TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Bon Voyage! The first cruise set sail from Port Tampa Bay on Saturday since March 2020.

Travelers, cruise employees, and local business owners are all thrilled.

“This is a momentous day…we are so so excited,” said Vicky Evans, AAA Vice President for Travel Sales and Development at the celebratory event Saturday.

This weekend travel industry leaders including Visit Tampa Bay, the Port of Tampa Bay, and AAA celebrated a new voyage.

After rough waters last year for the cruise industry, many hope for smooth sailing ahead. According to experts, the cruise industry makes up 20 percent of the port’s income, which translates to $7.5 million.

Evans said cruise bookings for 2022 have already outpaced 2019.

“We are here because we continue to see people excited about traveling again and cruise has proven to be one of the safest vacation options out there,” said Russell Benford, Royal Caribbean group Vice President of Government Relations.

Benford said they require COVID-19 vaccines for all guests 12 and older, a covid test for all passengers, and strong masks policies indoors.

8 on your side asked Benford what changes passengers can expect while on the ship?

“With respect to the buffets, instead of serving yourself, we have the crew onboard the ship that will make your plate for you,” Benford said.

But Benford said all the normal experiences will still be open, including the pool, shows, and nightclubs.

The Visit Tampa Bay CEO said a 3,000-passenger ship is estimated to generate more than $300,000 in the city that it’s cruising from.

Business owners at Tampa’s Sparkman’s Warf are thrilled. “We’re looking forward to having tourism back to Tampa, we thrive off that,” said Trent McAree, Owner and Founder of Fit Bowl Co.

McAree said they specialize in acai bowls, smoothies, and adult beverages. He said COVID-19 is causing all industries and customers to navigate new territory.

“It seems like people are really excited to get back on cruises as well so we’ll definitely be a safe haven of outdoor dining and give them that option before and after [they’re on the boat],” McAree said.

Royal Caribbean International set sail this weekend. Carnival and Celebrity cruises will set sail from Port Tampa Bay in November and the Norwegian Cruise Line in December.



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