In 2019 the cruise industry in Florida generated over $9 billion in direct spending, over 158,000 jobs, and accounted for 59 percent of all U.S embarkations (8.29 million passengers).
Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
For the first time ever, Port Miami, the cruise capital of the world, saw all docked cruise ships and eerily quiet terminals for months.
“A sight I will never forget was when cruising was halted and you would go out and see like eight cruise ships sitting, docked, on the horizon which is a sight I never thought I would see in my life, and we never will see again, hopefully. Instead of cruising around the Caribbean and around the world, they were just sitting there, parked,” said cruise industry veteran and South Beach resident, Robin Rosenbaum.
In the daunted March of 2020, the CDC issued a “No Sail Order” for cruise ships which, like most things at the time, meant a complete halt to all operations. The No Sail Order was extended throughout that strange summer of 2020 until a “Conditional Sail Order” was issued in October. The cruise industry dealt with various phases, restrictions, and operating frameworks for all of 2021, causing a logistical nightmare (and headaches) for the entire industry, especially in South Florida. The tourism numbers were quite grim for Miami’s cruise industry in 2020 because the cruise lines were almost completely inoperable for an unprecedentedly long period.
“Even harder hit than the overall tourism sector was the cruise industry, subject to a complete regulatory shutdown… Port Miami saw its passenger traffic plunge 49% to 3.5 million passengers in FY 2020,” according to the Miami-Dade County Seaport Department.
Rosenbaum worked within Miami’s cruise industry for LVMH’s (Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton) sister companies, Starboard Cruise Services and Onboard Media for over 25 years and gives valuable insight into just how complex cruising became during the pandemic.
“It’s been challenging for [the cruise industry], but they’re used to being agile. They have to be agile because of hurricanes or weather and making on-the-spot decisions about whether they can go into port, whether they have to change direction. They’re really a strictly disciplined operating machine. They are used to dealing with issues that they have to confront; however, this is more than they have ever had to do.
“The resiliency of the cruise industry is incredible; their ability to quickly adapt and to collaborate and innovate. They’re already experiencing a tremendous recovery.” Rosenbaum said.
WHile Covid was devastating to Florida, as it was to everywhere else, the cruise industry is now projected to make a full comeback. Miami-based cruise line, Carnival, became the first to embark from the U.S since the pandemic shut down, when it’s Carnival Vista ship set sail back in July 2021. Since Covid restrictions have relaxed since then, all Florida-based cruise lines are nearly back at full fleet capacity.
“2022, this year, is really the pivotal transition year. By 2023 they’re expected to have a full recovery,” Rosenbaum said.
Although cruise ships are known for their close quarters and the possibility for illness to spread quickly, Rosenbaum advocates for how well Miami’s cruise lines are doing to make cruising as safe as possible, which includes the continued requirement for all passengers to be vaccinated.
“Cruising is about travel and fun, but it’s also kind of like the ‘fun navy.’ They have officers and very tight disciplines on board that enable them to operate safely and host millions of cruise guests around the world. They have these protocols in place to monitor the safety of all of the passengers.
“It’s so strictly monitored. People are vaccinated, they know everything about those guests,” she stated.
As the official cruise capital of the world, Miami is collectively happy to welcome back the full force of the cruising industry, partially because of the economic benefits and partially because of the fun cruising brings to all of Dade county.
“It’s a very exciting place to be,” Rosenbaum said.
“In Miami [cruising] is huge and it’s overwhelmingly popular. It’s an economic lifeblood of our community. People love cruising and the port is a major part of Miami, of our skyline, of our identity, of who we are.
“There are a lot of shopkeepers and industries that depend on cruising,” said Rosenbaum. “Port Miami contributes over 40 billion dollars annually to the local economy.”
Despite political hiccups like Governor DeSantis’ interesting and controversial role in his failed attempt to ban cruise ships from requiring vaccinations last year, cruising in Florida is looking forward to the future.
“Travel and cruise were on a meteoric rise before the pandemic pause, but the resilience of this industry has really shown in how it has adapted and it’s coming back.
“You look at the skyline of the port and how it has changed in the past couple of years with the building of these incredible glass terminals that are lit up at night,” said Rosenbaum.
With new ships added to fleets, beautiful new terminals erected, and new passengers eager to cruise once again, Port Miami’s future looks as bright as a sailor’s sunrise.
“Miami is leading the way.”