CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Carnival Sunshine is resuming service at the Port of Charleston after being away from Charleston Harbor for about two years.

The ship returned to port Tuesday morning and is scheduled to set sail with passengers for the first time since the industry was shut down during the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

Despite the hazards associated with COVID-19, passengers said they could not wait for the cruise. People like Joey and Mary Mayo, who are ready for some sun and fun.

“Just being able to turn our phone off and hang out by the pool and have an excuse not to look at our phone or emails is going to be really nice,” said Joey.

“We drink a lot, and we eat a lot more on cruises, so hopefully it will be pretty warm so we can hang out by the pool and meet people,” continued Mary. “We love meeting new people during cruises.”

Thousands of people in close contact increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a level 4 travel notice for cruise ship travel on December 30th: it’s currently their highest level – it says people should avoid travel by cruise right now regardless of vaccination status.

Before boarding the Carnival Sunshine, passengers had to be either fully vaccinated or show a negative COVID-19 test within the past 48 hours.

“Obviously it is a concern, but we are vaccinated, and from what I understand everyone is vaccinated and has to be tested two days or 48 hours before,” said Mayo.

Businesses in downtown Charleston, like Amy Looney who runs Charleston Map Jewelry in the Market, are anticipating more foot traffic from passengers the cruise industry brings to the area.

“Really just makes a huge difference, especially in the winter months, for those cruise ships to come in, it really makes a big difference,” said Looney. “Especially those of us at the market and right here in the downtown area.”

Just across the street from where Carnival Sunshine docks is Queology BBQ and Beer.

“Huge impact,” said Koenig. “We see tons of folks coming off asking us questions about carriage rides, shopping, dessert shops, other restaurants. We just see that these people want to support the economy in Charleston.”

The ship is headed to Nassau and the Bahamas. Joey and Mary Mayo said they plan to make great memories even though COVID-19 is a reality.

“This has been going on for over two years now and we’re going to continue to move forward and be cautious, but live our life,” they said. “Living your daily life going to the gym or the supermarket, you could get COVID just as easy doing that as you could on a cruise ship.”

Carnival Sunshine will be leaving at 6:00 p.m., and then the Carnival Paradise is scheduled to arrive in Charleston about two hours later.

That ship is stopping in Charleston Harbor briefly just to bring some additional crew members on board. Carnival Sunshine will be returning to Charleston on Monday.