When a federal judge overturned the travel mask mandate this week, it began a domino effect of companies announcing they were ending the requirement of its passengers to wear face coverings to protect against COVID-19, but cruise lines have yet to completely follow suit.
“A lot of folks may not realize that the TSA mandate that applied to airports and airplanes also applied to sea port cruise terminals on the mask mandates,” said Port Canaveral CEO Capt. John Murray at a port commission meeting on Wednesday. “That was lifted this week and each cruise line is taking it a little bit differently.”
He said even though there’s no federal mandate in place because of the ruling, the cruise lines are still in charge of the terminal as part of each line’s facility security plan as passengers board and disembark from the ships.
“So one of the brands is going to continue having their employees mask but they won’t require masks for the cruise guests anymore,” Murray said without naming the cruise line. ”Each line is doing something a little bit different but it’s all good news and another step toward normal operations.”
The port hosts Disney Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International and MSC Cruises.
Airlines like Delta, United and American as well as Amtrak announced they were ending mask regulations this week, but while cruise lines may begin to officially change their policies to relax terminal requirements, none has yet to publicize a shift.
Looking at each of those lines’ health guidance statements on their websites on Wednesday, all five continue to require masks to be worn while at both ports of departure, but also potentially at ports of call depending on those destinations’ requirements.
Disney, which requires passengers 5 and older to be vaccinated to sail, lets those passengers go mask free during sailing already, calling them optional for most indoor locations in the ship. Unvaccinated guests under 5 have to wear face coverings in its youth activity spaces and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. It still states masks have to be worn on motorcoach transportation and at the terminal.
MSC Cruises, which just switched out MSC Divinia for the departing MSC Meraviglia for summer sailings, still has mask-free designated venues on board until April 23, after which “masks and social distancing will be recommended but not required on board in public areas for fully vaccinated guests.” But masks are still required for all guests in the terminal.
Carnival only requires masks in its medical center on board, but also during embarkation and debarkation at both home port and ports of call, on any transportation including water shuttles and when indoors on any Carnival tour.
Royal Caribbean states it expects unvaccinated children to continue to wear masks indoors and in crowded settings, and all children 2 and older have to wear them still at its Adventure Ocean youth program. Masks are also optional at is private destinations CocoCay and Labadee, but are still required at the cruise terminal for boarding and departure.
Norwegian Cruise Line limits passengers to 100% vaccination for guests 12 and over saying “the decision to wear a mask covering when onboard is at the discretion of each guest.”
Already cruise lines have recovered from the severe dip in traffic seen in January after a promising December when the country was reeling from the omicron variant outbreak. Port Canaveral saw a big uptick in March during spring break, and has seen close to 90,000 passenger movements each week in April.
“They’re running at higher capacity every month,” Murray said. “We’re back into a more normal routine. The ships are not full but they are getting there.”
Through six months of the fiscal year, which runs from October 2021 to September 2022, the port is on pace to break its cruise passenger record of 4.6 million multi-day travelers that was set in 2019.
It’s also on pace to bring in record operating revenue, still ahead of a budget that expects to pull in $109.2 million during the fiscal year.
The $40.6 million from cruise and parking is $1.1 million ahead of budget for the first six months.
“We’re back up above where we were in December,” Murray said. “So it’s all good news.”