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Here’s why the CDC, cruise lines, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are battling with each other

florida cruise ships vaccination passport ron desantis cdc
Photo via Prayitno Photography/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given the conditional green light for cruise ships to resume, but one of the conditions is putting the cruise line industry on a collision course with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). Basically, it boils down to whether so-called vaccine passports for cruises can be enforced.

Celebrity Cruises may bring passengers aboard for its seven-night cruise starting June 26, leaving Fort Lauderdale and heading to Caribbean Sea destinations that include two Mexico stops and one in the Bahamas.

“CDC and the cruise industry agree that the industry has what it needs to move forward and no additional roadblocks exist for resuming sailing by mid-summer,” CDC spokesperson Caitlin Shockey told NPR via email.

Cruise lines gained an unfortunate high profile in the early days of the pandemic—in March 2020, cases linked with cruise ship passengers and crew members accounted for about 17% of all reported cases in the U.S.

As NBC News detailed, cruise line companies, seeking to comply with CDC guidance to keep passengers and crew members safe, want to require nearly everyone onboard a cruise ship to be fully vaccinated. However, that requirement is potentially illegal in Florida, with DeSantis recently signing an order prohibiting businesses from discriminating against unvaccinated customers.

“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,” DeSantis said of the law he signed, which codified executive orders he’d created earlier to address the situation.

That law might be in conflict with federal laws, and the matter may have to ultimately be settled in court.

Patrick Scholes, managing director of Truist Securities and a travel industry analyst, indicated that what DeSantis is doing may not be helpful to cruise lines looking to get back into business.

“It has been a year of migraines and kicks in the teeth for the cruise industry. Now, they’re finally getting ready to restart, and you have the governor of Florida basically playing a game of chicken with them,” Scholes told NBC.

He also noted that cruises might operate as planned regardless of the Florida law and DeSantis’ view on vaccine passports.

“It might even be cheaper for them to just eat the fines,” Scholes said. “They are burning millions of dollars a day having their ships idle.”

As Politico reported, though, a workaround could be possible, built around the idea that “once a passenger steps onto the ship they would no longer be in Florida waters but international waters and their documentation could then be requested.”

DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw, when asked about the possibility, indicated the governor was holding firm on his position, adding that she “expects a favorable outcome to the mediation with the CDC that will allow cruise ships to operate in Florida under state law (meaning, that vaccine passports wouldn’t be mandated).”

Florida leaders on the other side of the aisle are hoping for a resolution rather than a continued standoff. “We are ready to welcome back passengers to the Cruise Capital of the World and put tens of thousands of cruise employees back to work,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava (D). “We’re committed to working with the governor to find a way forward.”

Read more coronavirus travel news:

Sources: Celebrity Cruises, NPR, NBC News, Politico


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