On Monday, Carnival confirmed it plans to set sail out of Galveston starting Saturday, July 3 with the Carnival Vista. In total, Port of Galveston officials told ABC13 the cruise line has nine trips planned next month.
This will be the first cruise to leave the island since the start of the pandemic.
CRUISE VACCINE REQUIREMENT: @CarnivalCruise said it’s going to set sail from Galveston in less than a month. It said the covid-19 is required for passengers. But is it? Could a new law signed by Gov @GregAbbott_TX change this? What the company told me @abc13houston at 5pm. pic.twitter.com/uGKza8RhhX— Nick Natario (@NickABC13) June 8, 2021
"We're excited, of course," said EZ Cruise Parking owner Cynthia Tompkins.
"It's bittersweet," said Port Parking owner Charles Tompkins. "We have been waiting for this for a year-and-a-half."
The two said their industry was hit hard during the pandemic, and they're not the only ones. More than 3,600 jobs are tied to the cruise industry in the Galveston area and port officials said it has lost $44 million since last March.
"We sold our house," Cynthia recalled.
That's why cruise lines and port officials are eager to welcome passengers back.
"You can look at it like you're getting ready for a baseball game," said Rodger Rees, the director of the Port of Galveston director. "We've got to practice. We're getting ready to practice on how the cruise days are going to go with the new protocols."
READ MORE: 'It feels different:' Why Galveston's cruise industry is optimistic ships will sail on July 3
One of the most important protocols announced by Carnival this week requires passengers to show proof that they received a COVID-19 vaccine. This comes on the same day Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law prohibiting businesses from asking for any kind of vaccination proof.
READ MORE: Greg Abbott plans to ban businesses from requiring vaccine information: 'Texas is open 100%'
Legal expert Steve Shellist told ABC13 he believes because the cruise lines fall under federal authority, they should be able to ask for proof.
Meanwhile, Carnival sent Eyewitness News the following statement regarding the new law.
"We are evaluating the legislation recently signed into law in Texas regarding vaccine information. The law provides exceptions for when a business is implementing COVID protocols in accordance with federal law which is consistent with our plans to comply with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention's guidelines."
In the meantime, passengers are waiting to hear about other protocols surrounding the use of face masks and social distancing. Port of Galveston leaders said it's all still a work in progress.
"What they're saying is they think this is going to change again," Rees explained. "They're hoping for some more relaxation of the regulations, because this is getting to be very hard to track."
While Carnival is requiring vaccines, not all cruise companies will. Royal Caribbean plans to sail out of Galveston on August 15. It said passengers are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, but it's not requiring it. Unvaccinated passengers are subject to stricter protocols, including testing.
The CDC sets guidelines for cruises to resume. Vaccination requirements vary based on if cruise lines conduct test cruises.
Royal Caribbean said it plans to conduct simulated cruises soon. Carnival told ABC13 it hasn't publicly announced if it's going to do the same.
The Port of Galveston said simulated cruises are scheduled and if test cruises aren't conducted, the CDC mandates 95% of passengers must be vaccinated.
As regulations are finalized, business owners hope this is the light they've been waiting for.
"Hurricane Ike didn't put us out," Cynthia Tompkins said. "All the other hurricanes didn't put us out, but this COVID did."
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