U.S. Judge Deals Major Blow To Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Ban On Cruise Lines’ Vaccine Enforcement

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to the media about the cruise industry during a press conference at PortMiami in April. (Photo by Joe Raedle)

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Yesterday a U.S. judge ruled that Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) can require passengers to show documentation confirming their coronavirus vaccination status before boarding a ship.

In a preliminary ruling, U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams sided with Norwegian in its argument that DeSantis’ much-hyped but unpopular law banning so-called vaccine passports jeopardizes public health and is an unconstitutional infringement on Norwegian’s rights.

Florida is not only far and away the epicenter of the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” in the United States, it has one of the highest infection rates on the planet. If the Sunshine State were a country, it would be no. 2 in the world, behind only the island of St. Barts, according to data from the Brown School of Public Health.

Florida is currently recording an average of 148.2 new daily Covid-19 infections per 100,000 people, according to Brown University data. That’s a 38% jump in one week, following a 59% jump the previous week. Florida’s transmission rate is six times the threshold of what health officials consider a “very high” rate of spread.

DeSantis has fought tooth and nail to prohibit cruise lines from requiring passengers sailing from Florida to show proof of their vaccination status. And he has kept cruise lines from defying his law by threatening fines of $5,000 per passenger, potentially adding up to millions of dollars per cruise.

Norwegian has not wavered from its commitment to operating its cruises with a 100% vaccinated crew and passengers through at least October 31, 2021. In a statement, NCLH said this ruling paves the way for its three brands — Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises — to demand that passengers prove their vaccination status.

In its court filing, the company noted that surveys have shown that cruise fans overwhelmingly support vaccination mandates. A May 2021 survey of over 5,000 readers of CruiseCritic.com, a popular Tripadvisor-owned cruise review site, found that more than 80% of likely cruisers prefer to resume sailing on ships that mandate vaccinations. Respondents said they would feel more safe sailing with vaccinated travelers and wanted a more traditional cruise experience, without masks, social distancing, or testing requirements.

“The health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we visit is our number one priority, today, tomorrow and forever,” said Frank Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. “It’s not a slogan or a tagline, we fiercely mean it and our commitment to these principles is demonstrated by the lengths our company has gone through to provide the safest possible cruise experience from Florida.”

“We want nothing more than to sail from Miami, the ‘Cruise Capital of the World,’ and from the other fabulous Florida ports and we welcome today’s ruling that allows us to sail with 100% fully vaccinated guests and crew which we believe is the safest and most prudent way to resume cruise operations amid this global pandemic,” said Del Rio.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s first sailing from Florida will take place next Sunday when the Norwegian Gem departs from Miami.

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