Halted for four months due to coronavirus restrictions, Italy's Costa Cruises relaunched Saturday to the joy and relief of cruise fans and the industry.
The flagship Costa Smeralda will set off from the northwestern port of Savona at 6 p.m. (4 p.m. GMT) after being landbound since December 20, when the Italian government banned cruises during the holiday season due to the coronavirus crisis.
An enthused Roberta Cappelletti, a 60-year-old singer, came all the way from northeastern Predappio to take the cruise.
"It is a great emotion, I am moved to tears being able to cruise again – it's like a renaissance for me," she said before taking her coronavirus test so she could hop on board.
Enrico Bergamini, a 35-year-old bank employee from Genoa, was also excited.
"This cruise has a symbolic value for the recovery of Italy's tourism sector, I absolutely had to be here," he said with a smile.
The ship will set off with around 1,500 passengers onboard – a quarter of its full capacity.
All passengers and crew will be tested for coronavirus and mask-wearing is mandatory.
The Mediterranean voyage will last from three to seven days, depending on where it stops on the Italian coast – La Spezia, Civitavecchia, Naples, Messina or Cagliari. Absent from many routes is one of the nation's most popular ports, as Italy decreed cruise ships put Venice's lagoon at risk.
Raffaele d'Ambrosio, the head of the French arm of Costa Cruises, said the "desire to set off again is very strong among our customers."
"We receive several hundred bookings every day covering each month until the end of 2022," he told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"Cruising, like tourism in general, is one of the sectors most affected by the crisis: 2021 will be a year of recovery and by early 2022 we will be waiting for a return to normality."
Costa Cruises isn't the only group setting sail again as Viking Cruises recently moved a ship ported in Italy to Turkey's Bodrum before it launches from Greek Cyprus. Turkey is also preparing for more cruising as Istanbul gets set to open its Galataport project.
The cruise industry has been smashed by pandemic restrictions, suffering a shortfall of $77 billion and shedding 518,000 jobs between just mid-March and September last year, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).