Gov. DeSantis pushes against CDC’s cruise ship restrictions, but some cruises already planned for summer

Gov. Ron DeSantis hosts a roundtable discussion on March 26, 2021. Credit: Screenshot/Florida Channel

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday denounced a federal ban on cruise ship operations from Florida ports amid the COVID-19 pandemic, although some cruise lines are already accepting summer reservations for departures from the state.

During a round-table discussion at Port Canaveral, DeSantis called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to lift the ban because “we need to be able to get these cruise lines operating again,” which he said would help jobless workers in that important state industry.

“This will provide a lot of relief to a lot of Floridians,” DeSantis said. “They got to work, they got to put food on the table. Please, CDC, listen to those voices, listen to those people.”

He referred to a conditional sailing order issued by the CDC to establish a phased approach for resuming cruises. Some lines have launched cruises from Caribbean ports in the meantime, although some are already booking departures from U.S. ports.

For instance, the Carnival Cruise Line permits guests to book summer departures from Florida ports while granting guests the option of cancelling at no charge if the CDC doesn’t lift its ban, said Vance Gulliksen, a spokesman for the company.

“We’re still in a pause in our guest operations through May 31. The timing for re-start in the U.S. continues to be uncertain. While some cruise lines have announced cancellations for June, we have not made such a decision,” Gulliksen said in an email to the Florida Phoenix.

“With the promise that all Americans can be vaccinated by May, we are optimistic that we will see cruise travel resume in time for summer.”

Although DeSantis closed all nonessential businesses early in the pandemic, he soon repented and shifted toward a broad reopening of the economy and public schools. Lately, he’s been chafing at the Biden administration’s management of the pandemic and vaccine rollout and has sworn never to allow another lock-down in Florida.

The CDC’s conditional sailing order remains in effect through Nov. 1 in response to the threat of COVID-19, including new variants that are spreading across Florida and the nation, according to the agency. The industry was a major transmission vector early in the pandemic.

“Returning to passenger cruising is a phased approach to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19,” Jasmine Reed, a CDC public affairs specialist, said in an email to the Phoenix.

“Details for the next phase of the [order] are currently under interagency review.”

Its “No Sail Order” expired on Oct. 31. Now, the agency hopes its phased approach will allow lines to “safely resume cruise ship passenger operations.”

The CDC hopes to ensure that cruise ship operators protect crew members from COVID. “The initial phase will consist of testing and additional safeguards for crew members,” the order says.

DeSantis argued that the pace of vaccinations against the coronavirus will allow ships to sail safely. He’d previously announced plans to spend $260 million of the state’s share of the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief fund on the struggling industry.

“I don’t think you can indefinitely shutter businesses and cost people jobs. When they’re sailing, there is more economic opportunity,” he said.

DeSantis was joined by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault, and executives from the cruise industry during the meeting.

Moody insisted the CDC’s order is based on “outdated” information and implied that the state would consider taking legal action “against this government overreach.”

“You cannot have an agency shutting down an entire industry based on outdated, arbitrary, capricious decisions,” she said.

“The federal government is acting outside its authority in singling out and docking the cruise industry while other tourism-based businesses continue to operate in accordance with health guidelines.”