After more than a year, cruises return to Port Tampa Bay

It has been more than a year-and-a-half since the last cruise ship departed from Port Tampa Bay.  Saturday, downtown will once again be full of travelers.

Over the last 580-days, workers at Port Tampa Bay have been busy getting ready for this moment.

"Increasing our cleaning and sanitation efforts, making sure we're doing a deeper and more thorough cleaning, especially in those high touch areas, and making sure those processes were implemented before we had guests moving through the terminal," explained Lisa Wolf-Chason, Director of Communications for Port Tampa Bay.

Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas will carry the first passengers from the port since the pandemic, marking Tampa’s cruising comeback with a five-night trip to the Bahamas.

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"Health and safety of our guests and the communities we sail to and from is our priority," said Vice President of Government Relations at Royal Caribbean Group, Russell Benford.  "We want to make sure we make this vacation as safe as possible for everyone involved."

That includes proof of vaccination for travelers 12 and over, negative COVID-19 test results for everyone over the age of two, and requiring masks while indoors onboard the ship.

For now, Serenade of the Seas will also be operating at about 50% capacity, so there will only be about 1,000 passengers onboard, along with the crew of more than 800.

"So folks will be able to feel like there are open spaces on board the ship. We want people to feel comfortable as they start to cruise again," Benford said.

Before coronavirus, cruising made up about 20% of Port Tampa Bay’s revenue, and the industry is an economic driver for tourists who travel here before and after their departure. Research shows a 3,000-passenger ship can generate about $334,000 for the homeport city.

"We are just celebrating not only for ourselves and our cruise partners, but for all the small businesses and tourism related businesses in our region that will benefit from this," said Wolf-Chason.

It is a day that has been 18-months in the making. Port officials hope safe sailings will give the industry momentum, with hundreds of thousands of passengers cruising from the port over the next year.

"We're not so much focused on breaking records as much as we are just helping the industry restart and getting people back on their next vacations through port Tampa Bay," Wolf-Chason said.

Next month, Celebrity and Carnival cruise lines will start sailing the seas from Port Tampa Bay again, with Norwegian cruising again in December.

Officials encourage folks to be familiar with the protocols and requirements for each company because they are all different.