First cruise since start of pandemic sets sail from Port Tampa Bay on Saturday

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Port Tampa Bay is welcoming back cruises for the first time during the pandemic.

Royal Caribbean’s “Serenade of the Seas” is set to depart from cruise terminal 6 on Saturday. It’s the first cruise vessel to leave the port since March 14, 2020 when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a no-sail order.

Sebastien Rivas, the owner of Milkin’ It in Channelside, says opening a business during the pandemic has been a struggle.

“You can’t fully gauge what your foot traffic is going to be at the moment because of COVID,” he said.

Rivas is relying on the return of the cruise industry.

“That makes Channelside, Channelside. That’s pretty much what everyone comes in and goes through here. It’s where everyone makes their dollar on that, so, we’re kind of waiting on that,” he explained.

Lisa Wolf-Chason with Port Tampa Bay says the “Serenade of the Seas” is the first cruise ship to depart from the port in more than 18 months.

“We know that this is a rebuilding process and we’re okay with that,” Wolf-Chason said.

She tells 8 On Your Side other cruise lines will be joining Royal Caribbean in the coming months.

“We’ll have Celebrity Cruise Line back for the first time in 10 years. They’ll be sailing their ‘Constellation’ ship with us in November,” she said. “Carnival Cruise Line will be sailing with us in November and then in December we’ll have Norwegian.”

According to leaders at the port, the cruise industry makes up 20% of their income, or $7.5 million. They say every 3,000-passenger ship generates $334,000 of spending in and around Tampa Bay.

Rivas is ready and waiting to welcome cruise passengers.

“Its been gradually getting better,” he said, “the last thing is cruise ships.”

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