By Kadeem Joseph
The General Manager of Antigua Cruise Port has expressed unease over a recent decision by legislators in Florida to enact a law prohibiting businesses from verifying the vaccination status of passengers.
The move has forced Royal Caribbean Cruises, the region’s most popular supplier of cruises, to adjust its passenger vaccination mandate to now require all passengers 16 years and older to be fully vaccinated for departures out of all US ports – with the exception of sailings from America’s three largest cruise ports: Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Port Canaveral.
While Royal Caribbean has since said that it is “strongly recommending” that prospective guests from Florida get vaccinated, cruise insiders have questioned what the development will mean for the industry that is poised for a summer comeback after a 15-month hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, Dona Regis-Prosper, the local cruise port’s manager, said that the development is “concerning” to her.
“I am part of this industry and our source markets are Florida, Canada and Europe, so whatever goes on in the source market is always concerning to us in the destination, and not just Antigua and Barbuda but in the wider Caribbean,” she added.
Regis-Prosper said that despite the move by Florida, Antigua Cruise Port will be guided by the advice of local health officials.
She explained that cruise passengers hoping to enter Antigua and Barbuda are still expected to be fully vaccinated along with the crew, as stipulated by the country’s Ministry of Health.
While there has been no vaccine mandate for residents who work in the local cruise industry, Regis-Prosper continues to encourage industry insiders to not only get vaccinated but to adhere to Covid-19 safety and health guidelines.
The general manager also believes that the “modest start” to the cruise sector projected for late July, is the best approach to easing the country back into the lucrative industry.
The twin island nation is expected to welcome its first cruise ship on July 20.
Regis-Prosper said the vessel will be a luxury yacht with capacity for about 450 passengers; however, it is expected to dock with about 50 per cent of its capacity.
Just over a week ago, Celebrity Millennium set sail from St Maarten with additional stops in Aruba, Barbados and Curacao, in a week-long trip with 648 passengers.
The voyage made it the first commercial cruise in the region since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
Last Thursday, Royal Caribbean, which owns Celebrity Cruises, announced that only two passengers tested positive for Covid-19.
Both passengers, who were asymptomatic, shared a cabin and had been isolated.
Regis-Prosper said the fact there was not a widespread outbreak on the ship, nor in any of the destinations on the itinerary, proves that the protocols that have been adopted to manage the industry are working.