Category Archives: Mindset

Opinion: Cruise Ships, Florida, and the CDC

Opinion: Cruise Ships, Florida, and the CDC

Warning: This post is really just something I have to get off my chest. The lack of logic I’ve encountered on this topic has been driving me batty. Take it all with a grain of salt!

Introduction

With the imminent return of cruising in Florida, there has been a lot of chatter in the ether along the lines of “How can cruise lines require vaccinations when sailing out of Florida? Didn’t the state just pass a law preventing businesses from requiring proof of vaccination?”

In my opinion, the Florida law is irrelevant for purposes of the cruise lines’ policies with regard to vaccinated cruises. Just thinking about it from the standpoint of a business – with the concomitant risk aversion – the cruise companies have clearly decided they don’t have to worry about it.

Background

The Beginning: No Sail Order

US cruise ship sailings have been halted since March 14, 2020 when the CDC issued its No Sail Order. Despite cruising restarting in parts of Europe and Asia since then, the industry has been complete shutdown in the States.

On October 30, 2020, the CDC issued its Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, replacing the No Sail Order.

Cautious Hope: Framework for Conditional Sailing

Initially, there was a lot of excitement among cruise fans when the Framework came out. Movement at last! But all that was tempered as we started really absorbing what was in the order.

This document laid out basic steps – including those infamous test sailings – that companies would have to follow to start sailing again out of the US. The details, however, were lacking, and there was no actionable timeline provided initially.

Fast forward many months, to April 2021, and the CDC started releasing more details. The cruise lines were … less than pleased, shall we say, about some of the details, arguing that the CDC had completely ignored the vaccination factor.

From what we can tell, there continued to be a lot of discussion between the industry and the agency. Additionally, as we’ve all seen, the CDC has suddenly started relaxing its guidance for the vaccinated populace in general. And now, in late May, their requirements for the return of cruising have been undergoing a similar transformation.

The Framework is still the governing regulation at this time, but it has changed a lot, particularly since early May.

The Choice for Cruise Lines

For purposes of the discussion here, the key provisions in the Framework are related to a choice presented to the companies for how they could start sailing again. They have two options (and can choose on a ship-by-ship basis):

Option 1

Do test sailings and have the procedures and results approved by the CDC. They have to do things like simulate a COVID outbreak, and there’s all sorts of rules about who can be on the cruise.

There’s no requirements for vaccinations on either the test cruise or any revenue cruises that follow this approach while the Framework is still in place. Testing and masks, however, feature prominently.

Option 2

Ensure 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated. No test cruise is required.

Based on recently-updated guidelines, passengers on these cruises would face many fewer tests and almost no masking requirements.

Which Path Forward

The general consensus among the cruise community is that family-focused brands such as Royal Caribbean and Disney would go the test sailing route since kids under 12 can’t get vaccinated yet.

But it was expected that the larger lines would probably do a few ships under Path 2 so they could get at least some revenue sailings out there as soon as possible.

Notably, the newly-announced Alaska sailings all seem to be going the vaccinated route. They’re simply trying to salvage as much of that season as possible at this point and don’t have time to lose on test sailings.

DeSantis’ Public Actions and Assertions

Florida, at least in the Before Times, happens to be the global center of cruising. It’s home to multiple ports, including Miami – the largest cruise port in the world.

But the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, is a noted Trumper who has severely politicized the entire fight against the pandemic, including vaccines.

He decided, for whatever reason, that he didn’t want companies to be able to ask for proof of vaccination (so much for being pro-business). This policy was initially implemented via executive order and later codified into law (SB 2006). The provisions of this law take effect July 1, 2021 and include potential fines of $5,000 per infraction.

Ever since Governor DeSantis came out in opposition to a so-called “vaccine passport,” he has asserted that the executive order and law both apply to the cruise industry. He states there is no exception.

Until either is tested in court, it’s hard to know if his claims of jurisdiction are true. But many in the cruise commentary class (e.g., vloggers and bloggers) apparently assume the governor is correct without really examining the question for themselves.

So What’s the Issue?

A lot of cruise ships sail out of Florida ports. And quite a few cruise companies have their corporate headquarters physically located in Florida, despite being legally incorporated in other countries for the most part.

So what happens when a cruise line decides to require vaccines pursuant to the CDC’s Framework and is sailing out of a Florida port?

According to the governor, they can’t ask for proof of vaccine. Which would mean the ship couldn’t meet CDC requirements under Option 2. They could only choose Option 1 if they want to sail out of Florida.

There’s quite a few other cruise ports around the country – New Orleans, Mobile, Galveston, Long Beach, Bayonne, etc., etc. – but Florida has the biggest infrastructure in place to support the industry.

So what are the companies to do?

Why Would the Cruise Lines Forge Ahead?

I’m writing this on May 28, 2021. Celebrity Cruises popped to the forefront of this potential conflict in the past couple of days when they announced vaccinated sailings (i.e., Path 2) starting June 26th out of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. Florida.

The governor’s office has already put out a statement claiming the cruise line will be in violation of state law if it takes this approach. Amazingly, they even assert the CDC doesn’t have any authority over cruising. Right. That’s exactly why an entire industry has put its operations on hold for over 14 months, losing billions of dollars in the process (can you see my eyerolling?).

So why is Celebrity Cruises doing this? Don’t they know about this fearsome law?

Well.

I’m pretty sure Celebrity – and every other cruise company – has plenty of lawyers who are 1) well-versed in maritime law; and 2) know exactly who has legal authority over them and for what. They know what the CDC can tell them to do versus the State of Florida.

There is simply too much at stake in this restart for any cruise line to risk taking the vaccination approach if they were not sure they could.

If their legal teams had any doubts – any – about the advisability of doing vaccinated sailings out of Florida, they would not be happening.

The cruise lines would be going elsewhere to start their US sailings, avoiding Florida. And they’re not doing that.

In other words, the fact that the cruise lines are going ahead with this approach in Florida tells me they think they can do so legally.

DeSantis is basically engaging in political theater and blowing smoke.

Jurisdiction: Who Is Really Imposing the Vaccine Requirement?

An interesting argument I’ve heard is that Florida can prevent cruise lines from asking for vaccination proof because it’s the cruise lines imposing the requirement not the CDC.

While not-unreasonable approach – and one that at least obliquely acknowledges the issue of federal vs. state jurisdiction – it’s looking at the scenario from the wrong angle in my opinion.

Caveat: I do have a law degree, but I am NOT a lawyer. I’m just applying a basic approach to legal interpretation any 1L could manage LOL.

The CDC has given cruise lines two paths to start sailing:

  1. Do test cruises
  2. Have near-100% vaccinated crew and passengers

The cruise lines can choose which path. But once they do so, the CDC set the rules.

The CDC – a federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services – is mandating vaccines. Given the CDC’s authority under federal law related to control and quarantine of ports, I’m pretty sure Florida will have a tough time convincing a judge the state’s law takes precedence in this case.

I’ve also seen a few people point out language in the new statute that could be used to argue an exception for cruise lines. I just happen to think the issue is moot: the CDC (aka, federal) rules apply, and the state law doesn’t come into play in the context of sailings from US ports.

Bottom Line

My prediction: Cruise lines will be able to sail out of Florida while requiring vaccinations.

Seeking Plato

Personal Finance: Mindful Spending, Eliminating Debt, Growing Wealth

Introduction

Personal finance is a never-ending topic of discussion, philosophizing, and pontificating. And for many of us, it’s just another source of stress and angst. One of my goals with this blog is to help demystify so much of what makes managing our finances so difficult.

But first, before I get to the more practical stuff, I get to indulge in an introductory, quasi-philosophical ramble!

Mindful Spending: Is It Just A Term For Frugal Living

How do you feel when you hear the phrase “frugal living”? Positive, negative, neutral?

Merriam-Webster defines frugal as “characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources.” Delving deeper, we find entries on the word economy that reference thrift and efficiency in the use of both material and nonmaterial resources.

I really like this angle when thinking about frugality. It’s not about deprivation. Instead, it’s an approach to managing your life and your finances that can help you maximize what you value while minimizing what you don’t.

In other words, Mindful Spending.

Spend where it gives you joy (to co-opt another guide!). Reduce spending where it’s not worth the exchange of your life’s energy.

You’re looking for appropriate stewardship of the resources available to you as a way to live the life you envision. Not thrift just for the sake of it but in support of that life.

Balance.

Balance

What do I mean by this? Applying the principles of thrift, understanding one’s personal values, and a certain level of mindfulness, you can find equilibrium in managing your personal finances.

It’s necessary to understand your own priorities in life and apply them to find this balance in how you allocate your resources of time, money, and skills.

Of course, you need to account for the basics of life. Pay for your housing. Provide for any dependents you might have. Maintain any needed insurance coverage.

But beyond these basics, what do you really need to be happy? Have you really examined your life in this way?

It’s not easy to do.

We’re all busy with competing demands on our time, attention, and resources. Self-reflection requires a deliberate separation from the craziness of life, even if it’s just 10 minutes at night while flossing your teeth and washing your face.

And what “balance” means to you can change over time.

Maybe money is extremely tight right now for you. Your version of balancing your resources could place a much greater emphasis on pushing the envelope in finding ways to save money than the version for someone else with a bit more breathing room financially.

For that other individual, balance could manifest more toward carving out extra time in the week to work on building a new side hustle business. But doing so means giving up weekends out for a time: balancing short-term against long-term goals.

In my view, part of the personal finance journey for each of us – bringing our finances in harmony with what we value in life – is finding this balance. Determining for ourselves that point of equilibrium between not enough and too much of whatever we value.

Eliminating Debt

Of course, no discussion of personal finance in this day and age would be complete without the topic of debt. Sadly.

I think we’ve all seen the statistics about the growing levels of credit card, student loan, and other personal debt in the United States. And I admit to being part of those statistics.

It’s part of why I wanted to start this blog. I have been in denial for far too long about how my debt (mostly credit cards) is weighing on my soul and affecting my life options.

I definitely hope we can go through this journey together. And find some answers together.

Because eliminating debt is simple, but certainly not easy. It takes conscious effort and behavioral change. I’ve paid off specific debts in the past, but never everything. And have then just added new ones.

So I’ll offer up some of the usual tips – many that will fall into the mindful (or even frugal!) spending category. We all need practical ideas to actually implement a debt reduction plan. And maybe I’ll even be able to come up with some different twists to keep things interesting!

But I expect I’ll also indulge in the occasional philosophical ramble, like you see here. I just can’t resist pontificating – it’s an acknowledged character flaw LOL

Growing Wealth

A common side effect of watching our spending and eliminating debt is – we hope – the accumulation of wealth and savings. And even when we achieve something positive like this, many of us struggle with how much is enough.

Do we have enough to retire? How do I figure out what to do with my savings?

And plenty of us are in the situation of figuring out how to handle retirement savings – courtesy of our employer’s defined contribution plan – even while in debt. So it’s not like we can focus on only one area of our personal finances.

Some of you reading on this site might be in your twenties, others in your forties or fifties. Specific strategies might vary depending on age or goals, but we all need to figure out this savings and investing thing.

Personally, I tend to keep things pretty simple in my savings and in my 401(k) investments. You might prefer more exotic options. And I’m no financial advisor! But I think it’s also time I learned more about what’s out there beyond index funds.

Even if I stay with those funds. At least I’ll be making a more informed decision.

And that’s something we can explore together.

Our Personal Finances And All The Rest

So what about actually living your life?

That’s the point of finding financial peace. Money is a means to living your life. It’s not life itself.

Don’t be surprised to find posts about travel, books, sewing and needlework, concerts, and holidays. These are all part of my life. For me, finding my balance means keeping those activities and things that I value in a way that works for my finances.

Your “keeper” expenses will probably be different from mine. We each need to find those for ourselves. No right or wrong answer. Simply what works for you as you pursue your own financial peace.