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Celebrity Cruises gets CDC approval for a June comeback, marking the first sailing from U.S. waters

The cruise line will require vaccinations for all passengers 16 and older when it begins sailing again

Celebrity Edge will set sail from Fort Lauderdale on June 26 after getting CDC approval to cruise. (Celebrity Cruises)

This story has been updated.

Cruising from the U.S. is officially coming back.

While several lines have announced plans to return to service after a 15-month halt due to the pandemic, those have all been missing approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Wednesday, Miami-based Celebrity Cruises said it had everything it needed: plans to cruise with paying passengers and the go-ahead from the public health agency. The CDC confirmed the approval.

“For the past 15 months our conversations with friends and loved ones about seeing the world have been accompanied by the phrase ‘someday,’” Celebrity president and chief executive Lisa Lutoff-Perlo said in a statement. “I’m beyond proud and excited to say that day has arrived.”

Celebrity Edge will leave Fort Lauderdale on June 26 for the Caribbean at reduced capacity. All crew will be vaccinated, and most passengers will have to be. Initially, U.S. guests 16 and older are required to be fully vaccinated; that age drops to 12 as of Aug. 1. Passengers 18 and older from the United Kingdom must be vaccinated.

Cruise lines plan a U.S. summer comeback — in Alaska

The announcement about the June cruise did not lay out what kind of health and safety rules passengers will face. A health and safety page on Celebrity’s website frames the reduced capacity as a perk, saying it will provide “more space — and more luxury — in all restaurants and venues.”

Some destinations might require passengers to only take part in approved excursions, while others might let visitors explore as long as they wear a mask indoors. Celebrity said private experiences will be available for those who want to stay only with their own group.

The site does not say whether masks will be required, but it notes that passengers will be informed of the latest requirements as they get closer to departure. This month, the CDC said fully vaccinated passengers could take their masks off outdoors as long as they weren’t in crowds. But an order that mandates masks on ships, planes, trains and other forms of transportation still applies, the agency said at the time.

Norwegian threatens to pull cruise ships from Florida over DeSantis vaccine passport ban

One hurdle remains: a Florida law that goes into effect July 1 prohibiting businesses from requiring proof of vaccination to get access to their services.

“This subsection does not otherwise restrict businesses from instituting screening protocols consistent with authoritative or controlling government-issued guidance to protect public health,” the law said.

Businesses could face a fine of up to $5,000 per violation.

Taryn Fenske, a spokeswoman for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), said in an email that the CDC’s “coercive ‘guidance'” is “requiring ships to violate state law.” The state sued the CDC in April to get cruises restarted immediately; lawyers for both sides have been sent to mediation, the Tampa Bay Times reported last week.

“We’re interested to see how the CDC plans to help the cruise lines comply with Florida law,” Fenske said. “Hopefully they don’t unlawfully subject cruises to millions of dollars in fines.”

One cruise company, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, has threatened to move its ships out of Florida if the law keeps them from requiring passengers to be vaccinated. It’s not clear how Celebrity will handle the matter.

“We are working on a path forward with the governor’s office,” the company said in a statement.

Royal Caribbean got the green light for a test cruise. It has more than 250,000 volunteers to choose from.

Celebrity’s news is the latest development amid a surge of optimism for the cruise industry after a devastating year.

Royal Caribbean International, which like Celebrity is part of Royal Caribbean Group, said Monday that it had received CDC approval to operate a test cruise with volunteers before taking paying passengers out to sea. The agency requires a test cruise unless 95 percent of passengers and 98 percent of crew will be vaccinated, which will be the case with the Celebrity ship.

Several cruise lines said they would salvage part of the summer season in Alaska after Congress approved a bill that would let ships avoid Canada, where they are usually required to stop.

The CDC came under intense pressure from the cruise industry in March, which called the year-long ban “outdated” and urged the agency to allow cruises from the U.S. by early July. Cruise executives and CDC officials have met multiple times a week over the past month to discuss the path back to sailing, CDC spokeswoman Caitlin Shockey said in an email.

Richard Fain, chairman of Royal Caribbean Group, praised that collaboration in a statement Wednesday.

“We’ve consulted with the brightest minds in the health industry to ensure that our passengers and crew feel safe and comfortable on our ships while enjoying the uncompromised experience they know and love,” he said.

Read more:

Cruise industry pressures CDC for green light to sail by July, calling ban ‘outdated’

CDC outlines path for U.S. cruising to resume by mid-July

CDC lifts some mask rules for vaccinated cruise passengers