Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings on Monday announced plans to resume the cruise from Miami in August with fully vaccinated passengers, a plan that threatens to defy Gov. Ron DeSantis’ orders and creates even more uncertainty over one of the most important tourist attractions in South Florida.
The cruise line’s announcement gave no indication that DeSantis agreed to exempt cruise lines from its executive order prohibiting companies from requiring vaccines, nor did it suggest that any compromise had been reached between Norwegian. and the governor.
Instead, it is confusing the plans of cruise lines that have announced divergent strategies for resuming operations in recent days – with some trial trips planning, some requiring vaccines, and some welcoming people to. board with masks and social distancing.
Cruise enthusiasts and local workers alike are wondering when the industry will get back on track in Florida.
“The fact that the public, businesses and workers who depend on restarting cruises are being forced to read the tea leaves is problematic,” said Bob Jarvis, professor of law at Nova Southeastern University.
Carnival Cruise Line, meanwhile, has announced that fully vaccinated trips will take place from Galveston, Texas. Details of its plans in South Florida are still being discussed with state and federal authorities, the company said.
Royal Caribbean takes the opposite approach – strongly encouraging but not requiring vaccination and implying that passengers who cannot prove they are vaccinated will be subjected to tests and other “protocols.” Royal Caribbean also said it continues to work with the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and several state and local authorities on requirements for upcoming cruises.
Norwegian’s announcement indicated that it would prefer an amicable resolution to its dispute with DeSantis rather than requiring passenger vaccinations.
Its press release listing upcoming cruises cited Norwegian President and CEO Frank Del Rio praising DeSantis for publicly supporting Florida-based cruise lines in March and calling on the CDC to create clear guidelines for resuming cruises. cruises. In March, cruise line executives were frustrated that the CDC wasn’t telling them how vaccine availability would affect a complicated set of recovery guidelines released last fall, before vaccines became widespread.
“We want to thank Governor DeSantis and the State of Florida for their fight for our industry,” said Del Rio. “His leadership has helped bring the CDC to the table. We are currently in communication with their staff and legal counsel to ensure that we can provide the safest cruise experience for our passengers departing from the cruise capital of the world. “
Yet by including the trips of the Miami-based Norwegian Gem, Norwegian has in fact dared DeSantis to impose fines on the cruise line or use its authority to try to stop it if a compromise is not found, said. Jarvis.
Norwegian’s announced departure from Miami is tantamount to saying that the two sides are “playing a very high level chicken game” that could backfire on either side, he said.
The Norwegian “puts DeSantis in a situation where, to save face, he has to dig into his position that the CDC does not have the power to demand proof of vaccination,” Jarvis said. “DeSantis, on the other hand, risks having to turn back thousands of passengers when they arrive at the pier. The public and, more importantly, all the businesses and workers who depend on restarting cruises are caught in the middle. “
The DeSantis office did not respond to questions about Norwegian’s announcement.
In April, shortly after its public protest in support of cruise lines, DeSantis and the state filed a federal complaint challenging the CDC’s authority to prevent cruise ships from leaving U.S. ports.
Subsequently, coincidence or not, cruise line executives revealed that they had started working closely with the CDC and that the CDC had simplified a number of take-back terms that they found vague and onerous. .
The biggest revision was the CDC’s announcement that cruise lines could ignore requirements to conduct complicated “test cruises” to verify the effectiveness of pre-vaccine safety protocols if they certify that 95 % of passengers and crew for a particular trip are vaccinated.
The option has created a wedge between DeSantis, adamant in its stance against vaccine requirements, and cruise lines keen to speed up their recovery.
The problem as it now remains for DeSantis is that a vaccinated cruise will only be possible under one of the few possibilities:
• DeSantis concedes its position that cruise lines cannot require customers to show proof of vaccination.
• DeSantis accepts a compromise that would exempt cruise lines from its edict banning “vaccine passports” while allowing the governor to claim that his ban was not challenged.
• Cruise lines resume operations under threat of DeSantis imposing fines or using its authority to stop them.
The country’s two largest cruise lines – Royal Caribbean and Carnival – have so far avoided the conflict by choosing to conduct test cruises to Florida in accordance with pre-vaccine safety guidelines while hoping that a compromise will emerge. clear.
Royal Caribbean has said it has chosen not to require vaccinations for upcoming Florida cruises aboard its Royal Caribbean International brand, as these cruises are popular with families with unvaccinated children, which would make it difficult to obtain 95% vaccination rate.
An announcement Friday on the cruise line’s upcoming crossings says passengers are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated. Passengers not vaccinated or unable to verify vaccination will have to undergo testing and follow other unspecified protocols. CDC guidelines for vaccine-free travel require the wearing of a mask and social distancing outside guest cabins.
Yet Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity Cruises brand, a luxury brand popular with adults who enjoy long trips, announced a fully vaccinated cruise departing from Port Everglades on June 26, potentially setting up the same DeSantis showdown as Norwegian. .
Carnival has announced plans to require vaccinations for travel from Galveston, Texas in July, including scheduled July 3 sailing on Carnival Vista and a July 15 trip on Carnival Breeze. Other Carnival brands also require vaccines, including on ships sailing from Seattle to Alaska this summer.
Carnival’s announcement on Monday included an acknowledgment that the CDC’s protocols for unvaccinated travel, which would be legal in Florida, would nonetheless be unattractive to customers forced to wear masks and social distancing throughout the ship.
The CDC’s current requirements for unvaccinated cruises “will make it very difficult to provide the experience our customers have come to expect, especially given the large number of families with young children who sail with us,” the company said. cruising.
Carnival’s statement said the company “continues to work with the State of Florida and the CDC for Carnival Horizon crossings and plans to provide an update by Friday regarding specific protocols for these crossings to all guests. reserved “.
After a failed mediation effort to settle the state’s lawsuit against the CDC last week, the DeSantis office continued to denounce the CDC regulations, calling them “crippling”, “ridiculous and illegal.” and claiming that the agency’s requirement that unvaccinated guests wear masks were “baseless” and “anti-science.”
It’s possible that Norwegian included his upcoming Miami-based trip in his Monday announcement, as he felt enough progress had been made with the governor’s office behind the scenes, Jarvis said.
The fact that the three major cruise lines recently mentioned ongoing talks with Florida officials could be taken as a positive sign, said Chris Gray Faust, editor of the consumer-focused website CruiseCritic.com.
As Celebrity Edge’s vaccinated cruise from Port Everglades quickly approaches, Gray Faust said Norwegian has enough time until August to review details of his August cruise from Miami.
“It will be interesting to see where the conversations go between now and then – as well as the protocols that could be developed – although many cruisers will certainly want the details now, as they begin to plan for future crossings,” he said. she declared.