Some cruise lines ignoring DeSantis' ban on immunity passports

(Rob O'Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau via AP)

As part of the post-pandemic reopening of the state of Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis signed an order forbidding businesses from demanding proof of vaccination as a condition of entry. This included cruise lines, many of which are based in the Sunshine State. That didn’t sit well with many of those companies, as they didn’t want to find themselves in the position of having more stories about “plague ships” showing up in the news and the resultant lawsuits that they would be facing. Quite a few of these companies eventually fell in line and decided to prepare to welcome passengers back under the new rules, but not all of them. At least two of the major cruise lines, Carnival and Norwegian, are thus far ignoring the orders and continue to state that proof of vaccination will be required to board any of their ships in Florida. This is setting up a battle between the state government and one of the state’s largest tourism destinations. (NBC News)

When cruise ships depart from Florida’s ports in the coming months, some won’t require passengers to get the most effective pandemic life preserver there is — a Covid-19 vaccination.

That’s because of new legislation Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed that bars businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccinations. The law goes into effect Thursday and opponents say it could threaten the recovery of an industry that is vital to the state’s economy, in addition to making it difficult for cruise ship companies to put some teeth into the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination recommendations.

At least 10 major cruise lines are headquartered in Florida, including Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line.

The law went into effect this week. The penalty for violating the law is $5,000 per instance. If successfully prosecuted, that would make all of the cruises unprofitable for Norwegian and Carnival, since few passengers pay that much for the trip. Others, such as Royal Caribbean, are requiring proof of vaccination in other ports, but not at ports in Florida. This is creating a lot of confusion for tourists.

I’ve been uncomfortable with this law ever since we first heard about it. DeSantis prides himself on being a small-government conservative, as many of us do. The law forbidding vaccine passports seems rather heavy-handed to impose on the private sector, doesn’t it? Micromanaging these companies in terms of how they choose to run their business seems to fly in the face of those principles.

Wouldn’t the better solution have been to simply let the free market handle this? Norwegian and Carnival want to require vaccine passports to board their ships. Royal Caribbean and American Cruise Lines, among others, are not asking for proof of vaccination. If this is an important matter for individual tourists, they can make their choices accordingly and vote with their wallets. Visitors who oppose immunity passports will likely flock to the cruise lines not requiring them, while those who would prefer to know that they are only traveling with other vaccinated people will reward Carnival and Norwegian for their decision.

A DeSantis spokesperson responded to a request for comment, saying, “No corporation is above the law. A couple of the biggest cruise lines have revised their policies, and we expect others to follow their example.”

Will any of these companies challenge the law in court? Normally, companies fighting against government regulation of private industry wind up battling laws that require them to keep customers safe. In this case, they could try making the argument that the law DeSantis signed is actually making their customers less safe.

It’s worth noting that the cruise line industry is estimated to support more than 160,000 jobs in Florida. They are also major customers for food and travel items from Florida businesses. This is the sort of war that could result in some serious political backlash if it winds up going against the Governor.