry body that represents the world's leading cruise lines, told CNN Travel that 16% of CLIA ships are back, and that he expects that figure to rise to 49% by the end of September.
By the end of 2022, Griffiths expects all CLIA member ships to be operational again.
Health and safety protocol
Passengers aboard the MSC Grandiosa in Barcelona on June 26, 2021. JOSEP LAGO / AFP via Getty Images
Cruise companies have implemented multiple health and safety requirements on board to avoid a repeat of Spring 2020.
The restrictions vary from country to country and depending on the cruise line, but generally the ships operate at reduced capacity;
Celebrity Edge is now at 40%, for example.
Rapid tests are also performed, masks are a must in many areas on certain voyages, and there are more medical facilities on board.
Many cruises also require crew and / or passengers to be fully vaccinated.
In some countries, cruises are still totally off the table.
Australia, which has implemented strict border controls throughout the pandemic, continues to enforce a cruise ban, while Canada has a veto in effect until February 2022.
Even in regions where cruise travel has resumed, most ships do not stray too far from their home ports.
There are no four-month world tours in play at this time.
International travel in general is still affected by covid-19 travel regulations and restrictions, and the cruise industry is no different.
UK summer holiday travel, for example, is largely the result of the country's strict restrictions on travel abroad.
However, even domestic cruises can encounter complications.
On a recent trip to the UK, passengers aboard the MSC Virtuosa were unable to disembark on a scheduled stopover in Scotland, due to regional covid regulations.
CLIA's Griffiths calls cruises "one of the safest vacation settings available today."
"It is a testament to the effectiveness of our protocols that we have had more than 550,000 passengers sailing so far without any large outbreak of covid on board," he adds.
So far, cruise ships have not been shown to be completely immune to COVID, with occasional positive tests emerging among passengers and crew, but these have been quickly contained.
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When Covid-19 has been detected on ships in recent months, the industry says it is a sign that the system is working.
For example, before the MSC Grandiosa returned to the waters in August 2020, a passenger embarking tested positive on both stages and was subsequently denied boarding, as were his close contacts.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University says it's all about creating layers of security: "A series of slices of Swiss cheese" is how he puts it.
“Each one has a barrier, but each one has holes, it has small holes.
So you put another and another after that, and another after that.
And if you do a whole series of things, then the risk associated with the activity, in this case the cruises, decreases.
The various security measures now on board ships are "good barriers," says Schaffner.
“Each of them has its own limitations and imperfections.
But if you do them all together, then the risk really goes down, ”he says.
For Schaffner, vaccines are a crucial part of the equation.
"I think the current circumstance where cruise lines cannot require all their passengers to be vaccinated is a mistake," he says.
Passengers wait in line to board Celebrity Edge on June 26, 2021.
Maria Alejandra Cardona / AFP / Getty Images
Schaffner refers to the complicated situation in Florida, where vaccine passport bans have made vaccination requirements for cruise lines murky.
The state of Florida also recently successfully challenged the US government's guidelines for cruise ships seeking to restart operations in the country's waters.
Under current regulations issued by the CDC, a cruise ship can depart from a US port if it sails with 95% of the crew fully vaccinated and 95% of the passengers fully vaccinated, or alternatively if the ship has successfully conducted a test cruise in simulated conditions.
A major cruise company could not operate in Florida if the state does not allow vaccination checks against covid-19, says the CEO
For Edge boating, only 5% of passengers are not vaccinated, according to CDC guidelines.
Before Edge sets sail on Saturday, Celebrity Cruises representative Susan Lomax told CNN that the cruise line can still ask Florida-based passengers whether or not they have received their covid vaccination;
they simply cannot demand that all passengers be fully immunized.
Unvaccinated guests over the age of 16 will undergo additional testing at their own expense and must wear their masks at all times except while eating or drinking.
There will also be areas on the ship only accessible to fully vaccinated passengers.
In other parts of the world, some cruise lines require vaccinations, others do not.
There is no industry standard.
CLIA's Martyn Griffiths says vaccines "are restoring confidence that the world will overcome covid-19" and that "cruise lines are taking a 'multi-layered' approach, with multiple measures."
Roger Frizzell, a spokesman for Carnival Corporation, which owns Carnival Cruise Line, AIDA, Costa Cruises and Princess Cruises, told CNN Travel that Carnival as a company "has not made any decisions at this time" regarding vaccination policy.
Carnival Cruise Line, which intends to launch ships out of Florida by the end of August, will initially require vaccinations.
Company ships leaving Alaska, Greece and the UK this summer, such as the Sky Princess and the Regal Princess, will also require vaccinations.
Carnival's Costa and AIDA do not currently require vaccinations for their European cruises.
MSC Cruises has not made vaccinations mandatory on its current voyages.
Upcoming Disney Cruise Line UK sailing on Disney Magic requires all guests over the age of 18 to be vaccinated.
Norwegian Cruise Line, which has yet to restart voyages, is also planning an initial 100% vaccination policy.
Royal Caribbean requires all adult guests to be vaccinated, in addition to those aboard cruise ships departing from Florida ports, such as Celebrity Edge.
Royal Caribbean postpones cruise due to covid-19 infections 0:50
Another key component of the safe return from a cruise ship is ensuring that in the event the worst happens and a cruise ship experiences a covid outbreak, passengers and crew are allowed to disembark.
Lomax told CNN that Royal Caribbean has agreements in place with certain ports to act as landing centers should there be an outbreak aboard the ship.
A Carnival Corporation spokesperson also told CNN Travel that its cruise lines also have "agreements in place with various medical facilities on land that would allow us to disembark guests for additional medical care if ever needed."
The passenger experience
Katie Bunyan, a 37-year-old British cruise fan, says that getting on board MSC Virtuosa in June this year was a long-awaited slice of normalcy.
Bunyan, a hairdresser who traveled with her three young children and their parents, says covid regulations made her feel safer than on land.
I'm at the supermarket, I don't know who has what, or when was the last time they had a test or something.
While on the ship I know that everyone has been tested before setting foot on the ship, ”Bunyan tells CNN Travel.
Bunyan had only received his first vaccination at the time of shipment.
Per MSC guidelines, Bunyan provided a negative test prior to arrival, but all passengers, regardless of their vaccination status, were screened prior to boarding.
Of Bunyan's group, only her youngest son, who is 1 year old, was exempt.
After the test and showing the covid insurance documentation, the family was able to relax.
Bunyan and her husband are considering booking P & O's UK "cruise to nowhere" in July.
The couple is now fully vaccinated so could address according to P&O requirements.
Guests aboard MSC Virtuosa's first UK sailing in May 2021.
Anthony Devlin / Getty Images for MSC Cruises
Cruise fan Christine Beehler, meanwhile, closely follows updates on US cruises Beehler had 10 cruises planned for 2021, all canceled.
"Some of them because of the pandemic, others because the ship was sold or moved to a very different itinerary," he tells CNN Travel.
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Retired Beehler has seen firsthand the potential impact of COVID-19 on a cruise ship.
He was aboard the Coral Princess, which returned to the US in April 2020 with 12 confirmed cases on board and two dead passengers.
Beehler, then 72, also tested positive upon return home.
The experience has not discouraged her from cruising, yet she has not booked any of the maiden voyages in the United States.
She says that is because she has been to the Caribbean many times and also because she is not sure what it will feel like to travel on a cruise ship after the pandemic.
"I'll wait until some of the wrinkles have been smoothed out on board," he says.
Beehler also wants to travel on a ship where everyone is vaccinated.
"I think a fully vaccinated ship would give everyone more freedom to move as we want," he says.
"Also, I'm not likely to hang out with those who choose not to get vaccinated for any reason other than a valid health reason."
Beehler is still in contact with several of his fellow Coral Princess cruisers.
“Everyone I talk to has cruises planned for the future.
Even those who said they would never take another Princess cruise again, largely due to the way the refund and compensation process was handled, are booking with Princess again.
Time is a great forgetful.
MaShawn Morton was a member of the crew aboard the Sky Princess when the pandemic struck last year.
He was transferred between Princess Cruises ships while waiting to disembark in Florida.
More than a year later, Morton says that remembering that period still makes him anxious.
“I am disappointed and frustrated with the way the government handled that situation.
The big difference in how strict they were in the industry, while on the ground the response was less quick and quite lackluster, ”he says today.
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Morton also talks about the devastating impact of this period on the mental health of cruise ship workers.
But the former ship artist is excited for the return of the cruise industry.
He calls the Edge's navigation "a sign of good things to come."
"I like how seriously the industry is taking the guidelines to ensure the safest travel experience possible," says Morton, adding that he supports vaccination requirements for all crew and passengers.
“It's not just about the passengers traveling, it's also about the safety of the crew members.
The crew members who are responsible for supporting their families in various countries.
It is a huge responsibility.
It is legitimately life and death, and that is not for playing games.
Morton would like to get back to cruising life one day, but for now he's resisting.
"My contract had just started during the pandemic and I would love to end it," he says.
“However, I do not anticipate that I will go out again this year.
I feel a bit marked by the experience of last year.
CNN's Marnie Hunter and Nadia Kounang contributed to this report.
CNN's Marnie Hunter and Nadia Kounang contributed to this report.