CDC clears Celebrity Cruises to set sail in June, but new Florida law creates vaccination challenge

Credit: Celebrity Cruises

In a milestone for Florida's cruise industry, the Centers for Disease Control on Wednesday approved Royal Caribbean to resume seven-night cruises starting in late June. The Celebrity Edge, part of Royal Caribbean's Celebrity Cruises brand, will become the first ship to win CDC approval for revenue cruises since the pandemic began.

Celebrity Cruises CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo shared a tweet Wednesday night showing the Celebrity Edge out at sea, back-dropped by a colorful sunset. The photo caption reads, "Someday is here," a reference to all the plans canceled or delayed over the past 15 months that are now possible once again.

The June 26 cruise will leave from Port Everglades before heading for Mexico and the Bahamas.

The CDC has given cruise lines two options: meet vaccine thresholds of 98 percent of crew and 95 percent of passengers and start revenue cruises right away-- or forgo the vaccine thresholds and run test cruises to ensure COVID-19 protocols are working.

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Celebrity Cruises is complying with the CDC's vaccination threshold, requiring all crew and passengers age 16 and older to be vaccinated. On August 1, the requirement will extend to passengers age 12 and older.

The health and safety guidelines are already facing a set of challenges from Florida's legislature. The CDC's approval and Celebrity Cruises' plans stand in conflict with a newly-signed Florida law that bans cruise lines and other businesses from asking passengers to provide proof of vaccination. Under the law, violators are hit with a $5,000 fine.

Republican Florida governor Ron Desantis sued the CDC in April, asking a judge to force the agency to drop its cruise safety requirements and allow cruises to resume immediately. Instead, the judge sent the case to mediation, which begins on Thursday.

Wednesday's revenue cruise approval from the CDC comes one day after the agency gave the green light for Royal Caribbean International to run test cruises, also the first of its kind.

Volunteer passengers will set sail aboard the Freedom of the Seas ship from Port Miami on June 20. The company says it already has more than 250,000 potential volunteers.