The cruise ship war between Central and South Florida has a new victor with the latest passenger counts totaled for 2022.
Port Canaveral became the world’s busiest cruise port for the first time with 4,072,396 multi-day passengers for the year, besting the normal No. 1 PortMiami, which only saw 3,988,094 passengers. Port Everglades came in third with 1,621,216, according to numbers released in the annual Florida Ports Council report release this week.
“It’s significant because there’s always been a historical rivalry between Port Canaveral and southern ports and it’s always a friendly rivalry,” said Port Canaveral CEO Capt. John Murray on Friday. “All of the ports are doing well right now in cruising. It’s great to have the industry back. It’s an economic driver for the state of Florida. We work collectively to help each other out but there’s sometimes a little fun in the rivalry back and forth.”
Port Canaveral is having its busiest time in history home porting 13 ships this winter sailing season including four of the newest ships in the industry with Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, the world’ largest cruise ship, Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest class of ship Norwegian Prima, Disney’s new class of ship Disney Wish and Carnival’s Mardi Gras, which became the first ship to sail out of the port after nearly a year and half without business because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This was a rebuilding year coming back from the downtime of COVID. So, you know, there may be some variances here and there as to why those numbers were different but the way it ended up in 2022, we were ahead and it’s something to be happy about right now,” Murray said.
Multi-day passengers include those 13 ships but also ships visiting the ports such as those coming in from sailings out of New York that make a stop for the Orlando market as a port of call. They don’t include sailings for things like the Victory Casino ship, which tacked on another 137,864 passengers for the year.
The port has six active terminals, which is less than PortMiami and Port Everglades, but the ships have been growing in capacity year over year with ships like Wonder of the Seas. That capacity is looking to climb even more in the future, such as when Royal Caribbean brings a second Oasis-class ship to the port this November with the arrival of Allure of the Seas sailing three- and four-night itineraries. The nearly 7,000-passenger capacity of Oasis-class ships has given the port some traffic headaches, and with two Oasis-class ships sailing three times a week instead of once, the port plans to address those before Allure’s arrival.
“We have some very good statistics and formulas now that determine what our new demand for parking may be,” Murray said. “We’re going to build to those specs to make sure that we don’t have any issues when the Allure comes online in November.”
The future could also mean a seventh terminal for the port as it becomes flush with record operating revenue. The 2023 fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30 is projected to exceed more than $154 million including $124 million from cruising. Record passenger counts so far mean it will likely surpass that projection.
Get away from it all with vacation ideas, trip planning help and money-saving tips.
The Florida Ports Council projection forecasts Port Canaveral to see 6,434,000 passengers total by 2027. That includes both multi-day and single-day passengers. PortMiami is projected to surpass that combined total by 2027 pulling in 8.4 million.
Murray, though, said to not count Port Canaveral out, and that he suspects they’ll reach those 2027 projections much earlier.
“We have a very active plan for the future,” Murray said. “We have identified several locations for a future terminal where our goal as being good business operators is to maximize the utilization of our existing facilities. And we’re doing quite well with that right now. But we do recognize the need for another terminal at some point in the next three to five years. “
While the port enjoys the No. 1 ranking, the state’s overall cruise passenger count remains far lower than the highs seen in 2019.
That was the U.S’s best year ever with 17,887,113 multi-day passengers.
While it may give up the No. 1 spot to Miami in the coming years, but for now, the port is soaking up the spotlight.
“The fact that we have a new profile of of newer, bigger and finer ships I think is going to continue to give us a good push going forward with our status in the types of cruises and people that are coming to see us,” Murray said.