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After over a year of imposing some of the toughest restrictions and requirements for a restart than any other segment of the travel industry, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has relaxed its Covid-19 Level 4 “Very High” warning for cruises to Covid-19 Level 3 or “High.”

The CDC’s eased warning comes just as cruises started sailing again in North America and are already facing the resurgence of Covid cases aboard among crew or passengers ahead of a U.S. relaunch in late June.

Taking the outbreaks into account, the CDC’s new Level 3 recommendations clearly state that people who are not fully vaccinated avoid traveling on cruise ships, including river cruises anywhere in the world, adding that those who choose to cruise unvaccinated “are more likely to get COVID-19, which spreads person-to-person, and outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported on cruise ships.”

Indeed it’s the scenario that the cruise industry’s giants had hoped to avoid by requiring proof of full vaccination from customers and by vaccinating crew — reports of positive cases within days of a sailing restart.

For More on the Cruise Industry From Skift, Read: The Lasting Impact of a Year With No Cruises

The Celebrity Millenium sailed out of St. Maarten, the first ship to restart in North America this month, and sailed the Caribbean — a region where vaccinations are sorely lagging — for seven days before two passengers turned Covid positive. This week, Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas megaship reported eight positive cases among the crew which is now delaying the new liner’s launch from July 3 to July 31.

While expecting zero Covid positive cases as cruises resume is unrealistic considering the nature of the virus, this latest round of delayed restarts for the ailing cruise industry reveals some poignant facts:

  • the risk of cruises not being able to require 100 percent full vaccination from all staff and cruisers before restarting operations
  • the crew likely originate from multiple foreign locations and full vaccinations require sufficient delay between getting the jab and restarting work
  • Florida Governor Ron De Santis’ law blocking cruise lines from mandating pre-sail vaccination proof from customers will hurt the industry and delay its recovery even further
  • Cruise lines might look to restarting out of ports away from Florida and in locations that don’t prevent them from requiring pre-sail full vaccination proof

On Wednesday, also coinciding with the CDC’s level alert easing for cruise lines, the University of South Florida released the results of a new survey of 600 Floridians, asking them in part about their opinions surrounding mandatory vaccine requirements from businesses as well as measuring vaccine hesitancy levels.

Nearly half of Floridians — 43 percent of respondents said they believe proof of vaccination should be mandatory on all cruises departing from Florida ports, while another 33.2 percent felt that the decision should be left to individual cruise-lines.

Perhaps even more eye opening is the data on vaccine hesitancy in Florida: of those respondents who are unvaccinated, 35.3 percent said they would probably not or definitely not get vaccinated while 24.3 percent were undecided on getting vaccinated.

The cruise industry has its challenges stacked up, between U.S. politicians using vaccines as a platform, to consumers who are increasingly likely to shun non-vaccinated cruises.

On Monday, Royal Caribbean sent a clear message to its customers so it won’t miss out on a big comeback while keeping Florida’s lawmakers on its side: if you want to sail on a fully vaccinated ship, then book cruises that don’t sail out of Florida.

Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean's new Odyssey of the Seas is delayed by another month due to onboard Covid cases among crew. Dirk Vorderstraße / Flickr Commons