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Royal Caribbean Won't Require Florida Passengers To Get Vaccine

AP photo

In a reversal, the Miami-based cruise giant now says passengers are “strongly recommended” to receive the coronavirus vaccine on trips out of Florida ports.

Royal Caribbean no longer says Florida cruise passengers must receive the coronavirus vaccine, instead noting the shots are “strongly recommended.” The reversal comes as Gov. Ron DeSantis maintains a threat of fines under an executive order banning "vaccine passports."

In a press release Friday, the Miami-based cruise giant said the vaccine recommendation was for trips passing through U.S. waters. However, unvaccinated passengers must be tested for the virus and follow other measures that will be announced.

Crew members must be fully vaccinated, the press release said.

The executive order bans businesses from asking customers for proof of vaccinations, or so-called "vaccine passports.”

However, one of two options required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's conditional sail order for the resumption of cruises is that 95 percent of passengers be fully vaccinated. The other option is to perform test cruises to ensure COVID protocols are working.

In May, Royal Caribbean said it would require vaccinations for passengers.

DeSantis has said cruises will not receive an exemption and that cruise lines will be fined $5,000 per infraction, per the executive order and a parallel law going into effect July 1. Florida has sued the CDC to end the agency’s sail requirements, and a judge ordered the case into mediation. This past week, the mediator declared an impasse.

In Friday’s announcement, Royal Caribbean said that its first U.S. sailing since March 2020 will leave Miami on July 2 on the Freedom of the Seas. The company also announced five more Florida cruises over the next six weeks, out of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral.

The company said it also will sail out of Galveston, Texas and from Seattle to Alaska.

Royal Caribbean will require vaccinations for the Seattle-Alaska route, those sailing from the Bahamas and ships leaving other international ports.

Royal Caribbean said it still needs to complete simulation cruises before getting approval for the sailings announced Friday.

Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott has issued a similar executive order banning "vaccine passports.” The Pacific cruise is now covered by a new federal law that allows ships to travel from Washington state to Alaska without a typically required stop in Canada, which still has a cruise ban.

“Cruises outside of those announced (Friday) will be canceled through the end of August,” the press release said. “Booked guests and travel partners impacted will be contacted with further details specific to their sailing, including the option to receive a full refund.”

In the press release, the cruise line’s president and CEO, Michael Bayley, thanked elected officials, including DeSantis, for their support and for helping crew get vaccinated.

“Thanks in large part to the successful rollout of vaccines, the world of adventure is beginning to open up, and we are all excited to start delivering great vacations to our guests, who have increasingly told us they are getting vaccinated,” Bayley said. “As of today, 90 percent of all vacationers booking with Royal Caribbean are either vaccinated or planning to get vaccinated in time for their cruise.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

I’m the online producer for Health News Florida, a collaboration of public radio stations and NPR that delivers news about health care issues.