Eighty percent of likely cruisers want to resume sailing on ships that require vaccinations, according to a survey conducted over the Memorial Day weekend by the consumer-focused travel website CruiseCritic.com.
Results of the poll, which generated 5,025 responses, indicate that a majority of cruise industry consumers do not agree with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to extend his “vaccine passport” ban to the cruise industry.
The respondents weren’t cruise novices. Sixty-five percent said they’ve taken 10 or more cruises, according to CruiseCritic.com.
Of the 80% who favor vaccinated ships, 89% said they would feel more safe sailing on a ship with fellow vaccinated travelers and 69% said they want a more traditional cruise experience, without masks, social distancing or testing requirements.
Just 14% of the 5,025 respondents said they would prefer to sail on a ship without a vaccine requirement. And 7% said they had no preference.
The governor’s office did not respond when asked if the poll results indicate that his position opposing vaccine requirements for cruising is out of step with the desires of most of the industry’s own customers.
Miami-based maritime attorney Jim Walker said the poll results clearly show a split between DeSantis and nearly everyone else with an interest in seeing the cruise industry resume operations.
“The governor’s theoretical ‘right to personal freedom’ is crashing into the reality that most people want the vaccination, most cruise lines are requiring it, and the federal government is strongly recommending it,” Walker said in an email. “Of course there is no right to go on a cruise (no inalienable right, no constitutional right, no statutory right, no moral right). He is elevating the wishes of anti-vaxxers over the health and well-being of the general public who wish to travel by cruise ship.”
The poll results echo what several cruise enthusiasts told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in late March, a year after numerous outbreaks aboard cruise ships prompted cruise lines to voluntarily halt operations worldwide, and the CDC to ban cruising from U.S. ports.
Michele Alakozai of New York City said she agreed generally with DeSantis’ orders banning businesses from requiring vaccines. But cruise ships should be an exception, she said.
“I would not consider going on a cruise unless the entire population on the ship was required to be fully vaccinated 10 days prior to sailing,” she said.
DeSantis has been fighting since March — first with an executive order and later with a new state law — to prevent any Florida-based business from requiring customers to be vaccinated.
“In Florida, your personal choice regarding vaccinations will be protected and no business or government entity will be able to deny you services based on your decision,” the governor said when signing the vaccine passport bill on May 3.
But decisions announced by several major cruise lines to require all or nearly all of their customers to be vaccinated soon put DeSantis in a tight political spot.
He could have declared that cruise ships, which operate primarily in international waters, were not Florida businesses and therefore not subject to his vaccine passport ban.
Instead, DeSantis doubled down, declaring in early April that cruise lines were subject to the edict. He outlined his position just days after appearing with cruise industry leaders in Miami in late March to demand that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide clear ground rules for a resumption of cruising from Florida by summer.
Those demands were followed by a highly publicized lawsuit by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody challenging the legality of the CDC’s ban — imposed in March 2020 while Donald Trump was president — on cruising from U.S. ports.
Next, the CDC provided the guidelines requested by the industry: Ships can bypass required “test cruises” if they verify that 95% of passengers and crew members are vaccinated.
Suddenly DeSantis found himself opposing a CDC-provided clear path to resumption of cruising just weeks after standing with industry leaders and demanding one.
Meanwhile, the number of cruise lines declaring that passengers would have to be vaccinated increased last week. Celebrity Cruises said it had secured the CDC’s OK to launch a seven-day voyage from Port Everglades on June 26.
That followed earlier announcements of vaccine requirements by other cruise lines, including Silversea Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line, for Florida-based voyages.
According to a report by the unofficial Royal Caribbean Blog, Celebrity Cruises’ senior vice president of sales, Dondra Ritzenthaler, told travel agents in a teleconference last Thursday that DeSantis was close to signing off on a compromise that would recognize cruise ships at port as being in international waters and thus not subject to the vaccine passport ban if they required proof of vaccinations after customers come aboard.
When Politico asked DeSantis secretary Christina Pushaw about the report, Pushaw said that Ritzenthaler’s statement should not be cited as though it reflects the governor’s position.
Dawn Meyers, a partner with the government and regulatory team at Miami-based Berger Singerman, said Tuesday that declaring a docked ship to be international waters wouldn’t violate any law she knows about.
She noted, however, that international waters do not begin until several miles offshore, usually 12 nautical miles. “So I’m not sure the proposed distinction holds water, no pun intended,” she said.
Definitions of where international waters begin vary according to state and federal laws, said maritime attorney Walker. Yet, “there is no legal basis to claim that passengers are in international waters by boarding a docked cruise ship,” he said.
Mediation between the state and the CDC over the lawsuit challenging the CDC’s authority to regulate cruising in Florida remains underway, with a court-imposed deadline of Tuesday.