Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines announced it will require unvaccinated travelers to carry specific insurance, will this run afoul of Florida law?
Royal Caribbean Requires Unvaccinated Travel Insurance
The largest cruise line by revenue and the second-largest by passenger volume, Royal Caribbean International has changed its policy with regard to COVID-19 travel.
“Royal Caribbean International said on Tuesday it would require unvaccinated guests over 12 years of age traveling from Florida to show proof of insurance that covers COVID-19 related medical expenses, quarantine and evacuation.
The new policy comes after two unvaccinated teenagers tested positive on its Adventure of the Seas ship last week and two others were infected on Celebrity Millennium earlier this month… In Florida, the government bars companies from requiring to show proof of vaccines, which makes it difficult for cruise operators which, as per US health regulators’ orders, need to show a majority of its passengers and crew are vaccinated before setting sail.” – New York Post
For those who are not fully vaccinated, additional requirements include locations where guests must wear a mask, submit to additional testing (at their own expense), and “specific health protocols.” Unvaccinated travelers must carry an insurance policy with a minimum of $25,000 per person for medical expenses and $50,000 per person in travel expenses.
Those who have been fully inoculated can volunteer to demonstrate their status to avoid the restrictions and keep their “perfect day at Cococay” though probably not this week. The tropical storm, Elsa, is threatening South Florida cruise ports and long overdue cruise vacations.
Florida Law Prohibits Asking Vaccination Status
It first found itself in the middle of a dispute between the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the State of Florida a few weeks ago. The CDC provisionally allowed a moratorium on its “No Sail Order” but required cruises to have a vaccination of 95% or greater including crew members and passengers. Florida introduced new legislation (SB 2006) that prohibited any business from requiring vaccination status disclosure. Royal Caribbean couldn’t be assured it was in compliance with the CDC order without finding itself out of compliance with Florida.
The issue went before a Federal judge who determined that the CDC could not supersede Florida law; Governor Ron DeSantis declared the ruling a victory.
Royal Caribbean, whose Celebrity Cruises’ Freedom of the Seas was the subject of the first proving cruise, isn’t officially requiring the vaccination status disclosure. However, without the ability to require vaccination status what would prevent a traveler who was not fully vaccinated from simply deciding against the onerous COVID mitigation requirements?
In Writing Or In Spirit
There’s been a discussion taking place in the comments section of this blog over the last few weeks, first about Florida’s SB 2006. The conversation advanced about whether or not a discount could be provided for the vaccinated travelers and if this would constitute some form of price discrimination in the way that a surcharge based on vaccination status might.
The latest move from RCI is a potential solution but seems like one that will be quickly challenged in court and result in a loss for the cruise ship operator. They cannot ask a traveler to show documentation that they are vaccinated but can require insurance if they choose not to demonstrate it. However, that will then in essence deliver the same requirement to disclose. A traveler may choose to carry insurance for their own financial purposes, but wearing a mask, and an identifier that is clear they have not proven vaccination is the same thing.
It may (or may not) circumvent the government requirements to the letter of the law but it certainly contradicts the spirit of the law which may be sufficient to warrant a new lawsuit and one that refers to prior case law.
Despite clarity from the legal system and a clear path forward from both the State of Florida and the CDC, Royal Caribbean has stepped back into the fray and put itself in choppy waters. Royal Caribbean is attempting to attract customers back to cabins and palm beaches with safety onboard its vessels, but in so doing may find itself in a legal battle due to its approach.
What do you think? Does RCI’s travel insurance policy contradict Florida law? Will it stand?