PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. — Calling the cruise industry essential to Florida’s economy, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday urged the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to rescind sailing restrictions that he says threatens industry workers.

What You Need To Know

  • DeSantis urges CDC to rescind no-sail order that he says threatens cruise workers

  •  DeSantis spoke with other state officials at Brevard County's Port Canaveral

  • "We need to start seeing some activity at this facility," the governor says

“We have one of our major industries that has been idled by the federal government for over a year, the cruise-line industry,” DeSantis said. “We need to get these cruise lines operating again.”

DeSantis, who has pushed for Florida businesses to remain open, even as the coronavirus pandemic raged during the fall, spoke during a roundtable discussion that included Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, plus representatives of Carnival, Disney, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean cruise lines.

The discussion took place at Brevard County’s Port Canaveral, which says a year-long shutdown has resulted in a 43% workforce reduction and a 79% loss in operating revenue over the past year.

The CDC issued a no-sail order last March upon the arrival of the pandemic. In October, it issued a “conditional sailing” order that directed cruise lines to take steps to protect crews and passengers before they could resume sailing.

“We need to start seeing some activity at this facility, and that’s part of the reason we’re here today,” DeSantis said. "In Florida, we have everything going on except the cruise lines because the federal government won’t let the cruise lines sail."

Port Canaveral touts itself as the world's second-busiest cruise port in multi-day embarkations. Florida also boasts cruise ports in Tampa, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Jacksonville.

The Cruise Lines International Association estimates that the cruise industry creates 150,000 Florida jobs, including at hotels, restaurants and airlines. 

Moody, Florida's attorney general, said the state would consider legal options "to push back against this government overreach."

“When you have a government that is working against the interests and vitality of its citizens it serves, that is a problem," she said.

The CDC didn't immediately respond late Friday afternoon to a request from Spectrum News for comment.

A representative of the public health agency told Spectrum News this month that it would maintain its phased approach to the resumption of passenger cruises. 

That came after comments from Royal Caribbean Group CEO Richard Fain, who noted developments in U.S. vaccinations and said the CDC's approach was outdated.

Last week, Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises announced that they would offer cruise packages for June departure from islands outside the U.S.

Industry representatives bemoaned Friday that U.S. ports remained closed to cruises even as cruises have resumed in the Caribbean and elsewhere.

“Let's get people back to the work. The health situation has changed,” said Thomas Mazloum, president of Disney Cruise Line. “Cruise lines are cruising very successfully outside the United States, proving that with the right protocols cruising is a very safe and beautiful experience.”

Businesses React

Businesses near Port Canaveral say they are hoping cruise ships can start running again soon.

“At least 20-30%of business has been impacted by the cruise ships not sailing,” said Michael Schwarz, who has owned of Fishlips restaurant for 15 years. “It means a lot — my daughters works here, my wife works here, my business partner's kids work here. Its a family ordeal, its all about keeping the doors open.”

The pandemic has been difficult for Schwarz, who employed 142 employees pre-pandemic but is now down to 98. He wants to see his, and other businesses, up and running soon.

Port Director Capt. John Murray said 80% of revenues come from cruise ships. Between the port and cruise ships, its critical for so many businesses.

“There is about 13,000 jobs in the immediate area directly impacted by port Canaveral and cruise business here,” Murray said.

Murray's business is included in those 13,000 jobs. He's on board with the cruise ships reopening soon.

“You got to get out and go,” he said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.