(12:33 p.m. EDT) -- The ongoing battle between the state of Florida and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was dealt another plot twist yesterday, with a federal judge denying the agency's request to keep its Conditional Sail Order in place for all U.S.-bound cruise ships while an appeal is ongoing.
By Thursday, Judge Merryday had denied that request emphatically, stating the CDC remains dismissive of the cruise industry, local health authorities, and the industry's successful restart abroad.
Merryday further called out the agency in his closing judgement, with bold type hammering home his ruling.
"A stay that would serve to extend the unwarranted, unprecedented, and injurious exercise of governmental power by one person, the Director of CDC -- is DENIED."
And although the battle is far from over, his ruling does mean that come midnight on July 18, 2021, the CDC's CSO will transition from being a requirement for cruise lines to merely guidelines.
And that means cruise lines can now to be more proactive in how they resume service.
What Does It Mean for Cruisers?
While cruise lines likely won't ditch shakedown cruises that have been used by the industry to test new ships and protocols for decades, they will be able to do away with the requirement for CDC-mandated and supervised "simulated voyages" and the burdensome reporting requirements that go along with them.
It also means cruise lines will have more latitude in making determinations about things like whether or when mask usage is required onboard.
Cruise lines operating out of Florida would also be free to set their own capacity limits and determine rules and regulations for passengers like children who may be ineligible to be vaccinated.
Does This Apply for All Cruises?
No. Currently, this ruling only applies to sailings operating into or out of Florida, which will no longer need to abide by the Conditional Sail Order as of July 18, 2021.
U.S.-based cruises from other ports of call, like Seattle or Galveston, will still need to perform simulated voyages and adhere to the requirements of the Conditional Sail Order, including vaccination, masking and physical distancing guidelines.
What Happens Next?
Since cruise lines still need to adhere to the CSO in other U.S. ports, expect them to continue to follow the established guidelines closely -- though perhaps not as rigidly -- on voyages out of Florida ports.
The CDC has until July 22 to formally respond to the Judge's ruling against the CDC in June. The agency is allowed to submit plans for a narrower injunction that would let cruise ships resume operations while still respecting the CDC's established guidance and protocols for cruise without abolishing them entirely.
The CDC was originally granted until July 2 to submit this but asked for a 30-day extension. Florida disagreed, and a compromise set the new date as July 22 -- four days after the Conditional Sail Order will revert to guidance status for sailings out of Florida.
In the meantime, simulated voyages mandated by the CDC continue to take place as cruise lines prepare for a restart from U.S. homeports this summer.
Cruise Critic will update this article with more information as it becomes available.