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Cruise operations resumed this week at two Caribbean ports, as Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Equinox called at the Antigua Cruise Port on August 19 and Belize's Harvest Caye port hosted Norwegian Gem on August 18, the first major post-outbreak cruise activity at each port.
Carrying "over 2,000 passengers," Celebrity Equinox docked at the St. John's Harbour port Thursday, where the ship was welcomed by Antigua Cruise Port, Antigua & Barbuda Port Authority and Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority officials.
Celebrity Equinox is the "first large vessel to dock at St. John's since the restart of the Antigua & Barbuda cruise season in July," said port officials in a statement. "The disembarkation of passengers was carefully managed to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19," said Dona Regis-Prosper, the port's general manager.
"We continue to maintain and enhance our COVID-19 risk mitigation protocols daily to ensure that our facility is as safe as possible for every passenger on every voyage," she said. "We have truly missed the breathtaking sight of the colossal, larger cruise vessels here at the port, so we are extremely excited to welcome Celebrity Equinox."
Antigua & Barbuda recently revised its COVID-19 protocols to require all passengers over age 12 to be vaccinated, said officials. Passengers over two years old who are not fully vaccinated prior to embarkation are required to present a negative RT PCR COVID-19 test before boarding their ship.
Regis-Prosper said cruise passenger shore excursions and tours will "[Follow] the government's established protocols to the letter [and] will only operate as 'bubble' or small group tours. Fully vaccinated crew members will be allowed ashore on pre-approved tours," she said. "We have also arranged escorted private tours with the merchants at Heritage Quay."
"The government of Antigua and Barbuda remains committed to increasing the cruise calls to our port," said Mary-Clare Hurst, minister of state in the Ministry of Tourism and Investment. She added, "Throughout the pandemic we have been working with the relevant authorities and cruise operators to ensure that we remain a strategic hub for safety, synergy and innovation."
"We are so excited to return to the beautiful island of Antigua and to continue to help our Caribbean family regain the benefits of tourism their communities depend on," said Dimitris Manetas, of Celebrity Equinox's captain.
In Belize, Norwegian Cruise Line's 75-acre Harvest Caye dedicated cruise port and private island off the coast of Placencia welcomed Norwegian Gem on August 18, the first call at the port since its closure during the pandemic in 2020. The vessel carried 1,262 passengers and 1,067 crew onboard.
Abil Castaneda, the Belize Tourism Board's director of quality management and capacity development, said in local press reports Norwegian Gem "is actually working at 60 percent of capacity obviously because of the COVID protocols."
Castaneda said Norwegian "is very stringent in terms of their protocols so they have indicated that they will be easing in their capacities as the whole pandemic progresses."
He added, "All [passengers] have their full vaccination and there's no positive cases on the ship so we're all very glad with the protocols that have been put in place."
Norwegian Gem's itinerary also includes calls at Roatan, Honduras and Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico. Castaneda said Belize's health and safety protocols were developed in cooperation with the Cruise Tourism Task Force.
Brian Major is Managing Editor for Digital Publications & Guides/Caribbean.
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