In a ruling late Friday, US District Judge Steven Merryday rejected the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s restrictions for cruise lines and granted the State of Florida’s motion for a preliminary injunction filed earlier this year. The 124-page ruling from Judge Merryday is not immediate, however. The injunction will officially end July 18th when the conditional sail order becomes nothing more than a recommendation for cruise lines.
Judge Merryday was critical of the CDC stopping a billion-dollar industry in his ruling, stating:
“CDC cites no historical precedent in which the federal government detained a fleet of vessels for more than a year and imposed comprehensive and impossibly detailed ‘technical guidelines’ before again permitting a vessel to sail. That is, CDC cites no historical precedent for, in effect, closing an entire industry.”
Progress with the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine was another factor cited by the Judge in his ruling.
“With the advent of highly effective vaccines, with more than half of adults fully vaccinated, with infection plummeting, with death from COVID-19 asymptotically approaching zero; with the benefit of effective therapeutics for COVID-19; with masks, safe distancing, and sanitation; and with the successful and safe re-opening of business, including airlines, sporting events, and other high capacity venues, COVID-19 no longer threatens the public’s health to the same extent presented at the start of the pandemic or when CDC issued the conditional sailing order,” Judge Merryday wrote in his ruling.
The CDC does have until July 2nd to offer a revised version of their conditional sail order with far less limitations than the current version. Should they do that, the state of Florida would then have one week to respond to the new rule proposals.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for the hardworking Floridians whose livelihoods depend on the cruise industry,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody wrote in a statement. “The federal government does not, nor should it ever, have the authority to single out and lock down an entire industry indefinitely. I am excited to see the cruise industry get sailing again, and proud to stand with Governor Ron DeSantis against illegal federal overreach and draconian lockdown measures.”
What Does the Ruling Mean for Vaccination Requirements?
With the CDC’s rules for mostly vaccinated cruises no longer applicable, will cruisers have to get vaccinated to sail from Florida? The short answer is it depends on the cruise line, some are taking steps to make cruising with the vaccine more appealing than cruising without it as they would prefer to sail with vaccinated passengers.
Royal Caribbean International announced last week they’ve developed a set of rules for each group on board their ships.
“Our unvaccinated guests must undergo additional COVID-19 testing at their own expense, and follow the health protocols described below, which are based on guidance from the CDC. If you do not wish to undergo or pay for additional testing, or adhere to these health and safety protocols, we are happy to provide you with a refund,” the cruise line wrote in their announcement.
The cost for onboard testing for the unvaccinated? $136 per person. In addition, some shows on board will be for vaccinated passengers only, mandatory face masks while indoors for ALL passengers outside of vaccinated-only events and even restrictions on where and when unvaccinated cruisers can dine.
What Does this Mean for Alaska Cruises?
While many were worried what affect the ruling would have on the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act, Judge Merryday’s ruling only applies to the state of Florida. A spokesperson for Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy announced that Alaska’s cruising season will not be hindered by the ruling. That’s welcome news for the many people along Alaska’s coast who work in the tourism space who haven’t seen any revenue from cruise ships in well over a year.