Florida law complicates cruise industry return

Coronavirus

TAMPA (WFLA) – Cruises are sailing in America again – sort of.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the first test cruise from a large commercial cruise line this week under the Conditional Sail Order it issued in October. Volunteer passengers will be sailing on the company’s Freedom of the Seas ship for the simulated cruises out of Port Miami, the Miami Herald reported.

Several cruises will also visit ports in Alaska after legislation signed by President Joe Biden this week cleared some regulatory obstacles.

But neither of those developments bring revenue-generating cruises to Florida ports, which means more losses for an industry that has lost billions over the past 14 months while it has been effectively shut down.

The CDC allows cruise lines to skip test cruises and begin booking revenue cruises again if 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are vaccinated.

Cruise lines have been preparing to meet those requirements, but have not yet been able to get agreement from the CDC for any specific cruises.

That’s left ports in Florida and other parts of the country closed.

Complicating the issue is a state law just passed in Florida that bans businesses from requiring customers to be vaccinated. The law replaced an executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis that forced at least one major cruise line CEO to say he was looking outside Florida when deciding where to resume operations.

Since none of the cruise lines have been able to meet the requirements in either of the CDC’s main orders or subsequent intermittent guidance, the “conditional” sail order is effectively a shutdown of one of the Sunshine State’s biggest industries — the top three busiest cruise ports in the world are all in Florida.

“For example at Port Canaveral, we have a large number of hotels immediately adjacent to the port — those hotels are empty now,” said Port Canaveral CEO Captain John Murray. “The restaurants are suffering, the ground transportation providers, the tourist attractions, it’s all been devastating.”

Florida sued the CDC last month to get cruises sailing again.

Federal District Court Judge Steven Merryday of Tampa ordered the case into mediation, which starts Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m.

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