(7:45 p.m. BST) -- The first Marella cruise in 15 months departed a sunny Southampton this evening, June 25.
The 1,924-passenger ship is sailing half full with a mixture of fully vaccinated over-18s and anyone under having tested negative for COVID, meaning kids can cruise too.
The ship is heading east along the south coast as far as Dover, then circling back to Portland, by the seaside town of Weymouth, before heading back to Southampton. It’s short but very sweet -- for both passengers and crew -- after such a long time out of service.
Chris Hackney. Marella’s managing director, hadn’t had his second jab in time to join the first cruise but can’t wait to get on next week.
Did he have any first-day-back nerves? "It’s more excitement than nerves. I couldn’t be happier we are able to sail again."
He has nothing but praise for his team -- both the onboard crew and behind the scenes -- who he says have worked tirelessly to make this day happen: "Our crew have engaged with training enthusiastically and I can honestly say that their eagerness and passion has been incredible."
Getting on board was slow but efficient. Under Marella’s Covid protocols, as well as proof of two jabs (all those over 18 must have had two doses of the vaccine at least seven days before sailing), we had to show proof of Covid travel insurance and fill in a health certificate before even getting into the terminal.
Once inside, passengers had to take a lateral flow test, check-in, then wait until everyone in their group had the all clear before they were allowed on the ship. It took a total of 90 minutes and Captain Chris Douglass admitted it had all taken a bit longer than expected but his enthusiasm was undiminished. "You are our first guests and we are all so super excited to have you be back," he said.
Onboard, masks have to be worn when moving around inside the ship but can come off when seated or when outside. And if we want to go ashore at either of the ports, we must join one of the ship’s excursions.
The first passengers onboard reacted enthusiastically: "Cruising is such a great holiday. After all, how else would we get to see Dover and Portland?” one said.
"We left Yorkshire this morning in the rain and the weather got better and better the further south we came. It’s wonderful to be here,” another passenger said as he grabbed a table out in the sun by the aft bar.
It’s not been smooth sailing for Marella (or indeed any of the other cruise lines offering "seacations" this summer) to get to this point, with plenty of government-imposed hoops to jump through, but the line has done it.