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Epidemiologist: COVID-19 protocols make sailing safer than going to the grocery store without a mask

Port Tampa Bay set to welcome cruises back with the first ship sailing this weekend

TAMPA, Fla — Vaccines are proving to be helpful when it comes to getting life back to normal and now helping cruise lines start sailing from ports across the country. 

After 18 months on standby, ships will finally set sail from Port Tampa Bay starting Saturday, Oct. 16. Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas will be the first to welcome passengers back.

"We've been hard at work since March of 2020 to make sure that whenever it was safe to welcome everyone back, we were ready," Lisa Wolf-Chason, the Director of Communications at Port Tampa Bay, said.

Wolf-Chason says the Port has stood ready to welcome ships back whenever it was safe to do so, but they have implemented new procedures to keep travelers safe.

"That means changing the way that we clean our high touch areas of our terminals, implementing new systems to make sure we're getting a deeper clean that's protecting against COVID-19," Wolf-Chason said.

While the Port suggests passengers wear a mask and social distance when possible, all COVID protocols are different depending on the ship and cruise line. 

Royal Caribbean's first ship out of the Port requires passengers 12 or older to show proof of vaccination. If they're unable get vaccinated, proof of a negative COVID-19 test is needed.

"That's taking steps way up and above what we're seeing, for example, in the airlines, buses, trains and things like that," Dr. Jill Roberts with USF Public Health said. 

The epidemiologist says cruise lines have enough safety measures in place to make sailing safer than most everyday activities.

"With the protections they put in place there, it would be safer to sail to the Bahamas than it would be to go to Publix without a mask on," Roberts said. "They've also done enhanced ventilation and that's a huge difference in terms of transmission. In addition to that, they're upping their environment with environmental cleaning."

RELATED: Florida wants federal appeals court to overturn cruise line vaccine ruling

After more than a year, cruise line workers are ready to be at sea again.

"It was crushing–to put it mildly–those 18 months. It's like our whole lives were on standby," Alyson Larkin, a cruise line performer, said. 

Larkin is most at home on the stage and looks forward to singing in front of an audience in November. While many cruise line workers are asked to be fully vaccinated, they know the protections aren't foolproof against COVID-19. They should, however, help stop an outbreak. 

"There's always a little bit of concern just because that's what we're conditioned to at the time, but I feel really safe knowing that there are so many protocols set in place to avoid that happening," Larkin said. "If it did happen, there are ways to contain it and make sure that it does not spread."

Royal Caribbean's first cruise out of Port Tampa Bay will arrive downtown at 8 a.m. Saturday morning and set sail later on the same day.

RELATED: Port Tampa Bay welcomes return of cruising with first departure since pandemic began