Writer: Joshua Andino
2 min read April 2021 — South Florida’s cruise lines are restless. To regain business, industry stalwarts like Virgin Voyages and Royal Caribbean are making plans that don’t include Miami, for now.
Virgin is the latest to make a move away from Southern Florida. It is preparing to launch its maiden voyage from the United Kingdom instead of Miami. The cruise line’s first ship, Scarlet Lady, will start its journey from Portsmouth, England, embarking passengers on Aug. 6. It will not be making calls to any ports. The cruise line’s second ship, Valiant Lady, remains scheduled to leave from South Florida in November.
Virgin Voyages joins Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises and others in moving itineraries away from South Florida in recent months. Virgin Voyages stipulations remain in place for passenger voyages in the United States requiring all passengers and crew members to be fully vaccinated before boarding. The Plantation, Florida-based company reversed course from its initial plan to sail from PortMiami in July and will not be embarking from South Florida until Sept. 22.
Carnival Cruise Lines has had to cancel or reschedule its own voyages until June 30.
“We know that this is very disappointing to our guests who continue to be eager to sail, and we remain committed to working with the Administration and the CDC to find a workable solution that best serves the interest of public health. We are asking that the cruise industry be treated on par with the approach being taken with other travel and tourism sectors, as well as U.S. society at large,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, in a statement on its website. “While we have not made plans to move Carnival Cruise Line ships outside of our U.S. homeports, we may have no choice but to do so in order to resume our operations which have been on ‘pause’ for over a year. We appreciate the continued patience and support from our loyal guests, travel advisors and business partners as we work on a return-to-service solution.”
Those in the industry have cited the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) conditional restrictions as too difficult to comply with, and in large part the reason companies are now relaunching voyages from Europe and the Caribbean instead of South Florida, home to what were some of the busiest ports in the world pre-COVID.
In response, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has sued the federal government over the CDC’s conditional order, arguing that the restrictions are unwarranted and overreaching.
The order, from October 2020, requires cruise lines to host test voyages and seek approval from the CDC on health and safety protocols before they can return to service. The CDC recently updated the conditional sail order, laying out parameters for agreements the cruise lines must make with local ports before they start to sail again. The aim is to avoid scenarios where ships with on-board COVID-19 patients are turned away from port. Such situations frequently occurred during the early stages of the pandemic.
The relocations and suit come even as consumer confidence in travel and bookings continue to rise. A recent survey by AAA – The Auto Group showed that almost half of Floridians are confident in traveling, with 47% of those surveyed saying they were comfortable taking a trip.