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Coping with Florida's vaccine passport ban — 'We can ask; we can't require'

CRUISE_Celebrity_Edge_Capt._Kate_McCue.jpg
Celebrity Edge, under the command of Capt. Kate McCue here, is set to become the first oceangoing revenue cruise from the US since the pandemic shutdown when it sails from Florida's Port Everglades on June 26. The ship will carry at least 95% vaccinated crew/passengers
Cruise lines are coping with Florida's vaccine passport ban by requesting but not requiring documentation of COVID-19 vaccination.

Lines sailing from Florida that don't mandate vaccination are making it clear from their pre-trip documentation that if passengers want privileges like avoiding masks and testing (often at their own cost), they should be fully vaccinated. And, in order to demonstrate they are, they'll need to show documentation.

But since the documentation isn't required to cruise, this shouldn't violate Florida's vaccine passport ban.

Avoiding the $5,000 per person fine 'and a bigger stink'

Alex Sharpe, president/CEO of Signature Travel Network, said that's his understanding.

'Everyone is avoiding “requiring” it and potentially creating a $5,000 per person fine and a bigger stink, which none of us want or need right now. We want recovery,' he said.

'We can ask'

A Celebrity Cruises spokeswoman clarified: 'The Florida law language states businesses “may not require patrons or customers to provide any documentation.” We can ask; we simply can’t require documentary proof.'

In its specific protocols for sailings from Florida, Celebrity is now stating 'vaccine recommended' followed by '95%+ vaccinated guests.' Further details state: 'For sailings from Florida – Guests who decline or are unable to show proof of vaccination at boarding will be treated as unvaccinated and subject to additional costs, restrictions and protocols to be advised as soon as they have been determined.'

Requesting vaccination status during the booking process

Here's how Celebrity will ensure it achieves that 95% vaccination rate on Florida cruises if vaccination isn't required, the spokeswoman explained: 'We will ask guests to share their vaccination status with us as part of the booking process. If they prefer not to share, we will consider them as unvaccinated.'

This differs from Celebrity's US non-Florida policy: 'Vaccine required for 16+ years old (12+ Aug. 1 and after); 95%+ vaccinated guests. Following CDC guidelines, we will sail with all crew vaccinated and at least 95% of guests will be fully vaccinated.'

All over the map

From a once very uniform set of general policies under the industry-adopted Healthy Sail Panel guidelines, companies are going different ways in their health safety requirements.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings mandates 100% vaccination, no exceptions, from wherever it sails, for now. MSC Cruises is not requiring vaccination anywhere. Carnival Cruise Line will require it for departures in July and August. Other lines are going by destination.

These protocols differ by country, of course. Yet, in the case of the US, requirements may vary by state — an unwelcome development sparked by new state laws, and one the cruise industry always hopes to avoid because this creates complexity for operations/compliance and confusion for travelers.

So Royal Caribbean International strongly recommends but doesn't require vaccination on cruises from Florida, yet requires it on cruises from Texas and from Seattle to Alaska, apart from youngsters who aren't eligible for vaccines yet.

When it comes to vaccine passports, they're banned by Florida from July 1, while Texas, in its own prohibition of private businesses from mandating such documentation, makes an exception for COVID-19 screening and infection control protocols in accordance with federal law to protect public health.

This should exempt cruise lines given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation that lines encourage vaccination of travelers.

Some mandate testing, even for fully vaccinated cruisers

As for testing, lines have different approaches, too.

MSC Cruises may not be mandating COVID-19 vaccination for Florida sailings, but it will test everyone at embarkation — even those who are vaccinated, going above and beyond the CDC requirement.

Norwegian Cruise Line, too, is going to test everyone at embarkation, even though it has a 100% vaccination mandate.

'All of these policies are simply other examples of this industry’s ability to pivot and adapt,' Sharpe said. 'The complexity doesn’t make it easier for sure, but it does reinforce the need for an advisor to help everyone navigate it.'

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