JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Carnival Spirit set sail on Monday, making it the first major cruise ship to depart from JaxPort in nearly two years.
The departure also marked the kickoff of the Carnival Cruise Line’s Sailabration cruise, which celebrates Carnival’s 50th Birthday. The company has been active at JaxPort for most of the past 20 years.
Carnival held a special ceremony before the voyage set off.
“This will be the first major ship sailing out of Jacksonville in two years. I mean, can you believe it -- two years, what we’ve lived through?” said Sarah Beth Reno, Carnival’s vice president of guest operations.
The Spirit departed at 5 p.m., heading to the Bahamas on a five-day cruise. Passengers will visit Nassau and Princess Cays.
The Spirit arrived last week at JaxPort. Until now, the cruise liner had been running its trips out of Sydney, Australia, since 2013. According to Carnival, the ship weighs around 88,500 tons, is 963 feet long and its guest capacity is just over 2,100.
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For JaxPort and Carnival, this voyage represents a return to operations after a long shutdown during the coronavirus pandemic. Carnival will now begin to make consistent runs out of Jacksonville again -- which is a big boost for other businesses, as well.
“Cruising is also very important to our region’s economy supporting 800 local jobs, including some right here in this building, and more than $187 million in annual economic impact for Northeast Florida,” said Wendy Hamilton, JaxPort chair.
Reno said: “I don’t want to forget and we don’t want to forget the travel agents and businesses in the area that rely on cruising for their livelihood. We’re so thrilled to be back in Jacksonville, and we’re so happy to be bringing business back and support so many jobs that rely on this very important industry.”
Carnival does have COVID-19 safety protocols. According to the ocean liner, fully vaccinated guests must show proof of negative tests. While there are vaccination exemptions, people must test negative 24 hours before sailing. Unvaccinated guests also must have travel insurance.
There is a mask requirement for staff members. Passengers are encouraged to wear masks, but it is not required.
“Cruising seems like the last part of the travel industry that’s kind of getting back out there and getting on the water. It’s created a lot of demand for cruises,” said Margie Jordan, with Jordan Executive Travel Service. “We are getting calls for people who are just trying to figure it out.”
Ahead of the ship’s departure, passengers told News4JAX that they were ready to set sail again. One couple, who have been on more than 70 cruise trips, said they have been waiting two years to get back out on the ocean.
“We’re very excited,” said Tammy Noren. “We can’t be more excited than to have, you know, be able to cruise again, go to the islands again and, you know, just go back to normal a little bit -- definitely go back to normal a little bit.”
Tammy and Michael Noren were the first passengers to board the Spirt as it prepared to set sail for the Bahamas. They shared what they were most excited about.
“Just the fun!” Tammy Noren said
Michael Noren added: “Just getting out there, dancing on lido deck, good food, not having to cook, not having to clean.”
The Norens are such prominent customers of Carnival that the company invited them to cut the ribbon at Monday’s special ceremony.