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OCHO RIOS, Jamaica; August 17, 2021: “It’s totally awesome, been waiting two years for this,” admitted Terry Davis as he perused the Jamaican landscape with his partner, Katy Peale who added: “It’s just wonderful to be out, to travel, to see beautiful places again, be together with friends and family; have fun.”
The couple were on their first cruise to Jamaica and enjoying the scenery after disembarking the Carnival Sunrise at Berth 1 of the Ocho Rios Cruise Shipping Port. It was the first cruise vessel to be calling at a local port in 17 months since the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
With them were the first couple to set foot on Jamaican soil as part of their Caribbean cruise, starting in Miami. Donna and Anthony Pioli of Miami were very specific about what they wanted most during their time ashore in Ocho Rios, having been to Montego Bay previously. After a 17-month wait, Anthony was looking forward to “the best coffee in the world, Blue Mountain” while for Donna, “I’m looking for some rum punch.”
The exhilaration was shared by Carnival Sunrise’s Captain Isidoro Renda. “Myself, all the crew and the entire Carnival Cruise Line, we are so happy to restart and to have our first call in Jamaica,” he said, pointing to “a very long relationship with Jamaica and Ocho Rios, so we’re extremely happy and pleased to be here.”
Ocho Rios is among the Sunrise’s main ports after 17 months “and we’re going to come here very often,” he shared, calculating the schedule to be “at least three times per month.”
Minister of Tourism, Hon Edmund Bartlett was at the port for the occasion and for him: “The return of cruise at this time signals the second critical phase of the reopening of the tourism industry and will aid greatly in bringing back jobs to the industry.”
With Carnival’s schedule of some 16 calls over the next three months and MSC, Royal Caribbean, Disney and other cruise lines preparing for resumption of sailing the Caribbean Sea: “We are going to have cruise back on track by December with pretty much the full fleet,” said Mr. Bartlett. He has projected just under 300,000 cruise passengers to Jamaica by end of year, by which time the Montego Bay and Falmouth ports will also be reactivated with hopes of having calls also at Port Royal and Port Antonio.
On the matter of adhering to COVID-19 protocols, Minister Bartlett said given the stipulations of the respective local and international public health agencies: “It has been a very long and difficult process of building out protocols, changing and making adjustments, trying to respond to variations of the virus itself and its mutations, and then to deal with attitude, behaviour and mindset.”
The 3,000 passengers and crew of Carnival Sunrise had to meet strict measures governing the restart of cruise shipping, requiring approximately 95% to be fully vaccinated and for all passengers to provide evidence of negative results from a COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of sailing. In the case of unvaccinated passengers, such as children, a PCR test is mandated, and all passengers are also screened and tested (antigen) on disembarkation.
Also, the port of call has met protocols laid down by the Ministry of Health and the cruise companies, with the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) also monitoring conformity to the rules.
Jamaica was rated highly for having lived up to expectations. “I’d really like to take this opportunity to thank the Ministry of Tourism the Port Authority of Jamaica, and most definitely the Ministry of Health; your entire health team has been very engaged in the process to get the ship here today and it’s beyond our expectations,” said Marie McKenzie, Carnival’s Vice President of Global Ports and Caribbean Government Relations. Ms. McKenzie, who is Jamaican, has responsibility for 27 countries in the region, and has been working with local officials on the restarting process for Carnival.