A major cruise line just dropped its vaccine requirement for cruises leaving from Florida but there's an expensive catch for unvaccinated travelers

  • Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity Cruises brand rolled back its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for Florida cruises.
  • Unvaccinated passengers will face on-board restrictions, COVID-19 tests, and higher out-of-pocket costs.
  • Cruise lines and Florida have been in a heated standoff over vaccine passports.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Royal Caribbean Group’s Celebrity Cruises has rolled back its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cruises sailing out of Florida ports, as per a June 17 update on Celebrity’s website.

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The vaccine mandate reversal is the latest update in a heated battle between cruise lines and the state, which has banned vaccine passports. But there’s a catch: unvaccinated passengers – or those unwilling to show proof of the vaccine – will face on-board restrictions, extra COVID tests, and subsequently, additional out-of-pocket costs, according to the cruise line.

Compared to vaccinated passengers, this means $178 worth of COVID-19 tests, strict mask requirements, seating restrictions in areas like theaters and casinos, and the possibility of not being able to go ashore depending on local restrictions.

This announcement comes just weeks after Celebrity Cruises’ unveiled its resumption of sailing plans aboard the Celebrity Edge. The ship is set to sail this Saturday from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and will be the first revenue cruise to sail from a US port in over a year.

But when the sailing was first announced as “fully vaccinated” in May, DeSantis’ office called the cruise line’s vaccine mandate “discriminatory.”

“Companies doing business in Florida, including Celebrity Cruises, should immediately cease to impose such discriminatory policies upon individuals,” Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ press secretary told Insider in an email in May. “Allowing companies like Celebrity Cruises to require ‘vaccine passports’ for customers would mean tolerating discrimination by private businesses, which is unacceptable in Florida.”

Video: Disney Cruise Line Latest Company to Receive CDC Approval for Test Sailings (Travel + Leisure)

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However, the cruise line still “strongly recommends” its eligible guests to be vaccinated, a spokesperson told Insider in an email statement.

Why cruise lines are dropping their vaccine mandates

At the end of May, Celebrity Cruises’ sibling brand Royal Caribbean announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all guests. However, like Celebrity, this mandate was subsequently rolled back in early June for all cruises sailing out of Florida and Texas.

There’s one common reason for this quiet reversal of vaccine mandates: the ban on vaccine passports in states like Florida and Texas, which has created a heated stand-off between cruise lines and the states.

For Florida specifically, in April, the Sunshine State’s Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order banning vaccine passports and local business – including cruise lines – from requiring them. And one month later, the state passed a law barring vaccine passports by July 1.

This means any company that violates this proof of vaccination ban could be fined $5,000 for every customer.

“Gov. DeSantis has stated many times that allowing private businesses to require ‘vaccine passports’ for Floridians taking part in everyday life – attending sporting events, dining at restaurants, or even going on cruises – would create two unequal classes of citizens based on vaccination status,” Pushaw wrote in the email statement. “This would be unethical and harmful for society.”

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