Disney vs. DeSantis: Cruise line demands passengers be vaccinated despite governor's ban on mandates

AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

Lefties are chattering excitedly about this confrontation, believing that DeSantis will be reluctant to confront a business as important to his state as the Mouse. They employ tens of thousands of Floridians! They might be an important donor to his presidential campaign in 2024! They’ve already flexed their political muscle to gain a dubious exemption from the Florida GOP’s dubious social-media law! Maybe they’ll do it here too!

Meh. I think DeSantis has no choice but to fight since he’s not fighting Disney alone here. He’s fighting all of the cruise lines based on Florida, going so far as to take Norwegian to court to try to enforce his order banning private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination as a condition of service. Disney shouldn’t, and I expect won’t, take it personally.

Besides, they have no choice but to fight too. They’ve been forced into a Catch-22 by a new rule promulgated in the Bahamas requiring proof that all passengers are vaccinated before a ship can dock. If Disney and the other cruise lines follow DeSantis’s order and allow unvaccinated passengers aboard, they can’t operate in the Bahamas. If they follow the Bahamas’s rule and defy DeSantis by requiring vaccine passports, they’re breaking the law in Florida and subject to penalties.

A judge will eventually decide.

The announcement came after Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis last week said cruise ships will only be allowed to enter ports, including those on private islands used by cruise lines, if all crew members and passengers eligible for vaccines have been fully vaccinated…

“Guests must provide proof of vaccination by uploading their vaccination card to the Safe Passage by Inspire website no later than 24 hours before their sailing,” Disney Cruise Line said on its website Tuesday. “Guests who choose not to provide proof of vaccination to meet the requirements of The Bahamas will not be permitted to board the ship.”…

Appearing on Yahoo Finance last week, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings President and CEO Frank Del Rio called it “beyond bizarre” and “shameful” that his company has had to fight DeSantis to keep people healthy.

“Here’s a state that relies on tourism. It’s his number one industry. And the number one priority of any hospitality business is to keep their customers safe. I mean, that’s de rigueur,” Del Rio said. “You would expect that that government, again, would do everything possible to support that. Instead, we had to go to court.”

Four other cruise lines that follow the Florida-to-the-Bahamas route have also decided to mandate vaccination as a condition of boarding in defiance of DeSantis’s rule. Possibly they opted to follow the Bahamas’s policy because it’s stricter than his, barring ships entirely instead of merely fining them, as Florida would do. Maybe the cruise lines can still turn a profit even if they lose the Florida court battle and have to pay up.

But they may also have followed the Bahamas’s line because it’s obviously better policy, especially in the age of Delta. Three months ago there was at least a weak argument that the unvaccinated should be allowed on cruise ships: Since the vaccinated were at virtually no risk of being infected by them, the unvaxxed were only a risk to each other. You could get your shots, come aboard, and not need to care about the non-immune passing the virus around among themselves. The flaw in that logic was that an outbreak among the unvaccinated could cause enough serious cases that the ship would need to divert its course and have them treated at a hospital on land ASAP. Vaccinated passengers’ trips would be spoiled, all because the ship was required by law to take a cohort of at-risk people miles out to sea, knowing that they might soon need more sophisticated medical care than a cruise ship can provide.

Post-Delta, there’s nothing left of even that weak argument. The unvaccinated can now infect the vaccinated, and the vaccinated don’t always shake off those infections in a day or two. They can suffer serious flu-like symptoms, which would ruin their vacation if not their health. The vaccinated can also now infect the unvaccinated as far as scientists can tell, and in some cases the unvaxxed are displaying viral loads a thousand times greater than patients with the original coronavirus did last year. The odds of a major outbreak and multiple severe cases happening onboard a cruise have gone way up thanks to Delta. Which raises the question of, uh, who exactly would want to take a cruise at the moment and run the risk of a nasty bout with COVID, vaccinated or not?

Some people do, though. And the cruise lines are trying to do what little they can to make the ship safer for them by excluding the unvaxxed — only to find DeSantis fighting them the whole way. There’s no way to explain that on policy grounds as far as I can see. The only plausible explanation is that he thinks he needs to find ways to pander to anti-vaxxers ahead of 2024 while he’s busy promoting vaccination to the rest of his state.

There’s a new poll of Florida out today from Quinnipiac on DeSantis and some of his COVID policies. That’s almost not worth linking since Quinnipiac’s surveys of the state have been abysmal over the last two cycles. They had Biden winning Florida by five last year and Andrew Gillum crushing DeSantis by seven in 2018. Why bother with them, then? Because some of the results here are so lopsided that even Quinnipiac can’t be off on which way the public is leaning. I think.



Some results are too close to trust given Quinnipiac’s problems in the past. For instance, they have support for employer vaccine mandates at just 50/44. But support is much stronger for mandating vaccination for teachers (60/36) and health-care workers (62/33), two groups that are benefiting from DeSantis’s strange and cynical across-the-board ban on letting local governments and even private entities require immunization a condition of employment. Obstructing local efforts to prevent schoolkids and hospital patients from being exposed to the virus by unvaccinated caretakers is another policy that’s hard to understand on the merits but easy to understand as a ploy aimed at ingratiating DeSantis to Republican vaccine skeptics ahead of his presidential run.

Americans outside of Florida also strongly support vaccine mandates for particular groups, incidentally, and none more so than health-care workers and teachers:

I’ll leave you with this from Mitch McConnell, who was asked the burning question underlying DeSantis’s battle with local school officials in Florida. Should parents get to decide whether kids mask up or should the school district decide? Quote: “I don’t think it’s the business of the government, certainly not the federal government, [to make that recommendation]. … The governors basically deal with issues like those and mask mandates and that sort of thing. If I were governor I’d leave the issue of masks and vaccines up to school boards and employers.”