Norwegian Cruise Line is threatening to keep its ships out of Florida ports after the state enacted legislation that prohibits businesses from requiring proof of vaccination against Covid-19 in exchange for services.
The company, which plans to have its first cruises available to the Caribbean and Europe this summer and fall, will offer trips with limited capacity and require all guests and crew members to be vaccinated on bookings through at least the end of October.
During a quarterly earnings call on Thursday, Frank Del Rio, chief executive of Norwegian Cruise Line, said the issue had been discussed with Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, a Republican. Mr. Del Rio said if the cruise line had to skip Florida ports, it could operate out of other states or the Caribbean.
“We certainly hope it doesn’t come to that,” Mr. Del Rio said. “Everyone wants to operate out of Florida. It’s a very lucrative market.”
The clash between Norwegian Cruise Line and Florida is one of the many that are likely to surface about how states and businesses address whether proof of vaccination will be required. While some states have yet to take a position on businesses requiring vaccines, others are already operating with such protocols in place.
At many events in New York, such as Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association games, state health and safety guidelines require that fans provide proof of vaccination or of a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours of attendance.
“We hope that this hasn’t become a legal football or a political football,” Mr. Del Rio said on the call.
Norwegian Cruise Line is headquartered in Florida along with Royal Caribbean Cruises and Carnival Corporation. In 2019, about 60 percent of all U.S. cruise embarkations were from Florida ports, according to an economic analysis prepared last year for the Cruise Lines International Association.
In a business update on Thursday, Norwegian Cruise Line said it was experiencing “robust future demand” with bookings for the first half of 2022 that were “meaningfully ahead” of 2019 bookings. Through the end of the first quarter of 2021, the company said it had $1.3 billion of advance ticket sales.
In addition to prohibiting businesses to require proof of vaccination, the Florida law also prevents state and local governments from closing businesses or schools for in-person learning unless there is a hurricane emergency.
“I have refused to take the same approach as other lockdown governors,” Mr. DeSantis said in a statement on Monday when he signed the bill. “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.”
His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday, and Norwegian Cruise Line could not be reached for comment.
“We hope that everyone is pushing in the same direction, which is we want to resume cruising in a safe manner, especially at the beginning,” Mr. Del Rio said on the earnings call. “Things might be different six months from now or a year from now.”
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
The latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allows for cruise ships to conduct “simulated voyages” with volunteer passengers to see how cruise lines can safely resume operations with measures such as testing and potential quarantines.
The C.D.C. requires cruise lines to complete the test runs before they can be cleared to sail with passengers this summer.
“It is not possible for cruising to be a zero-risk activity for spread of Covid-19,” the C.D.C. said this week. “While cruising will always pose some risk of Covid-19 transmission, C.D.C. is committed to ensuring that cruise ship passenger operations are conducted in a way that protects crew members, passengers and port personnel.”
The latest guidance recommends, but does not require, that travelers and crew members on cruise lines receive a vaccine when it is available to them.
On the earnings call this week, Mr. Del Rio said Norwegian Cruise Line had submitted a proposal to the C.D.C. that includes requiring proof of vaccines from all of its crew members and passengers.
It is unclear how much business Norwegian Cruise Line could stand to lose by avoiding Florida ports. Of the dozens of ports listed on its website, Norwegian Cruise Line has Florida ports listed in Tampa, Miami and Key West.
Mr. Del Rio said “pent-up demand” had helped fill bookings quickly.
“I believe it’s the No. 1 destination for Americans to the Caribbean,” Mr. Del Rio said. “Who knows? That vessel might prove to be so profitable there that it never returns back to U.S. waters.”