PortMiami is on a 10-year campaign to strengthen its
position as the busiest and most prestigious global cruise port.
Already, Miami handles about one of every five passengers
who embark on a cruise from a U.S. port. With recent developments, it is poised
to play an even more substantial role in the future.
Among those developments is an agreement between the
county-owned port and Disney Cruise Line that would make Disney a year-round
tenant starting in 2023. The agreement also lays the groundwork for the
building of a terminal where Disney would have preferential berthing rights.
The line would guarantee a minimum of 360,000 passenger
movements by 2023, up from 100,000 now. It also would commit Disney to homeport
a large ship year-round in Miami beginning in 2023, with a second large ship to
sail seasonally starting in 2024.
Five years ago, the self-proclaimed "Cruise Capital of
the World" had only two cruise lines sailing from it year-round. But in
2014, Norwegian Cruise Line resumed a year-round presence with the Norwegian
Getaway, and in 2015, MSC Cruises added its name to the year-round roster with
the MSC Divina.
Now, with the Disney agreement, PortMiami is poised to be
the only cruise port serving as home to five year-round cruise lines.
The foundation for the current expansion was laid 10 years
ago when the port learned that Royal Caribbean International would base its
gargantuan new Oasis-class ships at Port Everglades instead of at Miami.
A PortMiami master plan prepared in 2011 noted that the
terminals packed along the port's Cruise Boulevard, built between 1980 and
2007, were "misaligned" and generally designed for smaller ships.
Ideally, the berths should be at least 1,200 feet long and
60 feet apart, the plan said.
The first fruits of this strategy will arrive in November,
when Royal Caribbean opens its "Crown of Miami," a $247 million,
170,000-square-foot terminal with its own adjacent parking garage.
Space for the terminal, which will be the new home of the
1,188-foot Symphony of the Seas, was carved out of a cargo property east of the
existing cruise row. And Norwegian Cruise Line has broken ground on a
166,000-square-foot showcase terminal that will replace its current berth at
A third new terminal just to the east of Royal's is in the
planning stages for MSC Cruises. And Disney's terminal, if it is built, would
be the first for large cruise vessels on the south side of the port, adjacent
to the current Terminal J, which is used for midsize luxury ships.
Several factors are driving the growth. First is the port's
unparalleled proximity to the Caribbean and Miami airport, which has
particularly good international connections. Second, the port has stabilized
its finances and eliminated some of its once-heavy debt.
Most importantly, fleets are growing. Disney is building
three ships by 2023, MSC has made a high-profile commitment to the North
American market and Royal, Norwegian and Carnival Cruise Line are keeping pace.
In 2011, the port projected it would handle 5.9 million
passenger movements by 2035; already last year it hit 5.3 million.
With so many terminals dedicated to year-round operators,
will PortMiami have room to accommodate new cruise lines? Yes, say port
officials who point to the terminals being vacated by those moving to new ones
as well as to flexible scheduling that makes use of nonpeak, midweek departure
Another question centers on encroachment into the port's
cargo operation. But the 590-acre port devotes about 60% of its space to cargo
and only 6% to cruise, with the rest dedicated to administrative needs,
parking, etc. The 2011 master plan estimated 12.1 acres would be needed for new
berths by 2035, plus unspecified land for terminals and support areas.
"We are just making better use of space and land,"
port director Juan Kuryla said.