Port Canaveral Delivers Another Record Year

Port Canaveral
Courtesy Port Canaveral

Published Dec 27, 2023 9:15 PM by Tony Munoz


In his annual “State of the Port” address, Port Canaveral CEO Capt. John Murray announced that the port handled 6.8 million cruise passenger movements, making 2023 its busiest year ever. Cargo operations also had huge volumes of bulk aggregates and petroleum commodities. 

The port is also actively involved in supporting recovery operations for commercial space companies launching rockets from nearby Cape Canaveral launchpads with over 50 recovered rocket boosters and 150 fairings returned to Port Canaveral. 

TME was fortunate to catch up with Captain John Murray, one of the busiest port executives in the country and perhaps the world. Read on to enjoy our insightful interview (or listen in using the Trinity Audio app at the top of the page).

What are the highlights of the 2023 State of the Port?

Port Canaveral is responsible for about 42,000 jobs generating $2.1 billion in wages. It has helped local businesses thrive, and tourism has grown the regional economy.

More importantly, the port has become an economic powerhouse in Florida by contributing $6.1billion to the state’s overall economy and generating about $190 million in state and local tax revenues.

This year, the port’s operating revenues were $191 million, with a record-breaking $158 million from our cruise sector. We also plan to invest $182 million in capital improvements for 2024, part of the $500 million five-year Capital Improvement Plan.  

What attracts so many cruise passengers to the Port?

We have become a major player in the Florida tourism market due to many factors, including our proximity to Orlando. We are an “easy-in, easy-out port” and are known for drive-in guests. In fact, 840,000 vehicles entered the port in 2023. Many cruise travelers arrive from Kentucky or North Carolina, Chicago, New Jersey, and even Toronto. Folks that fly into Orlando either arrive in rental cars or are shuttled in by vans or buses.

To accommodate all the drive-in visitors for our cruise business, we are building two new parking garages on the north side. One garage is going to be located next to Cruise Terminals 5 and 6, and the other one will be located next to Cruise Terminal 10. With this arrangement, we’re maintaining the “easy-in, easy-out” experience that we’ve worked hard to create for passengers. You can park right next to your ship and you're within walking distance of the terminal.

What brings cruise lines to Port Canaveral?

The big three cruise lines are headquartered in Miami, and most of their tonnage is based and deployed there, so we have found it unusual - in a good way - for the new ships to come out of the shipyard and be sent straight to Port Canaveral.

Our port has been out front in providing LNG fuel for cruise ships, and this has helped in bringing the new ships here too. Carnival Cruise Lines had their first LNG ship, the Mardi Gras, homeported in Port Canaveral because of our extensive training and advanced preparation for LNG bunkering.

We’re now hosting brand-new 6,000+ passenger ships, including MSC's newest tonnage and Royal Caribbean's Wonder of the Seas, currently the world’s largest cruise ship. 

What does the future look like for your cruise business?

We will homeport the new Disney Cruise Line vessel Disney Treasure beginning in the fourth quarter of 2024. And, two new brands for us, Princess Cruises and Celebrity Cruises, will be joining us next winter. These cruise lines have never homeported their vessels here, so this is new business for us and Central Florida.

Royal Caribbean International’s Allure of the Seas, which is an Oasis-class ship, arrived a few weeks ago. It's the first time a ship of this size will sail three and four-day itineraries. We anticipate this ship will turn about 6,000 passengers two to three times a week, adding up to 24,000 people moving on and off weekly.  

Tell us about the Port’s cargo business.

The port administrators have long understood that Port Canaveral will not be a container port. The container ship and box markets can easily flow through Tampa, Savannah, or Jacksonville.

Port Canaveral is not geographically ideal for large volumes of container traffic across the docks, however we are successful with handling bulk and breakbulk commodities. There is a substantial amount of road construction in Florida, and shipments of granite are needed to build the region's highways, roads, and city streets. Granite is a byproduct of gold mining, and it is a surplus material imported from Canada. We are the port of entry for this kind of aggregate being used in Florida Department of Transportation projects. When FDOT ran into granite supply issues, we helped to connect them with crushed granite suppliers in New Brunswick, Canada to keep their projects on schedule. 

Berth space is in high demand at Port Canaveral. We are modernizing bulkheads to accommodate larger cargo vessels and adding more deep-water berth space by replacing outdated functionally obsolete pier structures that date back to the 1970s. The capital investments we’re making in North Cargo Berths 3 and 4 will increase usable bulkhead by nearly 1,800 feet by the end of 2024.

Since the pandemic, we have seen reefer operators choosing to spread their refrigerated cargo among multiple ports, and we have benefited from their backup plans. The port has bulk cold storage facilities on the dock and an expanded bagging operation for frozen vegetables coming in from Europe. They are distributed right out of our cold storage facilities to retailers across Florida and the southeastern U.S.  

Since the pandemic, Canaveral has also become a lumber depot for the southeast United States. We have even shipped lumber to California as import congestion issues plagued West Coast ports. Canaveral was the key hub for lumber distribution throughout the entire southeast United States during that period.

Since 2016, our port has been involved in supporting the marine operations of commercial space companies launching and recovering rocket boosters. 

In 2023 alone, one company, SpaceX, has launched more than 80 rockets, and most of these boosters were recovered and returned at the port. Our mobile harbor crane is used to lift the booster off its landing barge, place it on a specially designed transporter on the dock, and then truck it to the company’s manufacturing facility to be refurbished for reuse. It gives us a lot of pride that our port is helping these great companies advance space exploration.

Tony Munoz is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Maritime Executive.