A brand-new Terminal 3 is nearing the final stages of construction for Carnival Cruise Line at Port Canaveral, along with a 1,800-spot parking garage, all in preparation for the new Mardi Gras which will become the first LNG-fueled ship in North America.
Projections call for just under five million cruise guests in fiscal year 2020, and over 5.6 million by 2024.
For port CEO Captain John Murray, the planning started years ago, wanting to be ready for LNG-fueled ships. The effort has paid off as Port Canaveral will host the Mardi Gras year-round, and is expected to be home to Disney’s LNG-fueled ships as well.
“We are growing consistently,” Murray said. “All our cruise lines are very strong and over the next few years they plan to add additional ships.
“We are going to become the Florida port that can expand as the tonnage will be on the market and there won’t be as many berthing options in Florida as there have been in the past.”
Other big news at Port Canaveral includes the summer arrival of Marella Cruises in 2021, a deployment move announced late last year that had been in the works since 2017, said Robert “Bobby G” Giangrisostomi, vice president, cruise business development.
“They were looking for an American product,” he said, adding that the port’s proximity to Orlando was key.
Long term, the big homeport customers have major deals with Port Canaveral, including Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Disney, and Murray said in November he was negotiating a new deal with Norwegian.
With options, Carnival’s latest arrangement could extend to 45 years.
For the port, terminal infrastructure is about building smart.
“Flexible terminals,” commented Giangrisostomi. “A 1,200-foot ship can have up to 7,000 passengers. You have to be flexible. LNG ships, big ships, medium ships and Port Canaveral can handle them all.”
Deals also include more parking infrastructure, which may not be as long term.
“We have to look at what the concept of parking could be in 10 years,” Murray said, noting autonomous vehicles and an 83 percent jump in Uber and Lyft usage at the port year-over-year.
Shorter cruises? Plan for more drive-in passengers. Estimates suggest that 40 to 60 percent of guests embarking at Port Canaveral are drive-in customers.
“We are 200 miles closer to the entire Southeast,” explained Giangrisostomi
Another metric that is up is port-of-call business. With an expected 83 transit calls this year, that number jumps to just over 100 next year with more visits from the Oasis of the Seas sailing from Bayonne.
“Our port-of-call business is substantial,” added David German, director, cruise business development. “It’s good for the local community, with 6,000-plus passengers.”
The out-island arms race has paid dividends to all the Florida ports, Murray added. With cruise lines spending big developing their own destinations in the Bahamas, they have a reason to keep ships in nearby homeports.
New facial recognition has sped up clearing ships with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which can now happen in as little as two hours for 5,000 disembarking guests.
“They clear the ship very quickly. It helps the cruise lines get to zero count much sooner,” Murray said.
“Being ready and out front for our cruise customers,” Murray answered, when asked about how to run a cruise port successfully. “The guests are the most important part of our operation … easy in, easy off, easy on the ship, easy off the ship. We want to be number one in customer service … It boils down to the end user.”