GALVESTON

The crowd of 200 or more people gathered near Pier 21 on Sunday resembled lines that haven’t been seen since before the pandemic bore down in late March 2020 — a family from Dallas, one from Wichita Falls and still scores of others who woke up early and drove down from Houston.

Except rather than waiting in line to board a cruise ship from the island, those gathered Sunday were waiting for a chance to see one of two Carnival cruise ships returning to the island for the first time since April 2020.

It’s not just a boat, said Angel Martinez, of Spring, in response to a question about what made so many people venture down in support of cruising.

“As soon as you get on a ship, it’s just paradise,” Martinez said. “They treat you like royalty.”

Martinez, though a relatively new cruiser with 20 under her belt, is part of a social media group called Carnival Cruisers Past, Present and Future that’s some 247,000 members strong, said Chali Mendoza, of League City, its founder.

The group was one of many similar cruise fanatics who turned out in force Sunday.

“We just love cruising,” said Rafael Zingano, of Dallas, who drove down to the island along with his family on Saturday to watch the ships come in. While Zingano talked with The Daily News, his wife livestreamed the event.

“We’re just part of the cruising community,” he said. “This is a big milestone, this.”

The Carnival Breeze and Carnival Vista made their appearances at the Port of Galveston about midday Sunday, their first since April 2020. They are planned to be in Galveston until May 7.

No cruises have left from U.S. ports since March 2020 because of safety restrictions imposed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the agency has released some guidelines on how cruise companies can return to business, industry officials have called the rules too burdensome to be achieved.

The CDC’s rules are scheduled to end in November. This week, however, officials laid out parts of an alternative plan that could allow cruises to restart by mid-July.

“Jobs,” said Marty Rios, of Galveston, when asked what drew him out Sunday. “Everyone is excited to be back where we were before, safely. And this is just so many new jobs created by this.”

Rios has been on 31 cruises himself since retiring from FedEx and said the docks had been comparatively quiet since the cruises left.

“It’s great to see all these people,” he said.

Cruising people are just so friendly, said Robert Fenwick, of Katy.

“It’s just fun,” Fenwick said of cruising. “You get to do as much or as little as you want on them.”

City and port officials on Monday joined Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy and other dignitaries in an event calling for the end of federal restrictions on cruises leaving from the United States.

Matt deGrood: 409-683-5230; matt.degrood@galvnews.com.

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