EXCLUSIVE: NYC to reopen cruise terminals in late September

A cruise liner sails past the skyline of New York City,New York
A cruise liner sails past the New York City skyline in 2019.
REUTERS/Mike Blake

New York City plans to welcome cruise ships back to its Manhattan terminal starting in late September, amNewYork Metro has learned.

The city’s quasi-public Economic Development Corporation will allow the mega ships back to Big Apple berths for the first time since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, according to agency spokesman Chris Singleton.

“We are working with two cruise lines (Norwegian and Crystal) to resume sailings out of NYC in late September,” Singleton told amNewYork Metro in an email.

The agency expects about 50-60 cruise departures by the end of the city’s current fiscal year on June 30, 2022, according to minutes of EDC’s June 22 board of directors meeting.

The big boats will start docking at the EDC’s Manhattan Cruise Terminal at Pier 88 and Pier 90, according to a presentation by the agency’s assistant vice president for asset management Bianca Sosa from the June meeting.

Pier 90 hosted the enormous US Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort during the early pandemic, supposedly to support overflowing city hospitals, but the vessel sat largely empty for its month-long stay.

EDC also manages the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal next to the Atlantic Basin in Red Hook, but officials didn’t say when they expect to reopen that dock.

Cruise ships were a hotbed of coronavirus infections early on in the pandemic, such as notorious outbreak aboard the ocean liner Diamond Princess in Japan in early 2020

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a No Sail Order on March 14, 2020 effectively banning cruise traffic in the United States.

In October, CDC released a follow-up directive to phase cruises back in with conditions, and in May the health officials published guidelines for operators, including trial voyages for ships before they can again board passengers. 

Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas was scheduled to launch such a test cruise from just across the harbor at Cape Liberty in Bayonne, New Jersey, on Sunday, Aug. 22, and eagle-eyed New Yorkers spotted the vessel as early as Thursday, Aug. 19. 

The ship will set sail from the Garden State port on Sept. 5, a Royal Caribbean rep confirmed to amNewYork Metro in an email. 

EDC plans to work with two lines, Norwegian and Crystal, for its first sailings out of the city next month, according to Singleton. Both operators will enter into an agreement with city and state officials to follow CDC guidelines.

Norwegian wants to set sail for its first trip out of New York City on Sept. 26 to Bermuda, according to a spokeswoman.

All passengers and crew will have to be fully vaccinated and the ocean liners will test passengers before the voyages and crew regularly, according to EDC.

Terminal protocols include masking, social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing, increased air filtration, and hand sanitizer stations, according to city officials.

The upcoming sailings are also dependent on port protocols at destinations like Bermuda and Canada, according to the June presentation.

A federal judge in Florida ruled earlier this month ruled that Norwegian could require passengers to show proof they got a COVID-19 shot before boarding, NPR reported.

The pandemic pause cost Norwegian more than $6 billion at the time, according to court documents cited in the report.