May 16, 2022

After a 15-month pandemic hiatus, the cruise has returned to America.

Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity Edge is less than 24 hours from setting sail off the Florida coast, the first passenger cruise from a U.S. port since the Covid pandemic that stopped the industry from operating worldwide last year.

“We’ve been waiting for this moment for so long and it’s here and it’s great,” said Richard Fain, CEO of Royal Caribbean, in an exclusive interview on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” Friday.

The Celebrity Edge runs at 36% capacity to allow social distancing. Still, that’s almost 1,100 passengers who will set sail from Port Everglades, Florida on Saturday.

All of the crew are 100% vaccinated, and almost all passengers are vaccinated, with the exception of two adults and 24 children under the age of 16, the company said. It is now equipped with a larger medical unit with two doctors and three nurses, plus additional beds and ventilators in the intensive care unit.

“We want them to start slowly, you know, we haven’t worked in 15 months,” said Fain. “As with everything else, we want to start and build slowly, giving people the opportunity to practice, giving people the chance to get back into the experience.”

Celebrity Edge no longer requires passengers to be vaccinated after a Florida court temporarily blocked the CDC’s order to ban cruises from U.S. ports. Those who are not vaccinated are subject to additional restrictions and the cost of Covid testing, Fain said. Health experts say this could give people an incentive to get vaccinated before a cruise.

Fain has been battling for survival alongside the broader cruise industry for more than a year after the U.S. and other nations suspended operations to contain Covid outbreaks on board ships. Every major cruise line has taken on billions in debt and issued shares to keep afloat.

Cruise lines are hoping to return to pre-pandemic sailing as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relax their restrictions on the industry.

“I see the idle demand, the people who are really anxious to get back into the ocean, very strong,” said Fain. “In fact, we’re overwhelmed with people calling, clearly wanting to go back and get back to normal.”

“People are fed up with being locked up at home. They want to get out and book accordingly,” he added.

However, Covid remains a challenge. On Thursday, Royal Caribbean announced that two children had tested positive on Adventure of the Seas.

Fain said it was unrealistic to believe that ships would sail 100% free of Covid.

“There will be cases on board cruise lines,” he said, adding, “the most important thing is that we make sure they are isolated and that there is no outbreak.”

Fain said Royal Caribbean knows how to isolate travelers if someone becomes sick and that almost everyone on board their ships will be vaccinated.

‘Long come’

People take photos of US cruise line Celebrity Cruise’s new French cruise ship “Celebrity Edge” as it leaves the Saint-Nazaire shipyards for November 4, 2018 in Saint. to go to Miami, USA -Nazaire, western France.

Sebastien Salom Gomis | AFP | Getty Images

Captain Kate McCue said Saturday would be an emotional day for her. McCue has been on board the Celebrity Edge since the beginning of last year and is manning the ship.

“Every single crew member expects the moment our first guest steps onto our gangway and to say we’re excited is an understatement,” McCue said in an interview.

The passengers want to get on too.

“I’m pretty excited to be part of this revival. It’s been taking a long time,” said Julie Spiech from New Jersey, who will be one of the first to board the Celebrity Edge on Saturday.

Your husband agrees.

“We have been cruising 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 she will watch the cases overseas before deciding whether to go off-board.

“We are not sure yet whether we will go on trips. We have to see what happens in the other countries we visit,” said Spiech.

– CNBC’s Pia Singh contributed to this report.