(Updated 3:25 p.m. EST) -- In a move that jumpstarts the return of cruising in North America, Crystal Cruises announced Thursday it would deploy its luxury oceangoing ship, Crystal Serenity, on all-new weeklong itineraries departing from, and exclusively visiting, the Bahamas. The new seven-day cruises begin July 3, 2021 and run into October. Departing from either Nassau or Bimini, these Bahamian-focused cruises will call on several islands typically only visited by smaller yachts. Ports of call include rarely visited Harbour Island, Great Exuma, Long Island, and San Salvador Island. The announcement makes Crystal the first oceangoing cruise line to restart operations in the Americas, the first to be homeported in the Bahamas, and the first line to resume operations in the Caribbean. The announcement was made by Crystal interim president and CEO Jack Anderson, and Bahamas Minister of Tourism Dionisio James D'Aguila."Today, in partnership with the Bahamas, we are thrilled to announce Crystal Serenity will be deployed in the islands of the Bahamas beginning July 3 of this year, offering a 100 percent Bahamian itinerary through at least October 2021," Anderson said. Added D'Aguila: "This is a milestone achievement, one that we are proud to be a part of. Indeed, this may very well prove to be the tipping point for our citizens ... for our nation."Given that more than 70 percent of the government's tax revenue comes from tourism, the return of Crystal Cruises will bring economic benefits to the country ... delivering an equitable source of income for thousands of Bahamians."Capacity aboard Crystal Serenity will be capped at 900 passengers. Embarkation will take place Saturdays from Nassau and Sundays from Bimini. The news was met with positive reaction by travel agents and consumers alike."Finally, we have a date to return to sailing," Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner of Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, said in a statement. "Kudos to Crystal for creating a luxury, close-to-home experience for our travel advisors to sell, as this type of Bahamas cruise is different for the brand."Besides providing a way for the line to restart cruising, these new Bahamian-only itineraries also give passengers a better chance to fully experience the Bahamas. In the past, most cruises to the Bahamas have only called on Nassau, Freeport or the private islands owned by cruise lines.
for the Bahamas include COVID-19 PCR testing no more than five days prior to travel and the completion of
online prior to travel.Passengers will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19, too. Crystal Cruises previously announced all passengers traveling with the line will need to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination to set sail with the line, beginning with these voyages. Passengers of all nationalities will be welcomed onboard these sailings, provided they adhere to the testing and vaccination requirements set forth by the Bahamas and Crystal Cruises. While on-land in the Bahamas, passengers should expect to adhere to physical distancing requirements and mask-wearing in public places, D'Aguila said.Anderson notes other health and safety protocols, like social distancing, might still be in place onboard Crystal Serenity, noting the company would take a careful and cautious approach in resuming service.Because Crystal Serenity's entire voyage takes place outside the United States, it is not subject to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Preventiona and its restrictive Framework for Conditional Sailing. The requirements of the sailing order have resulted in little progress made in returning cruises to operation within the United States for 12 months and counting. Crystal's new weeklong Bahamian-only itineraries are likely to "sell out quickly," according to Anderson. Reservations for the new itineraries open March 18, 2021.Pricing for the new voyages start at $1,999 per person. Voyages can be reserved with no deposit until April 5, 2021 and will include $125 shipboard credit per person. Crystal Society (past passenger) members can save 5 percent off fares, while new-to-brand cruisers can save an additional 2.5 percent.Pre- and post-cruise packages will be offered by Crystal for luxury hotel stays in both Bimini and Nassau. There is substantial air service into Nassau's Lynden Pindling International Airport, and Bimini is served by Silver Airways from Florida, along with a fast ferry service from Fort Lauderdale.