The entrenched positions Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have staked out against so-called vaccine passports is at odds with the policies cruise lines are implementing as they seek to resume operation this summer — potentially putting the jobs of cruise line workers based in their states at risk while causing confusion for people planning to board those ships.
The cruise lines are attempting to navigate rules implemented by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that make restarting cruises far easier when passengers are vaccinated, and laws in Republican-controlled states banning businesses from requiring proof that customers have been vaccinated. DeSantis has sued the CDC over its rules.
The clash underscores the increasing willingness of Republicans to publicly attack major corporations — once among the GOP’s core allies. The shift was led by former President Donald Trump, who abandoned the party’s long-standing support for free trade and demonized companies for their business practices. He blasted General Motors and Harley-Davidson for moving production overseas, Boeing and Lockheed-Martin for the costs of planes they were building for the US government, Amazon for avoiding tax payments and more.
Since Trump left office in January, other Republicans have picked up his mantle. Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and others have railed against tech companies, including Twitter and Facebook — both of which banned Trump after the January 6 riots at the Capitol. And in states like Georgia, Florida and Texas, where GOP officials reacted to Trump’s lies about widespread election fraud by pushing measures that would make voting more difficult, those officials have also condemned companies — including American Airlines and Dell in Texas and Delta and Coca-Cola in Georgia — that publicly opposed the restrictive measures.
Now, battles between cruise lines and Republican governors could offer a window into the difficulty the nation faces with the coronavirus vaccine now widely available and businesses — including tourist destinations — seeking to balance public health concerns with their efforts to return to pre-pandemic normalcy.
DeSantis and Abbott have offered no indication that they’ll back down, even as cruise operators said this week that they plan to mandate vaccines on departures from Florida and Texas this summer.
In Florida, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announced Monday that it plans to resume cruises out of Miami in August — and will require all passengers to be vaccinated, defying DeSantis’ orders.
In April, DeSantis sued the CDC, seeking to allow cruises to resume unconditionally. Currently, the CDC requires 95% of passengers and 95% of crew members to be vaccinated in order to bypass trial sailings required by the agency on ships planning to sail with more unvaccinated passengers. A court-ordered mediation failed last week.
At a news conference last week, DeSantis said the CDC’s rules have resulted in “mothballing the (cruise) industry for 15 months.” He said the vaccine requirements would effectively prohibit families with young children who have not been eligible for the vaccine, or whose parents decide not to have them vaccinated, from taking cruises.
“We were basically saying, like honestly, just let them sail,” DeSantis said. “If we win the case, it opens up. They will all sail out of Florida. They will all do it consistent with Florida law.”
In May, DeSantis signed a law that would bar “vaccine passports” and impose a $5,000-per-incident fine on businesses that require proof of vaccination. At a rate of $5,000 per passenger, that could result in Florida seeking to levy massive fines on cruise ship operators.
Celebrity Cruises will be the first to attempt to navigate between DeSantis and the CDC, with a departure from Florida set for June 26. The company is requiring all passengers older than 16 to be vaccinated.
Other cruise operators have gone along with the Republican governors. Royal Caribbean is encouraging passengers on cruises departing from Texas and Florida to be vaccinated, but will not require them to show proof.
Norwegian, however, has for weeks insisted that it would require all passengers to be vaccinated.
“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 a ship that otherwise would have gone to Florida,” CEO Frank Del Rio said on a May earnings call.
In its announcement Monday, Norwegian said vaccines will be mandatory on its August 15 cruise departing from Miami. In a statement, Del Rio praised DeSantis for pushing for the cruise industry to be allowed to resume amid the pandemic, but offered no indication the company would back down on its vaccine requirement.
“We are currently in communication with his staff and legal counsel to ensure that we can offer the safest cruise experience for our passengers departing from the cruise capital of the world,” Del Rio said in the statement.