The cruise port that started it all has finally met its match.
For the first time since the modern age of cruising began more than 50 years ago, the Port of Miami can no longer claim the title of world’s busiest cruise port.
The new leader in the battle of the cruise ship megaports: Port Canaveral.
Just 214 miles up the coast from Miami, the fast-growing Florida cruise port tallied 4.07 million passengers on multiday voyages in 2022, according to a new report from the Florida Ports Council. That tops the Port of Miami’s total of 3.99 million passengers.
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Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades remained in third place among Florida ports, with 1.62 million passengers.
The data does not include the relatively small number of passengers cruising on day trips out of the ports. If those numbers were included, Port Canaveral would have moved into an even bigger lead.
“We’ve always aimed to be the best cruise port in the world, but what an achievement to now be known as the busiest,” Port Canaveral CEO John Murray said in a statement posted late Friday on Twitter. “This historic milestone is testament to the efforts of our team and cruise partners to provide a best in class experience for all cruise guests sailing from Port Canaveral.”
In recent years, Port Canaveral has become the home port of choice for some of the world’s newest, biggest and most notable new vessels, including Royal Caribbean‘s recently unveiled Wonder of the Seas — the world’s largest cruise ship.
The massive vessel, which debuted in 2022 and can carry 6,988 passengers per voyage with every berth filled, began sailing out of Port Canaveral in November. Given that it sails weekly out of the port, this one ship alone could drive passenger totals of 300,000 or more to Port Canaveral annually.
Port Canaveral is also home to Disney Cruise Line‘s newest and biggest ship, Disney Wish, and the biggest MSC Cruises ship based in North America, MSC Meraviglia.
Disney Wish can hold up to 4,000 passengers with every berth filled. MSC Meraviglia can hold up to 5,642 passengers.
Additionally, Carnival Cruise Line‘s giant new Mardi Gras — tied with the line’s new Carnival Celebration as its biggest vessel and holding up to 6,465 passengers — sails from Port Canaveral.
Norwegian Cruise Line‘s newest vessel, Norwegian Prima, also sails from the port. Norwegian Prima can carry up to 3,950 passengers at a time.
In all, there are 13 large vessels from five major cruise brands — Royal Caribbean, Disney, MSC Cruises, Carnival and Norwegian — based in Port Canaveral.
Port Canaveral has several advantages as a cruise port compared to other Florida ports; perhaps the most notable is its proximity to Orlando International Airport (MCO), the busiest airport in Florida. Fly-in cruisers have more flight options when traveling to Port Canaveral than Miami or Fort Lauderdale.
For the coming month of March, for instance, MCO has nearly 17,000 scheduled departures while Miami International Airport (MIA) has around 15,000, and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) has close to 11,000, according to Cirium data.
Port Canaveral’s proximity to Orlando also allows vacationers to combine cruises out of the port with stays at the Orlando theme park resorts.
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Port Canaveral, the Port of Miami and Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades dominate the list of the world’s busiest cruise ports. In the U.S., their only close rivals (though well behind) are the ports of Galveston, Texas; New York; New Orleans; and Seattle.
Other Florida cruise ports, such as Port Tampa Bay and Jaxport (the port for Jacksonville), are far behind in passenger totals. Port Tampa Bay handled just 418,200 cruise passengers in 2022, according the Florida Ports Council report. Jaxport handled 90,241 passengers.
The Florida Ports Council noted that overall cruise passenger totals at Florida’s ports have risen significantly over the past decade. They were up 41% between 2010 and 2019 — the last normal year before the COVID-19 pandemic caused lines to temporarily suspend cruise operations.
That’s a compound annual growth rate of 3.9%.
Overall, cruise passenger totals in Florida remained down in 2022 at 10.6 million, but the council expects numbers to return to normal levels in 2023.
Florida ports tallied 17.9 million passengers on multiday voyages in 2019.
The council also noted that Florida ports account for 60.1% of all cruise passenger embarkations in the U.S.
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