Cruise Lines May Avoid Florida Ports Due to State's Proof-of-Vaccination Ban

Norwegian Cruise Line plans to require COVID-19 vaccination documentation from guests and crew members — a rule that is banned in Florida under legislation enacted by Gov. Ron DeSantis

Norwegian Epic Cruise Ship Christening
Photo: Randy Brooke/WireImage

Cruise lines and the state of Florida are butting heads over conflicting rules surrounding COVID-19 vaccinations for passengers.

Later this summer, Norwegian Cruise Line, which is headquartered in Florida, plans to launch ships to the Caribbean and Europe at limited capacity and require guests and crew members to be vaccinated against COVID-19. However, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently enacted legislation that bans businesses from requiring proof of vaccination in the state.

Frank Del Rio, chief executive of Norwegian Cruise Line, said during a quarterly earnings call Thursday that because of DeSantis's rule, the cruise line may skip over Florida ports altogether, according to the New York Times and the Sun-Sentinel.

"We certainly hope it doesn't come to that," Mr. Del Rio said. "Everyone wants to operate out of Florida. It's a very lucrative market."

According to the Sun-Sentinel, Del Rio also stated, "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 ships that otherwise would've gone to Florida."

Several major cruise lines have already moved their ships to operate out of international ports since sailings were halted in the U.S. last year. Norwegian has plans to sail out of Jamaica and the Dominican Republic starting in July, the outlet reports. Royal Caribbean ships will depart out of the Bahamas and Bermuda, while Celebrity will sail from St. Maarten.

Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty

As vaccine rollout continues across the country, many states have taken positions on whether getting vaccinated should be required for various activities. For example, New York requires guests at MLB and NBA games to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of attendance, the NYT reported.

But Florida has taken the exact opposite stance.

"I have refused to take the same approach as other lockdown governors," DeSantis, 42, said in a statement last week after signing a bill that bans vaccine passports. "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."

Last month, Del Rio wrote a letter to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) director, Rochelle Walensky that proposed plans to go back to sailing as soon as July under their new guidelines.

Under Norwegian's updated safety guidelines, all crew members and guests must be fully vaccinated at least two weeks before boarding their ship, now through at least Oct. 31, 2021, when they'll reassess plans for the future. COVID-19 tests will also be administered before and after the trip.

Del Rio also added that Norwegian will start sailing at 60 percent capacity on July 4 and increase capacity gradually until they reach 100 percent in September.

"We hope that everyone is pushing in the same direction, which is we want to resume cruising in a safe manner, especially at the beginning," Mr. Del Rio said on Thursday's earnings call. "Things might be different six months from now or a year from now."

The Norwegian cruise line
Norwegian Cruise Line. Bing Guan/Bloomberg via Getty

In North America, cruise companies halted all sailings in the Caribbean last spring. Individual countries enacted stringent travel restrictions, and the CDC issued a "no-sail order." At the time, several cruise ships across the world had become sources of major COVID-19 outbreaks.

The CDC has not yet announced when cruises will be allowed to resume operation in the U.S.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.

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