Today, from 11AM-7PM, the port of Crown Bay will host its first cruise ship since March of 2020. The Celebrity Cruises vessel, Celebrity Edge, will make her way into the Austin “Babe” Monsanto Marine Terminal this morning carrying 1500 passengers and 700 crew at half capacity. The ship is arriving in the midst of a unresolved discussion between the leaders of the Caribbean islands where cruise lines have planned to visit this summer and Governor DeSantis of Florida in regards to vaccination regulations and COVID-19 protocol.
The return of cruise travel, for many businesses, is indeed a joyous occasion. Cruise travel in the USVI makes up a large portion of the annual tourism revenue. However, in the past year, the USVI Economic Development Authority has shifted their focus away from “day trippers” and more towards longer stays and the blue water marine industry, citing that these longer stays actually do one better for the local economy. Those individuals spending a longer period of time here spend more money on lodging, activities, groceries, shopping and dining than the day trippers and, overall, stimulate the economy more with less impact. Less visitors and more money. That’s good, right?
Although business on St.Thomas and St. John will be booming this afternoon, the ship arriving today does so under the scrutiny of many residents in the USVI. A few weeks ago, I posted about the disconnect between the Governor of Florida’s Executive Order that would make it impossible for cruise lines to require that all passengers over the age of 18 be vaccinated and the leaders of the Caribbean who desired a 95% vaccination rate on board the arriving ships. Read the full article for a bit more background on this topic….
Celebrity Cruises had initially ruled that they would require the desired 95% vaccination rate on board their vessels arriving to port in these remote islands with fragile healthcare infrastructure. When DeSantis signed his Executive Order last month, they reversed their requirement and simply encouraged their guests to be fully vaccinated. Additionally, they implemented a four test protocol for all non-vaccinated guests, or guests who chose not to disclose their vaccination status, at embarkation.
In addition to being fiscally responsible for their pre-arrival test, any non-vaccinated guests will incur an additional fee of $178 for the on board tests. And, for all non-vaccinated guests aged 16 and up, masks are required on board in all indoor and outdoor public areas.
Ok, so it looks like the cruise lines are doing the best that they can given the circumstances. So, the next question is, how is the USVI Travel Portal being utilized for these 1500 guests who are disembarking on St. Thomas this morning? Well, I made about eight phone calls this morning to the Department of Tourism, Department of Health, Port Authority and three different individuals’ cell phones. Twice I was told that the cruise passengers were required to be vaccinated. Which does not reflect the same information that the Celebrity Cruise’s site depicts. I was also told via text from a Port Authority official that “The vessel is 97% vaccinated and all passengers are tested and must provide vaccine records prior to the embarkation in Florida. The Department of Health has the ability to check this information.”
So, it seems, that MAYBE the travel portal is not being utilized, but ship’s records should reflect negative COVID results or vax records for all passengers on board. I’ll update this post if I get a definitive answer from anyone outside of what I have already gathered.
In the meantime, if you are on St. Thomas today, do expect travel delays. I don’t know if any of you have experienced a “cruise ship day” downtown, but the traffic on the waterfront is generally pretty congested! The ship will be in port until 7PM so if you are flying out this afternoon or evening, give yourself a little extra time. With only one ship at half capacity at port, it likely won’t be too bad, but you never know. It’s always best to plan ahead 🙂 Cheers to all of the businesses along the waterfront of St. Thomas as well. The ones that have remained open through the pandemic have been waiting for this day for a long time and I hope the day is fruitful for you all!