Cruise ships are returning to Puerto Rico after a lengthy absence.

In 2019, 558 cruise ships docked in Old San Juan, the primary port of Puerto Rico. They made for a significant part of the island’s heavily tourist-centered economy, bringing approximately $88 million dollars to the territory a year.

Through most of 2020 and half of 2021, the port lay silent with docked, out-of-commission cruise ships taking space and generating no revenue. In the meantime, Puerto Rico suffered heavily under coronavirus, with over 127,000 confirmed cases and more than 2,500 deaths in a population of only 3.3 million.

The landscape is a little different now. Close to two thirds of the population are vaccinated and tourists were allowed to return by air several months ago, with precautions. The hotels and airlines of the island have boomed back into operation. The delta variant has brought a renewed increase in cases, but not an overwhelming one. New lockdowns are not yet on the horizon.

And now, with the first visit of the Carnival Mardi Gras on August 3, 2021 an important puzzle piece in the island’s tourist industry is falling back into place.

“This is incredibly important for us,” said Carlos Mercado to the Associated Press. “This is what we were missing.” Mercado is the executive director of Puerto Rico’s Tourism Company.

He went on to elaborate about the precautions taken by the cruise ship – all passengers old enough are vaccinated, the ship has traveled at reduced capacity, buffets are no longer buffets, and sanitation is paramount.

The approximately 3,500 people who disembarked in Puerto Rico’s historic capitol are estimated to have generated around $360,000 in their nine-hour visit. The ship will dock twice more this month and beginning in September, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship will join it. Mercado expects the cruise schedule to be normal again by 2022.

Photo: Cruise ships docked in Puerto Rico’s San Juan Harbor. Credit: Shutterstock