‘A hard position’: Florida’s cruise industry struggles with vaccine passport ban
Cruise ships can't follow CDC guidelines under new Florida law. Image via Associated Press.

cruise ship
Federal guidelines conflict with new state law.

The state’s massive cruise industry is caught in the cross hairs between the federal government’s cautious coronavirus rollbacks and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ no holds barred approach.

After the Governor successfully pushed for a new law banning businesses from requiring proof of vaccination, also called a vaccine passport, the state’s multibillion dollar cruise industry is unsure how to proceed on a directive from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says large capacity cruise ships can start cruising again in July, but only if 95% of passengers can show proof they’ve been vaccinated.

“Something’s going to have to give there,” Frank Roig, Chief Operating Officer at PortMiami, said. “We’re not too happy about that. We need to see something. We need to see the needle move a little bit.”

Roig discussed the matter during the Florida Seaport and Transportation Economic Development Council security meeting Monday.

Michael Rubin, vice president of the Florida Ports Council, who also attended the virtual meeting, said the Cruise Line International Association, an industry trade group, had been in talks with the Governor’s Office about an exception to the ban for large cruise ships.

“I think they’re probably hopeful to have the — exemption is probably the wrong word — but they’re hopeful to have the Governor’s Office and maybe even (Attorney General) Ashley Moody state that given that statement from the CDC, you know, we can have an exemption for a ban or something along those lines.”

Rubin indicated public statements in support of vaccine documentation made on a number of occasions by Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO, Frank Del Rio, threw a wrench in the talks.

“I think they were hoping to do it out of the public limelight, and I don’t think that article — certainly the comments from Norwegian CEO — was not something that I would say that the rest of the CEOs wanted to see,” Rubin said.

While DeSantis has been supportive of the cruise industry, including by suing the federal government over the initial no-sail order for large cruise ships and allocating $250 million of federal relief money in his budget proposal to the struggling industry, he made statements last week indicating he did not think an exception to the vaccine passport ban was the best way to deal with the issue. Instead, DeSantis insinuated the CDC should be the one to back off of its directive.

“If you don’t let them sail from Florida,” DeSantis noted, “they’re going to sail from the Bahamas.”

Any exception to the vaccine passport ban would mark a reversal from a policy DeSantis repeatedly said he supported.

“He’s been pretty vocal on the vaccine passport prior to that statement from the CDC,” Rubin said. “I’m not surprised that the CDC then came out and put the cruise lines in a hard position. You can go through this and sail in six months or if you certify that you’re vaccinated you can sail right away.”

The pressure has only ratcheted up in recent days with the Associated Press reporting that Del Rio is now threatening to keep its ships out of Florida if the company can’t operate in the state by mid-summer. The company owns Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Del Rio is still discussing the matter with DeSantis’ office. The Governor’s office did not immediately return a request for comment on the matter.

If the cruise lines aren’t able to provide proof of vaccination for passengers it would take about six months to meet other criteria set forth by the CDC.

The CDC also requires proof that 98% of crew members are vaccinated, but ports are getting around that requirement by offering vaccinations to cruise ship crew members at the ports.

“Now we’re vaccinating crew members in all of our ports. We got some wiggle room there, maybe we get some wiggle room somewhere else. But we need it. That’s the hope,” Roig said.

Cruise lines have been barred from sailing in U.S. waters or stopping at U.S. ports since March 2020.

Haley Brown

Haley Brown covers state government for FloridaPolitics.com. Previously, Haley covered the West Virginia Legislature and anchored weekend newscasts for WVVA in Bluefield, W.Va. Haley is a Florida native and a graduate of the University of Florida. You can reach her at haley[email protected]


  • Tom Palmer

    May 10, 2021 at 5:23 pm

    Don’t worry, Gov. DeSantis knows everything.

  • Simon

    May 11, 2021 at 7:51 am

    DuhSantis knows his red neck supporters can’t afford cruise tickets so he is playing his Trump card! Maybe Rubio could run for Governor and we will see how petty that battle will be.

    • John Ferguson

      May 17, 2021 at 12:37 pm

      Simon wake up. Listen to this LA firefighter
      “I’ll believe there’s a pandemic when I see bodies piling up on skid row. My barometer for a true pandemic is to look at the most vulnerable population in Los Angeles, not television. The unhoused population have high co- morbidity rates, poor diets, they don’t social distance, many do not wear a mask, have substance abuse issues and don’t go to the gym or doctors regularly. When the sick get sick, pass out, or die they do so not in the comfort of their own homes or hospitals, but often in the middle of the street or on the sidewalk. As an LA City Fireman this is not my opinion but a fact. I’ll believe there’s a pandemic and we all need to be vaccinated, vaccine passports included, when I see the dead bodies piling up on skid row. I trust my eyes over what politicians and paid government shills tell me. Last time I looked at the number of people on skid row has increased by 25% during the pandemic. Until I see the bodies then you’re all a bunch of chicken littles just robotically repeating the propaganda of your rulers while self delusional, believing you actually have an opinion. If you really think you have an opinion, then how does it differ from Dr. Fauci’s opinion? if you can’t answer that question within 30 seconds then you have your answer! Forcing people to get a vaccine that has not been approved by the FDA is idiocy. These experimental gene therapy technologies have been Authorized NOT Approved. That Authorization is for Emergency Use Only. The Drug companies admittedly do not even know the long term effects of the technology, so how can a newspaper reporter, employer, politician, Corporate CEO, or even your family doctor tell you the vaccine is safe long term? The companies that have produced this product don’t even make such a claim which is why the Authorization is for Emergency Use until the safety can be substantiated over time. Anyone that tells you this gene therapy technology is safe long term without the trials, documentation and proof to substantiate such a claim is a proven liar.”

  • John Rice

    May 11, 2021 at 2:22 pm

    Danny Burgess R-20 (the bills sponsor via his legislative aid Natalie) was told by our travel agency Thursday morning prior to the final vote that CDC had approved cruising with 95% vaccinated people. I am a constituent of Senator Burgess and in a normal year, this would have stopped this awful legislation as they knew of the CDC immediate resumption with vaccinated passengers, prior to the final vote to “ban vaccine passports” so this was done with premeditation. I want to make clear the CDC approval came before the vaccine passport ban vote. The Republican caucus approved SB 2006 knowing they were voting against the cruise industry at a cost of 750 million a month for each delayed month just to get DeSantis a talking point for Fox News. Ds had to withdraw an amendment to pull the “vaccine passport ban” as they could not get one R to concur which avoided an actual vote on an amendment to SB 2006 against the cruise industry. We have agents in our group still out of work along with taxi drivers, port workers and cruise line vendors that were all voted against with the resumption of cruising for a political talking point by Danny Burgess, Lawrence Mclure and Ron DeSantis . Shameful as we all want to go back to full time work and need cruise ships in Florida to do so. 80 to 85% of my clients are vaccinated and only want to sail with other vaccinated passengers as consumer confidence is crucial to a restart of cruising.

  • Peterh

    May 11, 2021 at 7:34 pm

    What DeSantis doesn’t understand is the fact that travelers would prefer not wearing a mask on a cruise. Without a Covid passport…. masks will be required! Cruise ships are somewhat like a floating petri dish …. if one person gets sick ….. a dozen more get sick.

  • Roberto Cofresi

    May 12, 2021 at 1:04 pm

    What about the requirements for the the cruise destinations ?? Will they require some proof that the passengers are COVID free ???

  • Lawrence

    May 12, 2021 at 5:38 pm

    This is simple: They must abide by the LAW that has been duly passed by Florida’s elected LAWMAKERS! No “crosshairs”, no drama. This article is sadly funny in many places, please allow me to retort:
    “…unsure how to proceed” (Hint: Obey the LAW.)
    “The CDC requires…” (Answer: NOTHING! CDC does not make LAW.)
    “Something’s going to have to give…” (Correct. The notion and possibility of anyone, public or private, requiring a vax passport has “given” and is now gone.)
    “… directive from the US CDC…” (Exactly, a DIRECTIVE — as in, not LAW.)
    “If the cruise lines aren’t able to provide proof of vaccination…” (No “if” about it, they CANNOT — that is the LAW.)
    “… they were hoping to do it out of the public limelight…” (People on leadership councils, or anyone involved with public law and policy, who espouse such behavior should be fired and punished!)
    Does the US CDC have the authority to regulate and/or shut down the US cruise industry, in any state?
    IMHO vax passports are a monstrous invasion of my privacy, and denying me any of my rights unless I divulge medical history should, and thanks our lawmakers now is, illegal (BANNED). In short, it is none of your business.

    • Sherrill Schier

      May 14, 2021 at 10:11 pm

      Finally someone with common sense responded. Thank you.

  • John Rice

    May 12, 2021 at 5:40 pm

    Proof of vaccination cards are the only sane way to sail. CDC is requiring that all destinations be part of the plan so they will have to agree to repatriation as part of the plan.

    • Camillo Messina

      May 24, 2021 at 4:14 pm

      I served both in the military and my career at NYPD :I wore a uniform to uphold the US Constitution for you folks who are advocating a vaccine passport! Therefore, I ask you vaccine passport supporters to study US history &:our US Constitution, specifically the first and second amendments. Please understand the difference between our American democracy and the rest of the worlds governments which are either socialist or communist governments. The issue of requiring HIPAA laws to be violated and the watering down of constitutional safe grounds , should not be superseded by fear mongering among those who stand to make huge corporate profits by administering and selling these vaccines.

  • John Rice

    May 12, 2021 at 5:46 pm

    PS to Lawrence. Unless the law is against my first amendment rights as a business owner. Socialism is when the government tells private businesses what they can do and unvaccinated people are not a protected class under the law. Also cruise lines are international businesses not governed by the State of Florida plus CDC is a legitimate public health agency that is supposed to keep you safe from viruses like Covid and Noro onboard.

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Kelly Hayes, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Andrew Wilson, Wes Wolfe, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn