Don’t get excited about Florida cruises yet. The state’s ‘vaccine passport’ ban creates ocean of confusion

Celebrity Cruises is the first cruise line to receive approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to sail with paying passengers. But there’s a complication: Florida law. 

The CDC approval hinges on a vaccine requirement. Celebrity, a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean Group, will require 100% of crew members and 95% of passengers who will be on board the Celebrity Edge to be fully vaccinated when the ship sets sail on a seven-night cruise June 26 from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and for sailings thereafter. 

But that requirement is at odds with a Florida state law banning “vaccine passports,” which goes into effect on July 1, and is also outlined in an executive order from Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“Vaccine passport” is a term referring to proof of vaccination. While there’s no official national or international document serving as such a passport, various types of COVID vaccine certification are being developed in some parts of the world, such as Europe.

The opposite of a smooth sailing start

Between the CDC’s cruise vaccine rules, Florida’s vaccine passport ban and cruise line plans, an extremely murky situation is clouding the return to cruising from Florida ports.

The question remains whether ships will be able to sail from Florida with the state’s “vaccine passport” ban in place – or what the ramifications will be should they inquire about passengers’ vaccination status, which is required by the CDC but banned by the state.

“Requiring customers to show proof of immunization violates the spirit of the governor’s Emergency Order 21-81, which prohibits vaccine passports and protects the fundamental rights of Floridians – including the right to medical privacy,” Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press secretary, told USA TODAY Thursday.

For cruise lines offering cruises on ships with paying passengers, the CDC is requiring that 95% of crew and 95% of passengers be fully vaccinated to board.

Simulated cruises, which will be filled with volunteer non-paying passengers, do not have the same mandate. But there is some complexity, as well. Volunteer passengers are still required to share information about their vaccination status on these test cruises.

And while passengers participating in test cruises aren’t required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, they must have written documentation from a health care provider or must self certify that they aren’t at a heightened risk for COVID-19 if they aren’t, according to the CDC. And all must agree to be evaluated for COVID-19 symptoms before embarking and after disembarking, along with an agreement to be tested for COVID-19 three to five days following the cruise.

Royal Caribbean International, a sibling line to Celebrity Cruises, has received CDC approval for sucha test cruise. 

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