Major cruise line threatens to leave Florida over vaccine passport ban

Adriana Jimenez

(MIAMI) Florida's new legislation prohibiting businesses from asking whether employees or customers have been vaccinated against COVID-19 may take a toll on cruise lines.
A docked Norwegian Gem cruise ship is seen at the Port of Miami in Miami Beach, Florida on April 14, 2021Getty Images

Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which plans to begin operating again with guests this summer, says it intends to require 100 percent of passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated to sail. Frank Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, said last Thursday the new state law prohibiting vaccine passports could cause the company to skip Florida ports and move its ships elsewhere for departure. 

"At the end of the day, cruise ships have motors, propellers, and rudders, and God forbid we can't operate in the state of Florida for whatever reason, then there are other states that we do operate from, and we can operate from the Caribbean for a ship that otherwise would have gone to Florida," said Del Rio during a company's quarterly earnings call.

The executive order, signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 3rd, prohibits government entities from issuing vaccine passports and bans businesses from requiring such documentation. "In Florida, your personal choice regarding vaccinations will be protected, and no business or government entity will be able to deny you services based on your decision," said DeSantis.
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DeSantis also argued the enforcement of vaccine passports would "create two classes of citizens based on vaccinations." His order noted that many Floridians have not yet had the opportunity to obtain a vaccine, while some may have infection-acquired immunity, and other people may be unable to get a COVID-19 vaccine because of health or religious reasons. 

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest guidance recommends that all cruise line passengers and crew get a COVID-19 vaccine when a vaccine is available to them. 

"It is not possible for cruising to be a zero-risk activity for spread of Covid-19," the CDC said last Wednesday. "While cruising will always pose some risk of Covid-19 transmission, CDC is committed to ensuring that cruise ship passenger operations are conducted in a way that protects crew members, passengers, and port personnel."
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In the meantime, cruise lines are racing to get their crew members vaccinated after the CDC announced cruises could start sailing with paying passengers as early as mid-July. The CDC will also require cruise lines to complete test runs with volunteer passengers before being cleared to sail with all other passengers this summer.

Norwegian Cruise Line said it was experiencing "robust future demand" with bookings for the first half of 2022 that were "meaningfully ahead" of 2019 bookings.
Since March 2020, the CDC has banned cruise ships that carry more than 250 people from sailing in US watersGetty Images

Other lines setting up alternate plans outside of Florida as reported by Sun Sentinel include:

  • Royal Caribbean International, also based in Miami, announced sailings in March out of the Bahamas and Bermuda. A sister line, Celebrity Cruises, is scheduled to start sailings out of St. Maarten on June 5th.
  • Carnival Corp's Seabourn line recently announced it will sail from Barbados in July and will sail from Greece this summer. Holland America Line also will sail from Greece in August. Carnival has said seven of its nine cruise lines will be sailing internationally, not from US ports.
  • Virgin Voyages, an "adult cruise" startup backed by billionaire Richard Branson, is sending its Scarlet Lady to the United Kingdom. The vessel was supposed to start service from Miami last year.

The clash between Norwegian Cruise Line and Florida is one of the first that is likely to surface about how states will handle vaccine requirements. In addition to prohibiting businesses from requiring proof of vaccination, the Florida law also prevents state and local governments from closing businesses or schools unless there is a hurricane emergency.

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Bilingual journalist writing on all things Miami and South Florida.

Miami, FL

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