Celebrity Cruises to start sailings from St. Maarten in June

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The Celebrity Millennium was chosen to be Celebrity Cruises' first ship to restart operations in North America.
The Celebrity Millennium was chosen to be Celebrity Cruises' first ship to restart operations in North America.

UPDATE: This report was updated on April 9 to reflect a change in policy that now requires guests to join ship-sponsored shore excursions for these sailings rather than being able to disembark and explore ports independently. A Celebrity spokesperson said the policy will be reviewed again 30 days before the first departure.

In another end-run around the CDC's Conditional Sailing Order that prevents large-ship cruising from U.S. ports, Celebrity Cruises will homeport the Celebrity Millennium in St. Maarten with cruises for vaccinated passengers, beginning June 5.

Crystal Cruises announced its Caribbean restart on March 11, but unlike Crystal's sailings, which will stay in Bahamian waters, the Celebrity cruises will feature two multijurisdictional itineraries: one will visit Aruba, Curacao and Barbados, and the other St. Lucia, Barbados and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.

Bookings for the cruises will open March 25 to vaccinated adults and children under the age of 18 with negative Covid-19 test results within 72 hours of embarkation. (In keeping with St. Maarten's entry requirements, vaccinated adults, too, will need to bring negative test results within the same timeframe.) The ship's crew will also have been vaccinated.

Pricing for the seven-night cruises will begin at $1,999 per person for a veranda stateroom, air and taxes-inclusive.

Passengers will be restricted to ship-sponsored shore excursions at ports of call. In addition to Celebrity-organized group tours, "Private Journeys" and "Small Group Discovery Tours" will also be available for guests wanting to stick with family members or traveling companions.

Celebrity CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo said planning for the sailings predated Crystal's recent announcement. "We've known we could likely do this for quite some time; we started planning in earnest over the last 30 to 60 days. The catalyst was Royal Caribbean International's successful start in Singapore and its plans to sail from Israel in June. It became clear there was an option to start cruising again somewhere where the destination is welcoming and you can offer a safe and healthy environment."

The ramp up in vaccines in the U.S. and positive changes in consumer attitudes also contributed to the timing, she added.

Lutoff-Perlo said occupancy will be less than full, but the exact occupancy percentage will be determined by demand and the latest guidance. The line's health protocols are outlined on its website, but Lutoff-Perlo cautioned that guidance may change over the next few months before the first sailing.

She said the decision to sail from St. Maarten and include Barbados in both itineraries was influenced in part by both islands' role in supporting idled Celebrity ships, which have refueled and reprovisioned on the islands since cruising from U.S. ports was shut down by the CDC last March. "It's only natural," she said. "We've been in constant communications with them over the past year."

 Lutoff-Perlo said the Millennium was chosen because, with the Alaska season all but certainly canceled, it was available. "We've done so many return-to-service plans," she said. "It's like playing chess. We have other plans for the Edge and other ships. The Millennium was available, [refurbished], and its smaller size was also a consideration. We've always said startup would be measured and slow. This made perfect sense."

The Pacific Princess is joining Azamara.
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The Millennium, which began operations in 2000, recently underwent a renovation as part of the fleet's $500 million modernization program. All staterooms have been refreshed with Kelly Hoppen-designed interiors to bring its sensibility more in line with that of the more recent Edge-class ships, and restaurant, bars and lounges have been updated.

Lutoff-Perlo said that all restaurants, bars and theaters will be open, and that, health and safety protocols aside, the "full experience" will be available.

St. Maarten's minister of tourism and economic affairs, transportation and telecommunications, Ludmila de Weever, expressed joy at the restart in a statement. "Having a major cruise line such as Royal Caribbean Group's Celebrity Cruises homeport here is a significant economic milestone for St. Maarten. It's an historic agreement, the fruit of continuous dialogue and a testament to the strength of our longstanding relationship," she said.  "Celebrity Cruises homeporting here will help rejuvenate our economy and drive opportunities for our people."

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