(6:30 p.m. EDT) -- One of Royal Caribbean's most eagerly-anticipated cruise ships, Odyssey of the Seas, departed Port Everglades in the early evening hours.
It is the latest successful restart for Royal Caribbean in U.S. waters, following on the heels of the debut sailing of and Freedom of the Seas from Miami and Serenade of the Seas in Alaska from Seattle.
A Long Journey
The second Quantum Ultra class ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet, Odyssey of the Seas was originally scheduled to set sail in the fall of 2020 before being delayed due to the global health pandemic.
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Instead, Odyssey of the Seas was slated for Port Everglades, witth an original sail date of July 3, 2021. That, too, had to be cancelled at the last moment owing to a COVID-19 outbreak among the recently-vaccinated crew.
Royal Caribbean opted to reschedule the ship's departure for July 31, 2021, after a test cruise held in mid-July.
Protocols and Testing
Of course, not everything about this first sailing is normal. Odyssey of the Seas is definitely not sailing anywhere near its standard 4,198-double occupancy capacity. And while the majority of passengers onboard are fully vaccinated, the fact it is departing from Florida means unvaccinated passengers can sail as well -- though with some hefty restrictions.
In the interest of health and safety, Royal Caribbean released guidance two days ago that impacted those aboard this first sailing back, with proof of a negative COVID-19 test (antigen or PCR) now required less than 72 hours prior to departure.
It is a measure designed to further safeguard the line's fleet from the spread of the more-contagious Delta variant of COVID-19. The last-minute mandate caused some scrambling among passengers, many of whom were already en route to the ship. Royal Caribbean said that it would provide complimentary antigen testing at the pier for those who were unable to get the required tests on short notice.
Cruise Critic members booked onboard the inaugural sailing of Odyssey of the Seas, however, remained upbeat in the days leading up to their ship's departure.
"First vacation in almost 20 months," writes daninwi on the Odyssey of the Seas' Roll Call message boards. "Certainly was not on our radar to be on the first revenue cruise on a brand new ship - so feeling very fortunate on that front."
"Right now, the biggest debate for us -- do we try for Teppanyaki early in the cruise or save it for the last dinner? The problems we face."
As Odyssey of the Seas sails out into its first Caribbean sojourn, Royal Caribbean is busy readying other vessels for their first departures. These include Ovation of the Seas, Independence of the Seas, Symphony of the Seas, Mariner of the Seas, Oasis of the Seas, and Allure of the Seas, which just completed its test voyage for the CDC with Cruise Critic onboard.
The departure of Odyssey of the Seas also coincides with the first sailing of Carnival's Mardi Gras -- with Cruise Critic sailing onboard. Stay tuned for more news on both vessels as the week progresses.