It’s unimaginable, and frankly, in our opinion it’s highly unlikely.
But at least one cruise CEO has mentioned the possibility that his company’s ships could leave Florida to start back sailing. The issue is over rules concerning proof of vaccination before boarding a ship, and it’s just one more hurdle that cruise lines have to overcome to get back sailing.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. — parent of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania, and Regent Seven Seas — is a major player in Florida cruising. In fact, they’ve even built a brand-new flagship terminal at the Port of Miami. But comments from CEO Frank Del Rio during a recent investor call raised eyebrows across the industry. Del Rio said his company could sail somewhere other than from Florida.
The response came regarding a question over Norwegian’s plans to sail fully vaccinated cruises, at least for the time being. While the company wants to require the shot to sail, Florida just passed a law that says businesses can’t require proof of vaccination to provide services.
“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,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said.
However, Norwegian Cruise Line is heavily vested in a return with passengers and crew all required to have the shot. In fact, the CDC is offering up a faster timeline to return — which bypasses test cruises — if the vast majority on the cruise ship are inoculated.
In other words, the CDC offers strong incentives for vaccinated cruises, while Florida says you can’t require the shot.
Del Rio was asked about this discrepancy and went so far to suggest ships could leave Florida:
“We’ve had discussions with the governor’s office. Those continue. It is a classic state versus federal government issue. Legally, lawyers believe that federal law applies and not state law. I’m not a lawyer. And we hope this doesn’t become a legal football or a political football.”
“But at the end of the day, cruise ships have motors, propellers and rudders, and God forbid we can’t operate in the state of Florida for whatever reason, then there are other states we do operate from, and we can operate from the Caribbean for ships that would otherwise go to Florida.”
“We certainly hope it doesn’t come to that. Everyone wants to operate out of Florida. It’s a very lucrative market. It’s a close drive market. But it is an issue. Can’t ignore it.”
- Frank Del Rio, CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.
Florida on the Cruise Industry’s Side… Just Not With Vaccine Requirements
What further adds to the drama is that Florida’s leadership has fought hard for the cruise industry’s return. After all, cruising and tourism are major drivers for the state’s economy. In fact, the state has even sued to allow trips to return.
DeSantis has also been highly critical of the CDC’s rigid rules in place for ships to sail again:
The latest guidance from @CDCgov is a joke but what else did we expect from the Biden Administration? Vaccine passports infringe on our liberty and don’t keep people safe. Our cruise industry is a major economic driver. Let our ships sail!https://t.co/TMrkA09QvN
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) May 4, 2021
While requiring vaccines would speed up the return of sailing (which in turn would benefit Florida’s economy), the state law could end up making ships go elsewhere.
The cruise lines like Norwegian that want to sail fully vaccinated trips are simply caught in the middle.
Would They REALLY Leave Florida?
So will cruise lines like NCL actually leave the state? It’s definitely hard to imagine. Florida ports are by far the biggest and busiest in the United States. All the cruise companies have major operations there, including shoreside offices and cruise terminals.
As well, having the ships sail from the state means billions in economic activity and thousands of jobs for Floridians. It could be disastrous politically if cruises return to sailing from the United States, but not from Florida.
In other words, there are incentives on both sides to reach a compromise. Cruise lines get to return more quickly (and safely) while the state benefits economically. But you can certainly count on ports like New Orleans and Galveston watching the situation closely.
In fact, we asked Port of Galveston CEO Rodger Rees his thoughts on the situation and if his port might benefit should NCL decide to leave Florida. He downplayed the scenario.
“I would be hopeful that calmer minds will prevail,” Rees told Cruzely. “Cruise companies schedule ships up to 18 months in advance, so for a cruise company to move ships around they would have to cancel current bookings and rebook. It is unlikely they could move a ship between markets very quickly.”
Our expectation is that some sort of deal is worked out. Even so, hearing the CEO of a major cruise company even suggest that his ships could leave Florida and sail from elsewhere is something unthinkable before this crisis.