South Florida has long reigned as the king of cruising, but in 2022, PortMiami got overtaken as the port visited by the highest number of cruise travellers.
In 2022 with the cruise world just getting back into full sail following the pandemic, just under 4 million passengers transited through PortMiami during their Caribbean cruises.
Next-door Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale saw over 1.6 million cruise passengers, coming in third place.
But for the first time, Central Florida bumped South Florida off the top of the heap. In 2022, Port Canaveral was the world’s busiest cruise port for the first time. Its tally of 4,072,396 passengers edged out the usual top port PortMiami by less than 100,000 cruise passengers.
While the winners of all three top spots are Florida ports, the slight shift has heated up some historic rivalry between the two regions of Florida.
“It’s always a friendly rivalry,” Port Canaveral CEO Captain John Murray is quoted as saying when the news broke. “All of the ports (in Florida) are doing well right now in cruising. It’s great to have (cruising) back.”
He added, “We work collectively to help each other out but there’s sometimes a little fun in the rivalry back and forth.”
Port Canaveral has been aggressive in courting homeport status with new megaships in recent times, and that strategy looks to be paying off.This winter (2022/2023) it’s homeporting 13 ships – including four of the newest and biggest out there.
Maybe it doesn’t take much effort to rack up the numbers when you’re homeporting:
·Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, currently the world’s largest cruise ship with a capacity of just under 7000 guests,
·Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ship and first in its new class of ships Norwegian Prima with its 3200 guests,
·Disney’s first in a new class of ships, Disney Wish, home to about 4000 guests and
·Carnival Mardi Gras’ 6500 passengers that rollover weekly or even more frequently.
So is bigger even better?
Well, being the busiest cruise port certainly gives the ‘winner’ certain bragging rights, like the winner of a popularity contest.
On a more practical note that benefits all cruise passengers embarking and disembarking from ships large and small, busier ports also have the funding for top-notch facilities that can provide among the fastest, easiest and most comfortable embarkation and disembarkation processes.
Right now, Port Canaveral has six terminals, with plans for a seventh likely needed even sooner than previously expected, as passenger numbers and ship sizes continue to climb.
The area is also busy promoting itself as a pre- and post-cruise destination for cruise passengers, with its unique attractions including the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral - giving it the moniker America’s Space Coast.
At the Top to Stay?
On one hand, Port Canaveral benefits hugely from its position higher up the Florida panhandle, making it accessible to even more Americans in the South and south east who want to drive to their cruise port.
It’s a bit less accessible for those who fly into their cruise port, with guests sailing out of PortMiami and Port Everglades able to quickly transfer from big airports that are part of tremendous national and international route networks.
New cruise ships loom on the horizon, with new itineraries to come, too. It’s interesting to note that even as Port Canaveral has taken over the top spot as busiest cruise port in the world, the number of cruise passengers in Florida overall still hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Port Canaveral may lose its top-seeded place back to its rival in South Florida. But having made it to the top spot even once, Port Canaveral proves that the world of cruising keeps expanding and transforming.
By: Lynn Elmhirst Producer and Host, World's Greatest Cruises
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Image: Port Canaveral's Exploration Tower, World's Greatest Cruises
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