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First cruise leaves the Port of Baltimore this weekend after 18-month halt for COVID-19. Vaccination and negative test result required.

The Carnival Pride will sail from Baltimore Sunday on a seven-day trip to the Bahamas, the first ship to carry passengers from the state-owned port’s cruise terminal in 18 months because of the pandemic.

The voyage, which requires both COVID-19 vaccines and tests for all passengers, marks a return to the Cruise Maryland terminal in Locust Point for the first time since the Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas arrived back at a closed terminal due to COVID-19 restrictions in March 2020.

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Carnival and port officials will greet the departing passengers with a celebratory ribbon cutting. But the cruise leaves amid a still-raging delta variant that has prompted the federal government to issue new guidance on testing before cruises.

Whether or not you’re among those visiting the sandy beaches of Freeport, Nassau and the private island of Half Moon Cay next week, here’s what you should know:

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What are the vaccine requirements?

All passengers will be required to present proof of vaccination and a negative test result within three days of boarding the 88,500-ton, 965-foot cruise ship Sunday.

Passengers are required to have received their second dose of vaccine at least two weeks before the day of departure and bring a physical vaccination card with them.

Is the ship’s capacity being limited?

Carnival is operating at about 70% capacity on all its ships to allow for more social distancing, according to spokesman Vance Gulliksen.

What changed in the CDC’s pre-cruise testing guidance?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tightened its guidance this week on how many days before a cruise all passengers — regardless of vaccination — should take a COVID-19 test. The guidance has been revised from three days to two days beforehand. The Pride cruise Sunday leaves one day before that new rule goes into effect.

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Given the change, Carnival is developing plans to offer rapid tests before cruises at mobile testing sites within walking distance of the port terminals, the company said. More information is expected to be posted on the cruise line’s website once the rapid tests are available.

Are health experts concerned about cruises resuming?

Christopher Thompson is uncomfortable with the idea of out-of-town cruise passengers descending on Baltimore, eating at its restaurants and staying in its hotels while the ultra-contagious delta variant circulates in the city and around the country.

Thompson, an immunology and microbiology professor at Loyola University Maryland, said requiring vaccinations and tests before boarding the ship is a good step. But he warned that the effects of vaccination are waning with each new variant, and negative tests are only about 80% accurate.

“They’re the right things to do if you’re going to move forward with this,” he said. “But it’s still scary to me.”

Thompson suggested increasing the testing requirement to two tests, 36 hours apart, which would provide a higher level of certainty that all passengers are COVID-free, he said. The cruise lines should encourage masking and offer testing at sea, he suggested.

“Maybe even in the middle of the cruise would be prudent,” he said.

What’s happening to celebrate?

Port of Baltimore Executive Director William P. Doyle, Carnival President Christine Duffy and Carnival Pride Captain Maurizio Ruggiero will cut a ribbon and welcome the first guests aboard in a “#BackToFun” event in the terminal before the ship leaves.

“We’re thrilled to be back in Baltimore, providing our guests with the relaxing vacation they’ve been so patiently waiting for but also supporting the local economy and offering our crew members an opportunity to support their families back home,” Duffy said in a statement.

Doyle said the Pride’s return will be “a great day for the Port of Baltimore,” which boasts a location directly off Interstate 95, only 15 minutes from BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, and near plenty of the city’s tourism and dining attractions.

“We have waited a long time to welcome back the Carnival Pride to Charm City,” Doyle said. “Cruise from Baltimore, enjoy our great city, and sail to some of the most incredible tropical paradises in the world.”

Carnival is Baltimore’s most popular cruise line, and the Pride has carried more than 1 million passengers since 2009, according to the company.

“Baltimore has been a wonderful partner for more than a decade and we are delighted to get Back to Fun in this key market which serves hundreds of thousands of guests in the Northeast and along the Atlantic coast,” Duffy said.

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