Cruise ships to return to San Francisco after 18-month pandemic pause

Versie Dortch

In a first since the pandemic began in 2020, a cruise ship will sail into the Port of San Francisco on Monday.

The event may have particular resonance in the Bay Area, where a coronavirus crisis aboard a different cruise ship 18 months ago first helped bring the reality of the pandemic home for millions in the U.S.

But officials are touting the comeback of cruises as more than symbolic — they say it’s crucial to San Francisco’s economic recovery.

“The return of cruises next week is another exciting part of our city’s recovery happening right now,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “We’ve got the only in-person Fleet Week in the country, the Giants hosting the Dodgers in the playoffs this weekend, the Warriors back in front of fans at Chase Center, and the City’s first parade on Sunday with the Italian Heritage Parade.

“San Francisco is really coming alive, and we’re just getting started,” she added.

The ship arriving Monday, the Majestic Princess, is operating at 60% to 75% of its 3,560-passenger capacity, according to Princess Cruises. The ship will dock at the Port of San Francisco overnight, and passengers will get to spend some time in the city.

The Port of San Francisco is expecting 21 cruise calls through the rest of the year, followed by a record 127 in 2022.

Joe D’Alessandro, the president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association, that visitors from cruises will help buoy local businesses.

“Our recovery from the pandemic has been very slow, and it’s going to continue to be very slow,” he said, noting that the city depends on international and business travel, which still have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

But the record number of cruises set to stop at the port next year is “a really good sign” for the city’s recovery going forward, he said.

The cruise comes to San Francisco by way of the Port of Los Angeles, where it welcomed passengers on Oct. 6. In addition to an overnight stop in San Francisco, the cruise will be heading to San Diego and Ensenada, Mexico, before returning to Los Angeles on Oct. 14.

At the beginning of the pandemic, before COVID-19 was well understood, several cruise ships became early hot spots for the disease. Among them was the Grand Princess, which was stricken by an outbreak and held for several days off the San Francisco coast in March 2020 with several thousand passengers and crew quarantined aboard.

The ship eventually docked in Oakland and infected passengers were quarantined at Travis Air Force Base. Ultimately, more than 100 people from aboard that ship tested positive, and at least seven died.

But D’Alessandro said that this is a very different time from early 2020, and that our understanding of the virus has changed enough to keep cruise passengers, crews and residents of the cities they visit safe with measures like COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements.

“Honestly, there’s going to be more steps taken to ensure the safety of somebody coming in on a cruise ship than if they just drove across the bridge,” he said.

Passengers on the Majestic Princess cruise and other ships in the Princess line have to present proof of full vaccination, as well as a negative COVID-19 test within two days before boarding the ship, according to the company, which means that the ships “will be operated as vaccinated cruises, as defined by the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), with guests and crew vaccination rates approaching 100%.”

The company said it has also added COVID-19 medical resources, improved air circulation on board, and expanded staff to oversee public health and outbreak prevention and response.

The CDC has a detailed reopening guide for cruise ships, which includes a requirement for mass testing capacity on board.

Cruise ships are expected to “bring thousands of people to our waterfront,” Elaine Forbes, executive director of the Port of San Francisco, said in a statement.

“We are proud to work with public health agencies to ensure cruises will return safely to keep our waterfront community healthy and economically vibrant,” she added.

Danielle Echeverria is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] @DanielleEchev

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