Excited passengers of all ages were anxious to board Carnival Cruise Line’s Panorama in Long Beach Saturday, marking the end of 17 cruiseless months due to the pandemic. The hiatus was so monumental, Carnival hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony ahead of passenger embarkation.
“We know everyone is eager to get back to fun and get on board,” Carnival President Christine Duffy said during the ceremony. “We are thrilled to be back sailing again.”
Since July, Carnival has restarted seven ships in Florida and Texas, Duffy said. In late July, Carnival began sailing to Alaska out of Seattle.
Panorama’s seven-day venture—the first cruise to set sail out of California since the pandemic began—will carry passengers along the Mexican Riviera, including stops in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas.
During the ceremony, Duffy introduced the Meursing family of Huntington Beach, who were on the Panorama’s inaugural voyage in 2019 and who recently traveled aboard the Mardi Gras, Carnival’s newest ship that sails out of Port Canaveral in Florida. Wesley Meursing cut the ribbon before the family boarded the ship ahead of the other passengers.
“After a long 17 months, it’s just awesome to be back on a ship,” Wesley said, adding that he is most looking forward to the food and the SkyRide, a suspended bicycle course that gives riders unique views of the ship and ocean.
Johnny and Dala Phillips, a married couple from Reno, said Saturday’s cruise will be their fifth. The pair were looking into setting up a trip prior to the pandemic but when the virus began dominating headlines in the spring of last year, they decided to hold off, Johnny said.
“The vaccine makes me feel safe,” Dala said. “I’m happy to get out and enjoy life.”
To protect the crew and passengers, Carnival has implemented extensive coronavirus protocols, including proof of vaccination for the vast majority of guests and regular testing for others. The ship’s entire 1,400-member crew is fully vaccinated, according to the company’s website.
All passengers, regardless of vaccination status, must present a negative COVID-19 test result from within three days of embarkation. Unvaccinated guests must take another test prior to embarkation and a third 24 hours into the voyage if the cruise is longer than four days.
The Panorama is one of Carnival’s newest vessels and can accommodate 4,008 passengers but is operating at about 75% capacity, Chief Communications Officer Chris Chiames, who said the company expects that percentage to increase in the coming months.
Carnival is a major economic player in Long Beach, generating millions of dollars in passenger fees, hotel room stays, and restaurant and retail spending. The Miracle will resume Carnival’s short cruise runs in September and the Radiance will round out the Long Beach-based fleet later this year after $200 million in renovations.
Shana and Nick Terpolilli, a married couple from Ventura, said they had three cruises delayed due to the pandemic. Carnival gave the couple vouchers for shows and onboard credits for postponing their vacations, Nick said.
“The past 17 months we have been slugs,” Shana said. “Finally getting on the boat for seven days after no vacationing is amazing.”
The couple went on one cruise out of Miami last month and have their third scheduled for October going to Europe.
Panorama Captain Luca Lazzarino has been with Carnival for 28 years, serving as a captain for the last 11. He first came to Long Beach in 2005 and most recently spent six years as the captain of the Miracle before assuming command of the Panorama.
Lazzarino said as captain he spends three months at sea, followed by three months at home, a rotation that continued throughout the pandemic as the ship carried crewmembers around the world. Even when docked at its home port, the ship must be manned at all times, he said, adding that the crew has been minimal with no passengers to look after.
“We kept the ship in the best condition possible just to be ready for this day,” Lazzarino said. “To see all the crew on board is amazing—a fantastic feeling. We are full of energy and happy to start again on this new adventure.”