(9:55 a.m. EDT) -- Carnival Cruise Line successfully returned to the seas this past weekend with passengers embarking on two vessels in two separate homeports, destined for the warmth of the Caribbean.
Carnival Vista was the first Carnival vessel to resume service, departing Galveston, Texas on Saturday, July 3. Its sailing -- a weeklong journey to the Western Caribbean -- is the first Carnival sailing to embark passengers in nearly 16 months, and the first ship to sail out of Texas on a revenue voyage since March of 2020.
One day later, on Sunday, July 4, Carnival Horizon let go its lines and slipped away from its berth at PortMiami, also bound for the Caribbean after a ceremony held in the Miami terminal that included a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by guests, Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy, and Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald.
In a Facebook Live post prior to the sailings, Carnival's brand ambassador and long-time cruise director John Heald revealed a total of 2,940 passengers would be embarking Carnival Vista in Galveston. Of those, a total of 888 passengers are entirely new to Carnival.
"If that doesn't show you how desperately people want to cruise who have never cruised before: eight-hundred and eighty-eight," said Heald, once again repeating the number of first-time Carnival passengers. "And they are putting their faith in us to keep them safe, which we will."
Passengers on Carnival Vista's first sailing predominantly hail from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, California and Arkansas.
Heald also attempted to realistically paint expectations for those coming onboard the line's two debut sailings.
“The crew are absolutely jumping down with excitement and extraordinary energy," said Heald. "Is it going to be perfect? Nope. No, no, no. You can’t stop cruising for 15 months and then suddenly go again with hundreds of new protocols and expect everything to be perfect. It won’t be.”
Carnival executives assembled at PortMiami held a moment of silence inside a packed cruise terminal for victims of the condominium collapse in nearby Surfside, Florida. Donald thanked the loyal cruisers assembled for sticking with the line for the past 16 months, and passengers streamed aboard Carnival Horizon for a six-night voyage.
The ship was escorted in dramatic fashion down the Government Cut and out to sea by Carnival's newest ship, Mardi Gras, which enters service later this month for the first time.
“PortMiami is our number one homeport in terms of ships and passenger embarkations and today’s return to cruising with Carnival Horizon represents an important first step in getting our company back to business while infusing much-needed capital to the thousands of workers who rely on the cruise industry for their livelihood,” said Duffy. “The past year has been challenging to say the least and I wish to thank our state and local officials, PortMiami, and our business partners and suppliers for their incredible support and patience during this time.”
While some aspects of cruising have changed -- such as the requirement to present proof of vaccination against COVID-19 in most embarkation ports, a majority of the cruise experience is staying the same. Bars, lounges and restaurants are open for patrons, and Carnival's legendary activity list is still a mile long.
Carnival's Heald notes that each ship will offer four comedians that will perform in the main lounge and in the line's Punchliner Comedy Club. But the poolside Hairy Chest Contest -- a Carnival staple -- will not happen.
"It's not part of the new protocol," said Heald.
Other changes onboard are smaller. A printed copy of the FunTimes daily program is now only available by visiting Guest Relations; otherwise, activities can be accessed via Carnival's HUB app on your smartphone.
Some changes are more noticeable. Those who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will have to wear masks in certain public areas of the vessel, and ship-sponsored "bubble" shore excursions will be offered as a safe way to go ashore.
“We have to get this right," said Heald. "We will get this right.”
The debut of Carnival Vista and Carnival Horizon is just the start for Carnival. Carnival Breeze and Carnival Miracle will re-enter service this month in the Caribbean and Alaska respectively, which will be book-ended with the debut of Carnival's hotly-anticipated new ship, Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras sets out on its first voyage with paying passengers on July 31 from Port Canaveral.