Saint John will welcome its first cruise ship Thursday after a two-and-a-half year pandemic pause and port officials are "euphoric."
"To know that the day has finally come after so many people did so much work towards it is just tremendous," said Andrew Dixon, the chief operating officer of Port Saint John.
Seven Seas Navigator, operated by Regent Seven Seas, is schedule to arrive from Boston at 9:20 p.m. for an overnight visit, carrying nearly 500 people — 124 passengers and 374 crew.
Its arrival kicks off a "very robust" season, with 70 ships slated to call by November. And next year could be "record breaking," said Dixon.
The ship is still listed as being under investigation by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and at the "orange" level, which means at least 0.3 per cent of passengers or crew have suspected or confirmed cases, according to the CDC website.
But Dixon told CBC Thursday morning it has been downgraded to "yellow," which means CDC is "monitoring" the ship and the COVID cases have dropped below 0.3 per cent.
"That is actually one crew member who is in isolation, and it's a crew member that has no contact with the passengers," he said.
When it was at the orange status, two crew members were positive, but one has since recovered, according to Dixon.
"The CDC and Transport Canada are, of course, interested, but quite comfortable that everything is well under control."
He noted more than half the active cruise ships under CDC jurisdiction right now are at the orange status. CDC's cruise ship status dashboard lists 56 at orange, 20 at yellow and 21 at green.
"So we're actually in really good shape with this vessel," said Dixon.
He participated in a call Wednesday with several parties, including the medical officers on board the vessel and Department of Health officials, he said.
"And our folks were very pleased with … the status that the vessel had and the prevention measures that were taking place."
For example, all crew members were tested for COVID-19 on Wednesday and were negative, he said.
As of April 1, fully vaccinated travellers no longer need to take a molecular test before disembarking in Canada.
But all passengers had to take a COVID-19 molecular test within 72 hours of boarding, or an antigen test within one day of boarding, under Transport Canada rules announced in March. Seven Seas Navigator departed Miami on April 18, on a 25-night round cruise, and may have picked up new passengers at its six U.S. stops en route to Saint John.
All cruise ship passengers and crew must also be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Our cruise and operations teams have worked tirelessly to ensure the safe and successful return of the cruise industry. - Nathalie Allaby, Port Saint John cruise development manager
Some of the other protocols in place to keep COVID from spreading to Saint John from the ship, or vice versa, include sanitation, hand washing, buffets being served and various measures to prevent contact, said Dixon.
In addition, there are quarantine areas on board, as well as medical facilities and medical staff, so positive cases can be monitored.
"Our cruise and operations teams have worked tirelessly to ensure the safe and successful return of the cruise industry," Port Saint John's cruise development manager Natalie Allaby said in a statement.
"We can't wait to watch as the cruise guests get to experience all the wonders of the Bay of Fundy region."
Fireworks and tugboat show planned
The impact will be significant and far-reaching said Dixon, citing all the tour operators and attractions, other businesses in the region, and labour at the port as examples.
"There's been all sorts of economic studies done. … The last one and the one we quote quite frequently for our region is $68 million in economic impact."
To celebrate and include the public in welcoming the first ship of the season, fireworks are scheduled to launch from Long Wharf shortly after the vessel is secured at the berth, weather permitting. The port will update the public through its social media, said Dixon.
On Friday, there will be a tugboat water show in the harbour as the cruise ship departs at 1:45 pm.
Seven Seas Navigator is scheduled to continue on to Halifax, Sydney, Charlottetown and Corner Brook.