Amid news that 48 people tested positive for COVID-19 aboard a Royal Caribbean ship docked in Miami this month, Carnival Cruise Line is readying to resume embarkations as long as the pandemic stays under control.
At the Port of Charleston, Carnival Cruise is preparing to re-launch Carnival Sunshine on Jan. 13, the S.C. Ports Authority said. Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Gem also has two port-of-calls scheduled for Dec. 21 and 28.
Resumption of embarkations can bring upwards of $8 million to $10 million in cash flow annually to the S.C. Ports Authority, which gets paid a passenger fee for every passenger on and off the ship, SCPA President and CEO Jim Newsome said.
“About 90% of that goes to our bottom line because we don't have a lot of expenses related to it,” he said. “So it's really good for us… It’s also operating cash and an important type of diversification.”
Beginning in the bigger markets, Carnival hopes to restart 17 ships by the end of the year in an orderly progression, kickstarting 90% of the company’s U.S.-based capacity, the company said in a news release.
Carnival spent months working out protocols with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Newsome feels they’ve done a good job managing through the pandemic.
“It's amazing that these companies are still here,” Newsome said. “If you think about the debt they took on, if you think about what happened.”
Sunshine will arrive in Charleston without passengers on Jan. 11.
"Our restart plan continues to excel across all metrics, and we are looking forward to completing the restart of the fleet in the new year," said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line. "We appreciate the support and patience of our guests, travel agents and port, and destination partners who have been key to this successful restart."
With the rise of the omicron variant, Carnival said it will continue to monitor the coronavirus’ effects on public health and will adjust operating protocols as needed.
"We are optimistic that vaccines will be approved for children between the ages of 5-11 before the end of the year, and we look forward to welcoming more families back on board,” Duffy said in a statement. “As it relates to ships operating in January and February, Carnival will continue to operate vaccinated cruises under its current protocols.”
Cruise embarkations from U.S. ports have been on pause since April 2020, but travel is picking back up throughout the country.
Charleston International Airport alone reported a 132% jump in Thanksgiving passengers between 2020 and 2021.
“Some people want drive on a trip. Some people want to take planes. If it works, it works, but it's a good piece of business for us,” Newsome said of working with Carnival. “They’re a great partner; they do things the right way, and we like to have them here.”