(7:15 p.m. EDT) -- For the first time since March 2020, a Royal Caribbean ship set sail from a U.S. homeport, as Freedom of the Seas left Miami for a three-night cruise to the Bahamas.
A blast from the ship's horn signaled the ship's departure from its homeport, while passengers and crew celebrated the sailaway with a pool deck party as the sun went down.
For an industry that has been almost entirely shut down since the pandemic began, this sailing is a sign of things to come, providing some optimism for people who have been anxious to get back onboard cruise ships and see the world.
Cruise Critic is onboard for the milestone cruise, which is sailing with a mix of both vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers. More than 1,000 passengers are onboard the ship, which can carry up to 4,500. Freedom of the Seas will visit Nassau and Royal Caribbean's own private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay.
In order to accommodate passengers both vaccinated and not, the ship has put in place a number of regulations and created spaces exclusively open to vaccinated passengers. Royal Caribbean sent out a list of those regulations and requirements to passengers ahead of the sailing. Passengers who were unvaccinated or elected not to voluntarily show proof of vaccination had additional responsibilities, like additional testing and mandatory insurance requirements -- all things that can greatly increase costs for those who wish to cruise unvaccinated.
Protocols and procedures aren't the only things that have changed in the intervening 15 months.
Freedom of the Seas underwent a $116-million refurbishment early last year, getting new spaces popular on other ship's in the cruise line's fleet just before the global health pandemic shuttered travel around the world.
Cruisers embarking Freedom of the Seas will find sports bar Playmakers has been added, complete with dozens of flatscreen TVs and a menu of bar food like sliders, wings and jalapeno poppers. The ship also recieved other dining venues, including El Loco Fresh, Izumi Hibachi and Sushi and Giovanni's Italian Kitchen.
The biggest upgrades were saved for the pool deck, which has seen the addition of colorful cabanas, a giant kids waterplay space called Splashaway Bay and a rejuvenated Solarium.
Stay tuned for more coverage of this sailing to the Bahamas.