PortMiami records busiest cruise year ever, retakes No. 1 spot worldwide

The seaport also moved more than 1 million standard cargo units for the ninth consecutive year.

PortMiami again holds the distinction of being the world’s busiest cruise port, following a record-setting year of passenger movements in fiscal 2023.

Between Oct. 1, 2022, and Sept. 30, 2023, the “Cruise Capital of the World” handled 7.3 million passengers, according to newly released figures from Miami-Dade County.

That’s a nearly 7% increase over the port’s previous record of 6.82 million passengers in fiscal 2019 and 82% higher than last year, when Port Canaveral surpassed Miami for the first time with 4.07 million passengers.

On the cargo side, the seaport recorded almost 1.1 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) to surpass the 1 million TEU mark for its ninth consecutive year.

“PortMiami continues to drive our economy forward, creating opportunities for residents and businesses across our county,” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in a statement. “The Port is an industry leader, which is future ready and committed to innovative, efficient, and sustainable growth.”

The good news for PortMiami comes ahead of what is expected to be a massive year for maritime operations there. Several new ships — including the Oceania Vista, Carnival Costa Venezia, Scenic Eclipse II, Crystal Serenity, MSC Explora I, Norwegian Viva and Regent Seven Seas Grandeur — have all begun departures from PortMiami in Fiscal Year 2024.

The Royal Caribbean Icon of the Seas, whose 250,800 gross tons and 10,000-person capacity make it the world’s largest cruise vessel, will set sail from the port in January.

Miami-Dade and cruise companies including Carnival Cruise Line, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Virgin Voyages struck multidecade terminal agreements in 2019 that at the time were projected to have a $7.8 billion-per-year impact and create some 27,500 direct and indirect jobs.

Once COVID-19 struck, however, Miami-Dade and the companies redrew those deals to downsize their scope, price and — in the case of MSC’s 62-year, multibillion-dollar covenant with the county — cohabitate with another cruise line to shave expenses.

The county also threw the companies a monumental lifeline, an up to $285.5 million bailout in which PortMiami agreed to waive roughly $7 million per month in otherwise guaranteed cruise revenues for up to two years or until full sailing recommenced, beginning retroactively in March 2020.

Miami-Dade Commissioners voted without discussion in October 2020 to approve the plan, which came with a note of caution from late former Deputy Mayor Jack Osterholt that if cruise ships remained anchored past April 18, 2021, PortMiami would have to start drawing from its $114 million reserve fund to cover operating costs and debt service on outstanding bonds.

By September 2021, the county saw that scenario as highly unlikely due to returning cruise and cargo activity, combined with a $67 million infusion from the federal government.

“We see a pretty confident path that if cruises come back to a reasonable version of normal even by fiscal 2023, in part because of the state itself and certainly because of the county’s support, we won’t have to dip into reserves,” PortMiami Chief Financial Officer Andy Hecker told Florida Politics in September 2021.

Since the pandemic, PortMiami opened three new cruise terminals: Norwegian Cruise Line’s Cruise Terminal B, known as the “Pearl of Miami”; Carnival Corp.’s Cruise Terminal F; and Virgin Voyages’ Cruise Terminal V, known as the “Palm Grove.”

Construction is now underway for MSC Cruises’ Terminals AA/AAA, which will open next year. Miami-Dade Commissioners also recently approved Royal Caribbean Group’s Cruise Terminal G, slated to open in late 2027.

Another project to install equipment and infrastructure necessary for shore power at PortMiami, allowing harbored vessels to use land-based electricity rather than idle their engines while anchored, is expected to be completed next year.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • PeterH

    December 11, 2023 at 12:51 pm

    Europe had the best travel season in over a decade. Florida’s tourism is doing well in spite of Ron DeSantis policies! Cruise travel and new ship building is taking off. As an independent voter…..Bidenomics is working!

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