June 18, 2024

Cruise-ship passenger counts up in Key West

Key West remains a very popular port for Caribbean cruises.

The Port of Key West, which includes cruise-ship berths at the city-owned Mallory Square, U.S. Navy-owned Outer Mole Pier and privately owned Pier B, has seen a nearly 7 percent rise in port traffic so far this year.

Key West Port Coordinator Martha Arencibia attributes the increase to larger cruise ships, at least in terms of passengers. Some of Carnival Cruise Lines’ newer ships, such as the Carnival Magic, hold between 3,000 and 4,000 people.

“Carnival is the only cruise line that is maintaining their ship size,” Arencibia said. “What we’re seeing is a fluctuation of less port calls, but ships that are carrying higher passenger counts.”

Between January and September 2013, Key West’s port saw about 546,000 people. The number is more than 580,000 people for the same period this year.

The uptick comes on the heels of a failed October 2013 city referendum that would have had the city ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a feasibility study on dredging and widening Key West’s port. Key West voters rejected the notion almost 3-1.

Dredging, like PortMiami’s current $200 million-plus dredging project, allows for larger cruise ships.

The increase in passengers does not surprise Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism spokesman Jolly Benson. His group opposed last year’s referendum.

Benson said the hysteria over port traffic, which included a Nov. 13 state Department of Transportation report that said if improvements were not made to Key West’s port, it

“could result in a significant loss of cruise business,” is disingenuous.

“It doesn’t make sense when you’re looking at the numbers,” he said.

DOT District 6 Aviation/Seaport Program Administrator Luis Macias said via e-mail that cruise passenger traffic in Key West is sustainable. Asked about the increase in port traffic, DOT District 6 spokeswoman Ivette Ruiz-Paz said DOT “is not directly involved in the operation aspect of the seaport.”

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