Don’t take cruise industry for granted

When you think of iconic South Florida industries, its hard not to put the cruise industry at the top of the list along with its broader family of the marine industry.

According to Ship-Technology.com, PortMiami was the busiest cruise port in the world for 2017, handling 5.6 million passengers. That was followed by Port Canaveral at 4.5 million, Cozumel at 4.1 million and Port Everglades at 3.8 million. I would note that Cozumel is known more for stops, while the Florida ports benefit from the impact of ships actually being based here.

Moreover, South Florida is home to the world’s three largest cruise companies: Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. Virgin Voyages soon will be launching cruises and is headquartered in Plantation.

There’s an ongoing construction extravaganza happening at PortMiami. Royal Caribbean in 2018 opened a $266 million terminal. Norwegian is building a $100 million terminal, Virgin Voyages is getting a terminal estimated at $150 million and MSC Cruises is creating a $300 million terminal. Terminal F, used by Carnival, is undergoing a $195 million renovation.

This issue’s cover story, by Lifestyle Editor Kevin Kaminski, features an interview with Ken Muskat, who is chief operating officer and executive vice president of MSC Cruises in the United States. Some cruisers may not be that familiar with MSC. The acronym comes from parent Mediterranean Shipping Co., the world’s second-biggest container shipping operator. The MSC cruise name is big in places outside of North America.

“At one point, the company had to decide—do we want to do this in the U.S. as a hobby? Or do we really want to be competitive? We’re already the biggest player in Europe and South America, so North America was the focus,” Muskat says. MSC has a $12.7 billion plan to reimagine its brand overall, including the big push in North America. Muskat expects MSC to add to the four ships it has sailing out of PortMiami. Guest capacity will triple by 2027.

All of these passengers are not only good for the cruise lines and ports, but our economies as a whole. On-shore spending by cruise passengers in Florida is estimated at more than $1 billion by the Cruise Line Industry Association.

The cruise industry needs continued support on infrastructure to move passengers in and out of ports. One key step is being taken by Virgin Trains USA/Brightline, which is building a station at PortMiami. That should help the region compete against Port Canaveral for visitors to Orlando who want to take a cruise.

What’s needed next is a way to quickly get passengers from PortMiami to Miami Beach. There have been decades of efforts to have a mass-transit link from downtown to Miami Beach, but it seems to go nowhere. The MacArthur Causeway is a traffic nightmare. How about a plan to link the port, downtown and Miami Beach?

In Broward County, there’s a long-range concept for an intermodal center at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where spectacular growth is leading to crowded roadways. There are plans to link it to a new Brightline station and a vision to connect it to Port Everglades. I think that’s a brilliant idea and county officials, the airport and seaport should work together to make it happen.

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