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A federal judge sided with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings on Sunday, ruling the company could require proof of vaccination from passengers before boarding a cruise in Florida.
The ruling comes just days before the Norwegian Gem is scheduled to depart from Miami on Aug. 15, the company’s first ship to depart Florida since sailing restarted this year, Norwegian shared with Travel + Leisure.
Last month, Norwegian — which requires all guests and crew be fully vaccinated before boarding — sued Florida’s surgeon general over the state’s ban on vaccine passports, which Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis signed in April. Since then, several cruise lines have chosen to make vaccines optional on ships leaving out of Florida, including Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises, but Norwegian hasn’t budged.
“The health and safety of our guests, crew, and the communities we visit is our number one priority, today, tomorrow, and forever. It’s not a slogan or a tagline, we fiercely mean it and our commitment to these principles is demonstrated by the lengths our Company has gone through to provide the safest possible cruise experience from Florida,” Frank Del Rio, the president, and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, told T+L in a statement. “We want nothing more than to sail from Miami, the Cruise Capital of the World, and from the other fabulous Florida ports and we welcome today’s ruling that allows us to sail with 100% fully vaccinated guests and crew which we believe is the safest and most prudent way to resume cruise operations amid this global pandemic.”
In her preliminary ruling, Reuters reported U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams said Norwegian would likely win their argument that DeSantis’ ban on vaccine passports jeopardizes public health and is an unconstitutional infringement.
Norwegian’s vaccination policy is in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which requires cruise lines to sail “simulated voyages” with volunteer passengers unless at least 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated. However, Reuters reported a federal appeals court ruled last month the CDC could not enforce its rules on cruises in Florida, allowing a previous ruling to stand.
Nonetheless, cruise lines have begun to strengthen health policies in recent weeks as the highly contagious delta variant continues to spread. Royal Caribbean has said it will now require all guests to get tested for COVID-19 for certain cruises, regardless of their vaccination status; and Carnival Cruise Line will now require all guests to get tested before embarking on a cruise and wear masks indoors going forward.
Last week, Florida saw an 18.9% case positivity rate with more than 19,000 new cases recorded per day on average, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she’s not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.