Cruise Industry Flourishing at Florida?s Regional Ports

Port of Palm Beach
Port of Palm Beach

Published Feb 15, 2018 4:41 PM by Allan E. Jordan

Florida’s regional ports are benefiting from the growth in the cruise industry. While the majority of the passenger traffic continues to pass through PortMiami, Port Everglades and Port Canaveral, the regional ports will also increase the number of cruise ships and passengers that are using their facilities in 2018.

Offering an alternative to the traffic and congestion at the larger ports, the Port of Palm Beach, Port Tampa Bay and Jacksonville each operate as embarkation points for cruise ships primarily sailing to the Bahamas, Cuba, Mexico and the Caribbean.  

Port Tampa Bay

Port Tampa Bay, which has a long history with the cruise industry, is the homeport to both winter seasonal cruises, as well as a year-round embarkation port. Recently, the port set a new record for the number of cruise passengers in one day. On Saturday, February 3, 2018, 12,949 passengers passed through the port surpassing the 12,600 record achieved in 2011. An additional 6,927passengers went through the port the following day with five cruise ships turning around in Tampa that weekend. The port expects a total of around one million passengers in 2018.

Holland America Line has a long history with the Port of Tampa Bay, having operated cruises from the port since the 1980s and currently basing the 1,404-passenger Rotterdam there in the winter.  Similarly, Norwegian Cruise Line’s 2,340-passenger Norwegian Dawn operates seasonally from Tampa.

Carnival Cruise Line, which has been sailing from Tampa for nearly 25 years, doubled its presence in Tampa starting in January 2018 with a new year-round program of seven-day cruises aboard the Carnival Miracle. Combined with the Carnival Paradise, which continues to operate year-round from Tampa, Carnival Cruise Line now expects to carry an estimated 280,000 passengers annually from the port.

Royal Caribbean is also expanding its presence in Port Tampa Bay. In May, the 2,350-passenger Majesty of the Seas repositions from Port Canaveral to Tampa to begin offering a year-round program of four and five-night cruises to Mexico and Cuba. She replaces the smaller Empress of the Seas, which had operated cruises from Tampa in 2017, and joins the larger Brilliance of the Seas and the Rhapsody of the Seas, which operate seasonally from Tampa and reposition to Europe for the summer months.

To support its growth in cruise operations, Port Tampa Bay recently enhanced its terminals. Cruise Terminal 6 underwent renovations, including building an expansion to accommodate larger capacity ships and enhance the passenger check-in facilities.

Port of Palm Beach

On Florida’s east coast, the Port of Palm Beach will also see a significant increase in passenger operations in 2018. In its last fiscal year, the Port had approximately 480,000 multi-day cruise passengers, and the total would have been higher without the impact of Hurricane Irma. After the hurricane, the Grand Celebration, which is homeported in port, was chartered to FEMA only resuming its cruises at the end of 2017. The port also had an in-transit call from The World, the largest private residential ship, in December 2017.

Palm Beach and Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, which operates the 1,900-passenger Grand Celebration on two-night cruises to Grand Bahama Island, have entered into a new 10-year agreement that will see Bahamas Paradise double its operations from the port. In mid-April 2018, Bahamas Paradise will introduce the 1,680-passenger Grand Classica (a 52,900-ton gross ship built in 1991 for Costa Cruises) also offering two-night Bahamas cruises. Combined the two ships will have an annual capacity of over 1.2 million passengers.

In preparation for the expansion, the passenger facilities at Berth 2 at Port of Palm Beach were upgraded as well as repaired after the hurricane. This included new HVAC equipment, refurbishing the escalator, carpeting and flooring, painting and an awning at the entrance of the porte-cochere and terminal.


To the north, Jaxport (Jacksonville, Florida) also continues as a cruising homeport. For more than a decade, Carnival Cruise Line has maintained service from the port. Currently, the 2,130-passenger Carnival Elation cruises to the Bahamas from Jacksonville. In 2019, she will be replaced by her sister ship the 2,056-passenger Carnival Ecstasy to maintain the year-round four and five-day cruises from Jacksonville.

Across the state of Florida, cruising continues to have a significant impact and its growth will ensure that cruising remains a significant part of the local economy and contributing to the operations of Florida’s regional ports.