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A cruise ship. Panicking girl. A woman in a medical mask clings to her face. Concept - panic among those infected on the ship. Concept - panic among patients with fever. Quarantine on a cruise ship

Aussie cruise lines wait and see over vaccines while US operators are forced to change tack

Just as the cruise world seemed to be getting unity on its vaccines protocols, radical politicians have stepped in to muddy the waters.

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity have reversed their mandatory policy and announced cruises out of Florida and Texas will no longer require proof of vaccination.  Celebrity Cruises will also no longer be asking for proof of vaccine in Florida.

In Australia, things are more confusing with most lines adopting a wait-and-see approach. According to Cruise Lines International Association Australasia: “Vaccines are an important step forward in the global response to COVID-19. At the same time, we recognise that the roll-out of vaccines across the world will take some time and many uncertainties remain.

“CLIA and its ocean-going cruise line members are exploring a workable approach for how to consider vaccinations once widely available, as part of robust protocols. Based on the insights and guidance from leading experts in health and science, we continue to believe that no single measure is alone effective and that a multi-layered approach is the appropriate path forward.

“As vaccine roll-out progresses in Australia, cruise lines will work with health authorities to consider the most appropriate requirements for cruising. At the same time, the cruise industry’s extensive new health protocols are designed to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 regardless of vaccine availability.”

Given that Cruise Passenger readers are overwhelmingly in favour of mandatory vaccinations for passengers and crew – our latest sentiment survey in May puts their support at 87 per cent – the lines need to move swiftly.

The exclusive survey also found 47% listed mandatory vaccines as the most important factor for getting back on a cruise.

But as the vaccine rollout provides its own dilemmas and with children – an crucial component of many big ship lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean, which specialise in family holidays – yet to be scheduled for vaccinations, perhaps that’s not surprising.

In America, where sailings will take place soon, the Royal Caribbean reversal came in response to a new law passed in Florida that prevents businesses from requiring a proof of vaccination for customers before providing service.

The law, passed by Florida Governor Ron De Santis, prevents businesses from requiring proof of vaccination “to gain access to, entry upon, or services from” a business. A similar law has been passed in Texas that prohibits ‘vaccine passports’, meaning that businesses are not allowed to refuse service on the basis of whether a customer has been vaccinated or not.

Florida is the largest embarkation point for cruises in the US and is where many major cruises have their headquarters and infrastructure.

This puts cruise lines in a difficult position, as according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in order to sail, a cruise ship must either complete a test cruise with volunteer passengers, or have 95% of the cabin and crew vaccinated.

Travel industry analyst and managing director of Truist Securities told NBC of the situation this creates. “It has been a year of migraines and kicks in the teeth for the cruise industry. Now, they’re finally getting ready to restart, and you have the governor of Florida basically playing a game of chicken with them. It might even be cheaper from them to just eat the fines. They are burning millions of dollars a day having their ships idle.”

Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has stood strong and said it still plans on sailing out of Florida in August and will require all passengers to be vaccinated. It is unclear how this could be done with the current laws in place.

NCL President Frank Del Rio commented: “We hope that this doesn’t become a legal football or a political football. 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 that we do operate from, and we can operate from the Caribbean for a ship that otherwise would have gone to Florida.”

Even Royal Caribbean who did reverse their policy, don’t appear thrilled with the idea of unvaccinated passengers. During a webinar briefing travel agents, Royal Caribbean said that it had plans for unvaccinated guests that could potentially include extra costs and different protocols for unvaccinated passengers.

Celebrity Cruises also confirmed to travel agents in a webinar and confirmed that those who do not show proof of vaccination will be held to a different set of protocols onboard, likely incurring some additional costs.

With Australia’s ban on international cruise ships extended three months to September 17, it remains extremely ambiguous as to when exactly cruise will return, but it does appear that when it does, vaccination will be required to get aboard.