A Major Cruise Line Just Dropped its Vaccine Requirement for Cruises Leaving From Florida, But There's an Expensive Catch for Unvaccinated Travelers
Cruise lines and Florida have been in a heated standoff over vaccine passports.
Royal Caribbean Group's Celebrity Cruises has rolled back its COVID-19-vaccine mandate for cruises sailing out of Florida ports, according to a June 17 update on Celebrity's website.
The vaccine-mandate reversal is the latest update in a heated battle between cruise lines and the state, which has banned vaccine passports. But there's a catch: Unvaccinated passengers — or those unwilling to show proof of the vaccine — will face onboard restrictions, extra COVID-19 tests, and additional costs, according to the cruise line.
This means $178 worth of COVID-19 tests, strict mask requirements, seating restrictions in areas like theaters and casinos, and the possibility of not being able to go ashore, depending on local restrictions.
The announcement came just weeks after Celebrity Cruises' unveiled its resumption of sailing plans aboard the Celebrity Edge. The ship is set to sail this Saturday from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and will be the first revenue cruise to depart from a US port in over a year.
But when the sailing was announced as "fully vaccinated" in May, Gov. Ron DeSantis' office called the cruise line's vaccine mandate "discriminatory."
"Companies doing business in Florida, including Celebrity Cruises, should immediately cease to impose such discriminatory policies upon individuals," Christina Pushaw, DeSantis' press secretary, told Insider in an email in May. "Allowing companies like Celebrity Cruises to require 'vaccine passports' for customers would mean tolerating discrimination by private businesses, which is unacceptable in Florida."
But the cruise line still "strongly recommends" that its eligible guests be vaccinated, a spokesperson told Insider in an emailed statement.
Why cruise lines are dropping their vaccine mandates
At the end of May, Celebrity Cruises' sibling brand Royal Caribbean announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all guests. But like Celebrity, this mandate was rolled back in early June for all cruises sailing out of Florida and Texas.
There's one common reason for these reversals of vaccine mandates: the ban on vaccine passports in states like Florida and Texas, which has created a heated standoff between cruise lines and the states.
In April, DeSantis issued an executive order in Florida banning vaccine passports and prohibiting local business — including cruise lines — from requiring them. And one month later, the state passed a law to ban vaccine passports starting July 1.
This means any company that violates this proof-of-vaccination ban could be fined $5,000 for each customer.
"Gov. DeSantis has stated many times that allowing private businesses to require 'vaccine passports' for Floridians taking part in everyday life — attending sporting events, dining at restaurants, or even going on cruises — would create two unequal classes of citizens based on vaccination status," Pushaw wrote in her statement to Insider. "This would be unethical and harmful for society."