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Virgin Voyages' Scarlet Lady sets sail for the first time next week. Photo: Virgin Voyages

The cruise line industry is in the midst of a PR campaign of a lifetime: “It’s safe to come aboard, we promise.” A sign it’s working: Carnival, a mega-operator, said bookings for this time next year already top pre-pandemic levels.

Why it matters: The industry was an early epicenter for COVID-19 outbreaks. Its comeback hinges on how comfortable people feel aboard the ships.

A milestone: Carnival's Grand Princess set sail this weekend for the first time since March 2020, when thousands of its passengers were stranded as cases were discovered onboard.

  • This time, masking is partially required, capacity is capped and vaccines are mandatory.

Cruises are the rare mode of travel that require passengers to be vaccinated, and the industry has gone to great lengths to protect the policy (see: Norwegian’s suit to block Florida’s anti-vaccine passport law).

The corporate spin: “We have to show people this is the safest way to travel. ... I'm confident it's safer than going to the drugstore or going to the movie theater,” Tom McAlpin, CEO of Virgin Voyages, tells Axios — citing its COVID-19 protocols.

  • The company sets sail for the first time from Miami next week, complete with a facility to test vaxxed passengers before boarding. (It’s adults-only, so unlike competitors, it’s not dealing with how to limit kids not yet eligible for shots.)

What to watch: All of the world’s biggest cruise companies said the Delta variant dented near-term bookings, the latest sign of the hold the coronavirus has on the industry.

Go deeper

Delta Air Lines CEO warns fuel costs could dig into profits

Photo: Nicolas Economou via Getty Images

Delta Air Lines’ biggest concern for the fourth quarter isn’t “the variant” — as CEO Ed Bastian refers to it — it’s fuel costs.

The big picture: Warnings like Delta's are a natural result of the global fuel chaos.

Updated 3 hours ago - Science

Nor'easter slams East Coast with flooding rain and powerful winds

A residential area in Middlesex County as floodwater from the nor'easter covers streets in New Jersey on Tuesday. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A monster storm was slamming the Northeast with record rainfall and powerful winds over Tuesday night — causing flash flooding that resulted in people having to be rescued in New Jersey and New York roads to close.

Threat level: All of southern New England westward to New York City and northern New Jersey was under the threat of flash flooding and coastal flooding from the nor'easter through Tuesday night into early Wednesday, per the National Weather Service.

3 hours ago - World

Blinken speaks with Sudan prime minister after his release

Sudan's Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok. Photo: Ebrahim Hamid/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Tony Blinken spoke on the phone on Tuesday evening with Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok after the military released him from custody.

Why it matters: Hamdok’s release was a result of pressure on Sudan’s military leader General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan from the U.S. and other countries but also from the different political parties in Sudan and massive protests in the streets.