This weekend, for the first time in more than a year, cruise ships will berth at the Port of Galveston.
When the Carnival Breeze and Carnival Vista arrive in the port Sunday, they will become the first ships to stay in Texas’ only cruise terminal since late April 2020.
But despite new guidelines released late Wednesday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the ships won’t be there to pick up passengers.
Cruises from the United States are still limited by federal health orders preventing sailing during the coronavirus pandemic, which have been in place since March 2020.
Instead, port officials said they hope the return of the ships to Galveston will help spur the CDC and political leaders to act more quickly to allow cruise ships to return to business.
The CDC late Wednesday night issued more guidance about a possible return to cruising, according to USA Today.
Among the things in the new guidance was an allowance for cruise lines to begin operating regular trips — without undertaking safety-proving “test cruises” — if 95 percent of passengers were vaccinated, possibly starting in mid-July.
As of Wednesday, neither Carnival nor Royal Caribbean have announced plans requiring passengers to be vaccinated to travel on board.
The port is planning a rally Monday afternoon that will feature local officials, cruise executive and workers whose jobs are affected by the cruise shutdown, officials said.
“Everybody’s ready,” Wharves Board of Trustees Chairman Albert Shannon said. “We’ve got a lot of people ready to go back to work.”
The ships’ arrival also may serve a second purpose: to vaccinate hundreds of crew members who live aboard the ships to keep them running, even without passengers.
Details about the vaccination efforts were still being developed Wednesday.
The greater idea behind getting the cruise ships back is to get attention, Shannon said. He had little doubt that would happen.
“I think people will enjoy seeing ships back in the harbor,” Shannon said. “It’s kind of a motivational thing for people here on the island.”
The cruise ships are expected to arrive in port Sunday afternoon and will stay docked in Galveston until May 7. After that, the ships are expected to periodically sail in and out of the port, possibly until cruises fully resume. When that will happen is unclear.
The cruise industry in recent weeks has lobbied for the CDC to lift its conditional sail orders to allow for a restart of cruises as soon as July 1, and cruise booking website are still offering tickets for some July cruises.
But cruise officials have said companies need about 60 days notice to prepare for a resumption of cruises; with the calendar soon to turn to May, a July return seems unlikely.
On Wednesday, the Wharves Board of Trustees voted to adjust its annual operating revenue projections down by $8 million because of the continued absence of cruises. The port’s budget at the beginning of the year predicted that cruises would return, on a partial basis, by the end of June.
The revised budget now predicts cruises will resume in September. The port expects to generate $29 million in total income from operations and end the year with a net income of $1.4 million, according to port documents.