“That’s an issue,” Norwegian CEO Frank Del Rio said during an earnings call this week. He said the company has been in talks with the governor’s office, and his legal experts believe the vaccination requirement falls under federal and not state law.
“But 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,” he said. “And we can operate from the Caribbean for ships that otherwise would’ve gone to Florida.”
He added: “We certainly hope that it doesn’t come to that. Everyone wants to operate out of Florida; it’s a very lucrative market, it’s a close drive market.”
Florida includes three of the world’s busiest cruise ports and, before the pandemic, was the starting point for the majority of voyages that include the Bahamas and Caribbean. Cruising from U.S. ports has been halted since March 2020, as the coronavirus was spreading rapidly around the world — including on cruise ships.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said cruise lines can resume sailing from the United States more quickly if at least 98 percent of crew members and 95 percent of passengers are fully vaccinated. DeSantis sued the agency last month demanding that cruises be allowed to restart immediately.
But he has sought to undermine one of the key safety measures that many cruise lines have embraced: guarantees that the thousands of fellow passengers will be inoculated. As part of their plans to start cruising again, either from the United States when permitted or from other countries, cruise lines including Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Virgin, Crystal and Norwegian’s brands have said they will require everyone on board or every adult on board to be fully vaccinated.
DeSantis said at a news conference last month that anyone worried about getting sick should get the vaccine. But he said he didn’t want to let companies restrict people based on whether they were vaccinated.
“You can go to a restaurant, you can get on a cruise ship, you can go to a movie theater without the company demanding that you show them your health information,” he said. “It’s just not necessary to do.”
It is still not clear how that rule will apply to cruise lines. The state law says the ban on businesses requiring proof of vaccination “does not otherwise restrict businesses from instituting screening protocols consistent with authoritative or controlling government-issued guidance to protect public health.”
And two attorneys told the South Florida Sun Sentinel last month that the governor probably did not have the authority to prohibit cruise lines from demanding passengers prove they are vaccinated.
No matter what, Del Rio said, he is not budging on the requirement.
“I think everyone should be wanting to start cruising in the safest possible manner,” he said. “And that’s exactly what the Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings plan does, 100 percent vaccination of both crew and passengers.”