Orlando, Fla. — Carnival is expanding its return to cruising plans for July and August including its new ship Mardi Gras out of Port Canaveral, and for now requiring vaccines, even though that runs afoul of a Florida law going into effect July 1 that prohibits so-called vaccine passports.
The cruise line had already announced plans to sail from Galveston, Texas, and Seattle with only vaccinated passengers, but had yet to make the call on the first ship it had planned to sail from Florida — Carnival Horizon from PortMiami.
Part of that delay was due to an existing executive order and new law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that would fine companies $5,000 per incident if they require proof of vaccination.
Despite that, Carnival announced it was moving forward with Horizon’s return on July 4, but did not give details on how the vaccine requirement will be enforced.
In addition, the line announced its plans to sail its new ship Mardi Gras, the largest ever built for Carnival, from the new terminal at Port Canaveral by the end of the month.
“It is brilliant news. After cancellation, after cancellation, after cancellation of Mardi Gras, this new ship that thousands of you came to welcome into Port Canaveral, which shows how excited you are, that we finally can say, ‘Yep, we are cruising on July 31,’” said brand ambassador John Heald on a Facebook live video hosted Friday.
That sailing will be a seven-night voyage to San Juan, Puerto Rico; Amber Cove, Dominican Republic; and Nassau, Bahamas. It’s the beginning of sailing for Mardi Gras on seven-night Caribbean itineraries that have been delayed four times since original plans for the ship to debut in summer 2020.
That sailing and several other ships coming online before September will only be open to customers 12 years and older who have been fully vaccinated, although Heald said on Friday that there might be exceptions forthcoming. Cruise lines cannot sail without a conditional sailing certificate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One option to get that certificate is to perform a simulated test sailing to prove out each ship’s COVID-19 safety protocols. Another option, the one that Carnival is opting for on these voyages, is to sail with 98% of crew and 95% of passengers fully vaccinated.
Children younger than 12 do not have an option to get vaccinated at this time.
“If and when there is an exemption, we will let you know,” Heald said. “But at the same time I have to apologize, and I mean this as sincerely as a human being can mean it, and I mean it not just as a brand ambassador. I’m saying this as a father. You now have to tell your children that you can’t cruise at the moment because of COVID, and it was a very difficult decision for us to make but under the current CDC regulations, this is what we had to decide to do.”
Plans to get back to business could still be shifted if a ruling comes in a lawsuit by the state of Florida seeking an injunction that would end the conditional sail order in place by the CDC. Without that, though, cruise lines have had to work within the guidelines set by the CDC if they want to sail from a U.S. port.
If a line opts for the test sailing option from the CDC, which would allow younger children to sail, it would also mean a higher level of limitations, such as required mask wearing — even outdoors — for those not vaccinated.
“So to any parent, grandparent or guardian that has to sit in front of your young children today and tell a 4-year-old, a 7-year-old, that they can’t go on the ‘big boat’ at the moment, I’m thinking of you because I know. I know how difficult that is. I really do,” Heald said. “But at the same time, I hope you understand we have to do this right. We have to get it correct. We have to make this very difficult decision. We don’t want the kids — we don’t feel that children can run around all day having to wear a mask by the pool and going down the slide. It’s just not what the children would want or expect.”
The same plans are in place for three other ship deployments planned for July or August.
A second ship, Carnival Magic, coming out of dry dock including a hull design to mirror that of the new Mardi Gras, will also sail from Port Canaveral on four- and five-night sailings beginning Aug. 7. The ship is taking over the itineraries of Carnival Elation for voyages through Oct. 7. After that, Carnival Magic will sail on three six-night and one eight-night sailing from the port through Oct. 31.
Also in Florida, the line announced Carnival Sunrise will sail four- and five-night itineraries from PortMiami starting Aug. 14. And in California, Carnival Panorama will sail from Long Beach starting Aug. 21 on seven-night Mexican Riviera voyages.
With the announcement, the line will have eight ships in service before September, but that means it had to pull existing sailing plans through August of Carnival Liberty from Port Canaveral; Carnival Ecstasy from Jacksonville; Carnival Conquest from Miami; Carnival Pride from Baltimore; Carnival Sunshine from Charleston, South Carolina; Carnival Dream from Galveston; Carnival Sensation from Mobile, Alabama; and Carnival Glory from New Orleans.
The line is working to get the crew on these ships vaccinated and ready to sail as soon as September, according to Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy.
“Our focus remains on the health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we serve and visit,” said Duffy. “We are taking a deliberate approach so we can execute with excellence and deliver a fun experience to our guests, who have been tremendously patient and supportive throughout this pause.”
Heald was optimistic about potential softening of CDC requirements as more people become vaccinated.
“What we’re doing today doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to be doing it in September or October and moving forward,” he said. “We are going to be so, so happy and ecstatically joyful when we can say, ‘Come on, bring your children on the best cruise experience they could ever have.’”
He also said that while he respects the decision of those who have chosen not to be vaccinated, that it’s the choice of others who have been vaccinated that led to the restart Carnival and other cruise lines have planned in the coming months.
“There will be days ahead — I don’t know when — but there will be days ahead when we won’t be talking about who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t, but instead we’ll be opening the doors, opening the gangway doors to everybody again,” Heald said. “If you’ll permit me to say — the freedom to cruise has come — whether you like it, believe it or agree with it — the freedom that the cruise industry has been able to return is because of the high vaccination situation and it has been the reason that we can put the ships back in the water and have them full of the sounds of fun again.”
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