Passengers start packing their bags as the cruise industry ramps up in the Ports

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After a 15-month coronavirus-induced shutdown that rocked the industry and stifled travel-loving, would-be passengers, cruise lines and scores of vacation-starved Americans are gearing up to sail again starting late this summer and into the fall — including in Southern California.

Both the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are working on or have already signed agreements with the companies to allow their ships to dock. The agreements require a 95% threshold of vaccinated passengers and crew members per trip.

The Carnival Panorama will leave from Long Beach on Aug. 21, marking the long-awaited launch of cruises from that port.

In the Port of Los Angeles, the Grand Princess will depart on a seven-day cruise to the Mexican Riviera on Sept. 25.

Long Beach harbor commissioners approved a deal with Carnival Cruise Lines at their meeting earlier this week. Los Angeles port officials, meanwhile, are in discussions with Princess and other cruise lines, including opening talks with Royal Caribbean.

The 95% threshold, a rule from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allows for children and others with a physician’s exception to be allowed on board, along with other added protocols and restrictions. Testing will be part of those protocols and masks will be required coming on and off ships, but vaccinated passengers will not have to wear masks onboard.

“The cruise lines during this time have really been working on ventilation systems and filters and contract tracing,” said Carl Dreizler, who runs findacruisedeal.com and has kept his Redondo Beach office open throughout the pandemic.

It was a year spent with cancelations, re-bookings, more cancellations as the pandemic lingered, and arranging for credits and refunds on behalf of his clients.

“We were working almost as hard” as usual, he said, “but making no money.”

The cruise lines are being strict about vaccination proofs, Dreizler said. He’s heard some complaints from people who have had COVID-19 and feel a vaccination isn’t necessary, but there are no exceptions, Dreizler said.

For avid cruise vacationers, such as Mel and Leony Filler of Redondo Beach, getting back on the water can come none too soon.

They’ve signed up for two cruises already, including the Princess Majestic’s seven-day California coast tour out of the Port of Los Angeles in October.

“We have another cruise planned for August next year,” said Mel Filler, 82, a retired engineer for Hughes Electronics in Torrance. “That’s a little more elaborate; we fly to New York City and get on a cruise ship that goes along the Canadian coast and on to Greenland. That’s one place we’ve never been.”

Leony Filler, 77, is a retired Hermosa Beach real estate bookkeeper and the couple have been frequent travelers for 20 years, her husband said.

“My wife and I just love cruising,” he said.

“We’re big travelers,” he added, noting they’d also taken a trip to Georgia and South Carolina in April . “You could call us early starters.”

Two cruise ships in the Port of Los Angeles on Thursday, July 8, 2021. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Both were vaccinated in February.

The twin ports also are ready to welcome back what’s become a significant portion of their economies.

Debate over how to do that, however, lingered throughout the spring as discussions dragged on with the CDC.

The complications were many when it came to how to safely relaunch ocean sailings for vacationing passengers.

Among the concerns were that cruises posed a particular risk of spreading the coronavirus, with so many people crowded into shared spaces for prolonged periods of time.

Long Beach harbor commission President Frank Colonna expressed relief that agreements were finally reached to reopen recreational travel.

“This is a great opportunity for us to get back to some type of normalcy,” he said after the commission unanimously approved the agreement with Carnival earlier this week.

The return of Royal Caribbean International to the Port of Long Beach after a 10-year absence has also generated some excitement. The company will offer year-round cruises from Los Angeles to Catalina Island, Ensenado and Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.

Norwegian Cruise Lines also is expected to return to the port.

Mel Filler said he and his wife are confident about getting back to cruising.

“There’s always a note of caution, I guess, but they tell us everybody, or almost everybody, will be vaccinated,” Mel Filler said. “There will be all kinds of precautions they’ll be taking, with extra cleaning on the walls and buffets with limits. The cruise companies are not taking this lightly.

“I would probably feel safer on a cruise,” he added, “than going into a local supermarket.”

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