By: Jack Roth
Port Canaveral has grown from the home of a handful of charter fishing vessels and some U.S. Navy ships to the world’s second busiest port and a driving force for regional tourism.
Located just 45 miles east of Orlando and next to some of the nicest beaches and family-friendly attractions in the United States, Port Canaveral is a mecca for visitors both coming and going on cruises. It has become a major factor in the region’s tourism economy, pumping in an estimated annual $465 million, as ship passengers enjoy what Central Florida has to offer.
“We’re both an embark and debark destination, which means visitors are coming here to embark on cruises and also coming into port on cruises that originated in other places,” explained Capt. John Murray, Port Canaveral’s CEO and port director. “We’re unique in that we can dovetail cruises into both Orlando and Space Coast vacations.”
Affectionately nicknamed “Florida’s Fun Port,” this vibrant seaport is conveniently located near major Orlando theme parks, Kennedy Space Center, the Brevard Zoo, hotels, restaurants, shops and beautiful, sandy beaches. It is also a short distance from Orlando International Airport, Orlando Sanford International Airport and Orlando Melbourne International Airport. Its ideal location and reputation for creating seamless passenger experiences have made it one of the world’s most popular cruise ports.
“We’re aware that people from all over the world are coming here, discovering, and exploring the region,” said Murray. “This gives us exposure and the chance to show our best face to tourists who may only be here for a few hours but may decide to come back for a week. On some weekends we have more than 100,000 visitors coming through this port, which represents an incredible opportunity for local businesses.”
First established in 1953, Port Canaveral now has innovative and ultra-modern facilities designed to enhance the overall cruise experience. Carnival Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International all offer three- to 14-day cruises that originate from the port, which gives cruise goers the opportunity to come a day or two early (or stay a day or two later), sleep at area hotels, eat at local restaurants and enjoy local attractions.
For those who arrive at the port from incoming cruise lines, they can arrange local tours on the ship prior to their arrival. Tour buses take visitors from Port Canaveral to several places, including Orlando theme parks, Cocoa Beach, Cocoa Village, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, St. John’s River (ecotours), Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and the American Police Hall of Fame in Titusville. Some visitors prefer to rent bikes from the port and ride them to local attractions.
“The cruise lines arrange tours on the ship before they dock here, giving cruise goers the opportunity to enjoy 10 to 14 hours at local attractions before they have to re-board the ship,” said Murray. “When these tour buses descend on Cocoa Beach or Cocoa Village, for example, they can bring 2,000 people at once, which is a huge boon for local businesses.”
Primed for Additional Growth
According to cruise consultants Bermello Ajamil & Partners, industry growth — based on new ships now under construction — will create a need for 10 additional terminals in Florida, and Port Canaveral is the only port with a real opportunity to service that demand. It possesses the necessary deep water channel, convenient access to drive-in and fly-in markets and, most importantly, is the only established cruise port in Florida with space for significant expansion.
In addition to having the space for growth, the port also has the financial strength to invest in the region’s future. With a strong, stable balance sheet, the port is not reliant on government funding. Its $110 million Cruise Terminal 1 is the most innovative new cruise terminal in the world and can support the world’s most technologically advanced cruise ships. The port has also recently completed renovations to Cruise Terminal 5 ($48 million), Cruise Terminal 8 ($2 million), and Cruise Terminal 10 ($35 million).
“There’s always a growing demand in the cruise industry, so we constantly have new projects either ongoing or planned for the future,” said Murray. “The next class of cruise ships need to be accommodated, and this includes having longer berths, bigger terminals, adequate docking heights, and larger parking lots.”
The port’s latest project is the repurposing of Cruise Terminal 3, which is no longer in use, to accommodate newer vessels. This state-of-the-art terminal will be completed by 2019. Part of the repurposing process includes looking at road structures leading up to the terminal and providing additional parking, which all require permits. “In this business, old terminals become obsolete,” said Murray, “but we have the ability to renovate these older terminals to accommodate what’s coming next.”
Planning and building these new facilities will attract more ships and visitors, which bodes well for the region. The port is currently in the process of preparing a new port-wide master plan that will prepare it for the future to meet the long-term needs of its cruise industry partners as well as its three other business lines — cargo, recreation and real estate.
Port Canaveral has developed and maintained a number of regional partnerships in both Brevard County and the Greater Orlando area. Whether working with Orlando International Airport or local economic development agencies to ensure the best visitor experience, these partnerships are imperative to the success of the port’s operations.
Port Canaveral and Central Florida: The Perfect Tourism Partners
- Closest port to Orlando and Central Florida theme parks and attractions
- Major tourist draw: Consistently ranked among America’s most popular vacation destinations, Orlando welcomed a record 68 million domestic and international visitors in 2016.
- Tourism industry growth with an estimated $5 billion in
capital investment improvements and additions across Orlando’s
- Orlando is growing at three times the national average; named #1 in the Top 10 Job Growth Cities by Forbes.
- Orlando International Airport is Florida’s largest domestic airport.
We continue to have a strong relationship with Port Canaveral, as its facilities offer a unique advantage to Brevard’s manufacturing sector,” said Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast. “As the second busiest cruise port in the world, it has a positive impact on our local economy, and the impact actually goes far beyond tourism.”
As an example, Weatherman sited that the partnership has led to great wins for the community, one of which was the attraction of RUAG Space USA Inc., which leases space in the Port’s Titusville Logistics Center. Murray understands that whether it is enhancing the visitor experience to increase tourism impact or helping local businesses through the port’s other business lines, having strong regional partnerships is critical.
“We’re an extension of Orlando and the entire Central Florida region,” explained Murray. “This is our market, and we’re all in this together, trying to make this the best vacation destination in the world. And it starts the minute you drive into town or step off a cruise ship; this is where we need to provide a seamless, enjoyable experience.”
Murray stressed that the port’s tourism and economic development partners help market port initiatives. The big takeaway from all of this, he said, is the staggering number of visitors that come through the port. “For all who come, we want them to come back,” he added. “We want them to know we have a real gem on the East Coast and we’re unrivaled when it comes to fun, family-friendly things to do and see.”