Crystal Serenity cruise adds PortMiami amid COVID-19 surge, won’t comply with CDC

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Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Serenity ship will add Miami as a stop on its cruises to The Bahamas next month, and the ship will be the first not to comply with the CDC’s COVID-19 safety rules after a federal appeals court decision that they are not enforceable in Florida.

Starting Aug. 9, passengers will be able to board the Crystal Serenity, one of the Miami-based luxury cruise company’s ships, at PortMiami each Monday for seven-night cruises stopping in Nassau and Bimini , The Bahamas, the company announced this week. Passengers will continue to be able to board the ship in Nassau on Saturdays and Bimini on Sundays.

CDC spokesperson Caitlin Shockey said Crystal Serenity will appear in gray on the agency’s color-coded chart a few days before it enters U.S. waters, indicating that it is not voluntarily complying with the CDC’s “conditional sail order.” It is the first ship not to comply.

“This means that CDC cannot confirm that the cruise ship operator’s health and safety protocols align with CDC’s standards for protecting passengers, crew, port personnel, and communities against the public health risks posed by COVID-19,” said Shockey in an email.

The CDC maintains a public list of cruise ships that specifies which ships have reported COVID-19 cases in the last seven days and assigns them a color (green, yellow, orange or red) based on the seriousness of the outbreak.

Crystal Cruises has been operating Bahamas cruises from the two ports since July 3. The added Miami stop will allow passengers to get off the ship in South Florida and visit local attractions like South Beach, Little Havana and the Everglades. The cruises start at $1,999 per passenger, the company said.

“By adding Port of Miami, we are giving travelers another convenient way to join these popular Bahamas cruises that provide vacation escapes both close to home and yet a world away, with amazing outdoor options from snorkeling and diving to eco-tours and deep-sea fishing, to just relaxing on some of the world’s most beautiful beaches,” said Jack Anderson, Crystal’s president, in a statement.

The ship can accommodate 1,070 passengers, but is operating at reduced capacity, the company said.

It will be the first to operate from a U.S. port without voluntarily complying with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “conditional sail order” since a federal appeals court ruled earlier this month that the agency’s COVID-19 regulations for cruise ships are not enforceable in Florida as part of a lawsuit brought against the agency by Gov. Ron DeSantis. All other cruise companies are voluntarily complying with the order, the CDC said.

Crystal spokesperson Susan Robison declined to comment on which aspects of the conditional sail order the company will not be implementing.

“We are complying with the regulations that are in place,” she said in an email. Because of the court’s order, there are no federal COVID-19 cruise regulations in place for Florida cruises.

Robison said the company “intends to meet or exceed the CDC recommendations including 100% vaccinated crew and capacity controlled unvaccinated guests with additional requirements and restrictions.” The company will recommend all passengers be vaccinated and require unvaccinated passengers to wear masks, purchase travel insurance and be restricted to certain areas on the ship. Robison said the company has agreements with a local hospital and transportation company to handle positive passengers who need to be taken off the ship.

The company requires passengers to undergo tests for COVID-19 prior to boarding, Robison said.

The conditional sail order requires ships to attest to the CDC that at least 95% of their passengers and crew are vaccinated, or perform test cruises before restarting with paying passengers. It also requires companies to test all crew members weekly for COVID-19 and report results to the agency and have CDC-approved legal evacuation and isolation agreements in place with U.S. ports and local health authorities, among other things.

Ships that don’t comply are still required to report COVID-19 cases and deaths to the CDC and allow ship inspections, said Shockey, the CDC spokesperson. Passengers on ships that don’t comply will be required to wear masks indoors at all times, in line with the federal mask rule for public transportation, Shockey said.

COVID-19 has persisted on cruise ships even with the CDC regulations in place. One in three ocean cruise ships operating in U.S. waters or planning to come into U.S. waters soon have reported a COVID-19 case on board in the last seven days, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nine of the 21 ships that have reported COVID-19 cases have passengers on board.

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