MIAMI (Tribune News Service) — It’s the summer of cruising again.
After 15 landlocked months, passengers are boarding ships in U.S. ports and heading out on vacations at sea. But the evolving COVID-19 safety protocols and ongoing court battles are causing uncertainty.
Here’s what you need to know if you are taking a Florida cruise this summer:
ARE CRUISES OPERATING FROM FLORIDA YET?
Yes. So far, four cruise ships have restarted from Florida ports to the Caribbean: Carnival Horizon and Freedom of the Seas from PortMiami and Celebrity Edge and Celebrity Equinox from Port Everglades. Five more have CDC approval for plans to start this summer — Norwegian Gem, MSC Meraviglia and Carnival Sunrise from PortMiami and Carnival Mardi Gras and Carnival Magic from Port Canaveral. Other ships with plans to restart from Florida ports this summer are still awaiting CDC approval.
DO I NEED TO BE VACCINATED FOR MY FLORIDA CRUISE?
Vaccine policies for Florida cruises vary by cruise line. Carnival Cruise Line requires all passengers be vaccinated, but offers a small number of preapproved waivers. Celebrity Cruises requires all passengers 16 years old and older be vaccinated, and will start requiring all passengers 12 years old and older be vaccinated on Aug. 1. Royal Caribbean International recommends all passengers be vaccinated.
IF I’M NOT VACCINATED, WHAT WILL THE CRUISE BE LIKE?
Each cruise line has its own policies for unvaccinated passengers. Most have to undergo pre-cruise and sometimes mid-cruise and post-cruise COVID-19 tests at their own expense. Unvaccinated passengers are restricted to certain on-board venues and shore excursions. Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International will start requiring unvaccinated passengers 12 years old or older to purchase COVID-19 travel insurance starting on July 31 and Aug. 1, respectively.
WHAT’S GOING ON WITH THE COURT BATTLES?
Frustrated by delays in getting the cruise industry restarted during the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida sued the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April and asked a judge to immediately lift all of the agency’s COVID-related regulations for cruises, including requirements that ships have testing kits on board and secure evacuation agreements with local ports. A federal judge in Tampa and a federal appeals court agreed with Florida, and barred the CDC from enforcing its COVID-19 cruise regulations starting on July 23.
All cruise companies operating in Florida have voluntarily agreed to continue following the CDC regulations, the agency said.
Separately, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is suing Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, asking a federal judge in Miami to allow the company to require that cruise passengers show proof of vaccination for COVID-19. A recently passed state law prevents cruise companies from requiring proof of vaccination and allows the state to fine companies $5,000 each time they require it. There is a hearing in that case scheduled for Aug. 6.
ARE PASSENGERS AND CREW TESTING POSITIVE FOR COVID-19?
Yes. Of the 61 ocean cruise ships operating or planning to sail in U.S. waters soon as of this week, 16 had reported COVID-19 cases on board during the previous seven days, according to CDC data. Of the 16 ships with recent infections, six are operating with passengers; the rest are carrying only crew or operating test cruises with volunteers.
The CDC’s maritime unit director Aimee Treffiletti said the cruise companies’ new protocols are in line with CDC regulations and make cruising as safe as possible. She urged every American 12 years and older to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
“Cruising is not a zero-risk activity,” Treffiletti said in an email. “...With the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and as more travelers become fully vaccinated, it’s unlikely that a ship will need to return to port due to a COVID-19 outbreak.”
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