Despite Gov. Greg Abbott signing into law a statewide prohibition on businesses requiring proof of vaccination, two major cruise lines are requiring customers to prove they are fully vaccinated from COVID-19 before boarding in Galveston. Certain exemptions are available, but one of the cruise lines provides little details about those exemptions.

“No business or government entity can require a person to provide a vaccine passport or any other vaccine information as a condition of receiving any service or entering any place,” Abbott stated on June 7. He was referring to State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst’s (R–Brenham) Senate Bill 968, which states businesses will be denied state taxpayer funds if they require customers to show proof of vaccination. State agencies “shall ensure” businesses obey and “may” require obedience as a condition for their license or permit.

As of July 14, the website for the cruise line Carnival states guests boarding from Galveston, Texas, are required to provide proof of vaccination before boarding, as well as proof that they received all dosages at least 14 days before sailing. For their ship Independence of the Seas, also leaving Galveston, Royal Caribbean International requires all guests 12 years and older to present proof of vaccination, with the final dosage at least 14 days before boarding.

“It’s important for guests to come prepared, as those who arrive at the embarkation terminal without the proper proof of vaccination will not be able to cruise, and no refund will be issued,” according to Carnival’s website. They state all exemptions “must be pre-approved and are subject to capacity controls,” and those who are unvaccinated “must adhere to specific protocols, testing, and insurance requirements.” Those embarking from Florida—where a vaccine passport ban became law—who aren’t vaccinated must purchase travel insurance, but no other state is listed detailing travel insurance requirements.

Carnival’s website provides no further details on these exemptions or who qualifies for them. Texas Scorecard called Carnival’s registration line to inquire about exemptions to this policy.

The staff member said the requirements currently were for this year, and they were going to ask a manager regarding exemptions. After roughly eight minutes, the call went to a customer service survey. An inquiry was sent to Carnival’s media office. “There is a process by which unvaccinated guests may sail,” they said in their reply but did not provide details as to this process. “We have been sailing with 95 percent guests and crew vaccinated since we started sailing July 4th weekend.” They then provided a link to their website referenced earlier.

Registration at Royal Caribbean was asked about exemptions as well, and we were forwarded to their “access department.” They said a doctor’s note citing a medical reason is the only exception, it would have to be emailed at least 30 days before sailing, and it would have to be approved before sailing. Policies for other Royal Caribbean ships aren’t confirmed yet, and it is unknown how long the policy for the Independence will last.

An inquiry was sent to Royal Caribbean’s media office, asking to confirm these policies and whether there had been any communication with state officials on this. Our email was viewed three times, but no response was received before publication.

“My last prostate exam is as much their business as my vaccine status,” Joel Starnes told Texas Scorecard after learning of these requirements. “We love Royal Caribbean (I mean to say ‘loved’). Our last cruise with them was in 2019, with plans for more. I will not spend a dime with an organization that discriminates based on religious and medical reasons.”

For an industry that took one of the biggest financial hits from oppressive governmental control, I would think they would welcome all on board. Some people just don’t get liberty.

Texas Scorecard reached out to Kolkhorst and State Rep. Stephanie Klick (R–Fort Worth), who sponsored SB 968 in the Texas House, for comment.

“Senator Kolkhorst believes that the cruise lines should allow all customers to sail following the intention of SB 968, and she hopes the cruise lines will drop requirements before lawsuits are eventually adjudicated,” replied Matthew Russell, Kolkhorst’s senior advisor.

An inquiry was also sent to State Sen. Bob Hall (R–Edgewood). “The bill in question applies to Texas businesses. The enforcement process is through state agencies’ enforcement. The cruise line is a Panamanian company that is not subject to state enforcement,” he said. “While I attempted to pass legislation with more effective mechanisms, they did not pass. I will continue to work toward promoting personal autonomy in health decisions and to allow individuals, and not Government or businesses, to determine what vaccine they will receive.”

Hall said he has and will continue to ask Abbott to add these topics to one of the special sessions this year. Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton, and Klick did not respond to questions before publication time.

As for how citizens should respond, Julie McCarty, CEO of True Texas Project, emphasized exercising the power of choice. “[The] bottom line is, customers can choose who to do business with. But if Abbott cared, he would be just as tough on them as he was on Shelley Luther,” she told Texas Scorecard.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.


The Deafening Silence of Fear

It's better we live courageously, fighting for rights and freedom, than cowardly, capitulating to tyranny out of fear, for a little comfort.