Despite legal battles, cruise schedules push forward from Florida ports

Ahead of a hearing Thursday on a federal lawsuit about the CDC’s guidelines for cruising, major cruise companies announced sailings as soon as July from South Florida this summer.

Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Cruise Line said ships will sail in July from Port Miami, and then Norwegian Cruise Line will join in Miami in August. At Port Canaveral, CEO John Murray said they are getting crews ready to set sail once again.

"With that concept of vaccinating crew members, we’ve been very, very aggressive in vaccinating crew members in all of the cruise ships," said Murray. "We had one vessel last week that came in from Europe, and we have 1,386 vaccinations in one day on the ship."

Murray said they will have test cruises running at the end of June, starting with Disney. 

"We’re very, very much family-oriented and because the younger children cannot be vaccinated at this point, we will never meet that 95% [criterion] that the CDC has put out, which means we’re going to be doing the simulated cruises instead of starting right out," said Murray.

Port Tampa’s website showed cruises on its schedule returning in November and December. A spokesperson sent FOX 13 a statement saying "Port Tampa Bay is excited and ready to welcome our cruise partners back this fall. Throughout the pandemic, we have been working tirelessly to ensure we have safety and sanitation protocols in place to bring about a safe return to cruising. We will continue to work with our cruise line partners, local, state, and federal government agencies and the CDC."

But the industry is still caught up in a legal battle. On Thursday, a federal judge is set to hear arguments on whether to grant Florida a temporary injunction on the CDC’s guidelines for needing nearly everyone on board vaccinated to immediately cruise.

"This is just another step in this process. The judge won’t be making any kind of final rulings," said Dale Appell, a personal injury attorney in Tampa. "But in order to let the cruise industry in Florida know what it can do, Florida wants to say to the CDC you don’t have the right to impose your will on the cruise industry in Florida."

Appell said the judge will also weigh the CDC’s alternative guideline. Instead of required vaccines, the CDC allows test cruises with unvaccinated people to show ships can handle the virus. And that’s already underway in Florida.

"That’s one of the reasons why I’m not sure Florida will be successful in their injunction on Thursday because they’re going to have to prove irreparable harm if the judge doesn’t give them this injunction against the CDC," said Appell.

The Port Canaveral CEO said many ships will likely have vaccinated passengers anyway because it would be a very different cruising experience for unvaccinated passengers. He called the situation very dynamic since updates are changing.

"The CDC is still going to mandate social distancing, mask-wearing. You won’t be able to dine at some of the cruise ship restaurants, the finer restaurants because you’ll be at a table too long without a mask," said Murray.

Cruise lines that will allow people without the vaccine, such as Royal Caribbean, said those passengers will be tested for COVID-19 and will have to follow other safety protocols.