Passengers lined the decks of Celebrity Edge as it inched away from the dock in Port Everglades for a cruise to Mexico and the Bahamas.
Capt. Kate McCue, the first American female captain of a large cruise ship, guided the 1,004-foot vessel out to sea under cloudy skies, signaling the return of the United States large cruise industry.
Celebrity Edge, which left on June 26, was the first large cruise ship to depart any U.S. port since March 2020. Several other cruise ships were set to depart from the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., port later in July.
“The significance of this moment is not lost on anyone on our team or the industry. We have longed for this day … because we know that for many the return of cruising is a symbol of the world’s return to normalcy,” Brian Abel, senior vice president of hotel operations for Celebrity Cruises, said before ship left Fort Lauderdale.
The U.S. cruise industry is coming back to life following a 15-month shutdown during the worst of the covid-19 pandemic. Its return has important ripple effects for the broader U.S. economy and the maritime industry.
The cruise industry employs thousands of Americans in many roles, including some as deck officers. The industry supports port operations, bunkering providers and the occasional tugboat or two during port calls. Cruise visits also provide an economic boost to host communities.
The shutdown of the cruise industry was felt acutely in Port Everglades, one of the country’s leading cruise ports. The port lost 50 percent of its revenue in 2020 from the lack of cruise ships, which typically generate $60 million a year, officials said.
Matt Godden, President and CEO of Centerline Logistics in Seattle said bunker volume has been off by 10 or 20 percent, driven in part by the decline in cruise travel.
“We have a lot of customers really excited about the return of the cruise ships,” Gooden said in an email. “As a side effect of a reduced number of cruises, certain markets, such as Hawaii, are seeing much more jet fuel and clean product demand due to the higher number of visitors using airplanes rather than reaching the islands from vessels.”
Vane Brothers, another large bunker supplier, is actively monitoring the return of cruise travel in New York City, the largest cruise port it serves. “There are times when we will be bunkering up to five cruise ships in one port in a single weekend,” Brendan MacGillivray, Vane Brothers vice president for chartering & scheduling said, referring to pre-covid times.
Although Florida has a head start on cruise travel, large ships are slated to begin calling in California this fall, and Cunard has cruises scheduled for New York beginning in the fall as well.
Although Celebrity Edge was the first large ship to return since the pandemic, smaller U.S.-flagged ships started sailing again this spring. Six of American Cruise Lines’ (ACL) 13 ships were operating by early summer, albeit with reduced capacity. The company expects all its vessels to be sailing by fall.
ACL’s American Constellation arrived in Haines, Alaska, on June 11, and a welcoming party of local officials and Chilkat traditional dancers met the 80 passengers on the pier. It was the first cruise ship to arrive in 20 months, and the first of 12 ACL stops planned for 2021.
American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC), meanwhile, is operating three paddlewheelers on the Mississippi, Ohio and Columbia rivers, and its flagship, American Queen, is set to return to service this summer. Nearly 500 American officers and crew members work aboard these vessels.
Victory Cruises, an AQSC company, won’t resume operations until 2022 on the Great Lakes. That’s because its itineraries involve Canadian as well as U.S. ports, and these are not possible until the US-Canada border is fully reopened.