Canaveral cruise port posts 67% passenger gain


PORT CANAVERAL -- Port Canaveral posted a 67% cruise passenger increase from January to June this year compared with the same time period last year, according to Malcolm "Mac" McLouth, the port's executive director.

The port, which attracted 3.5 million cruise ship passengers for the year ending June 30, handles the "largest three- and four-day cruise market in the world," McLouth said.

Port Canaveral posted a 59% increase in passengers in 1999 compared with 1998, making it the second-busiest cruise port in Florida after Miami.

The other leading Florida ports, in passenger volume ranking, are: Port Everglades, Palm Beach, Key West, Tampa and Manatee, according to the Florida Ports Council.

Port Canaveral still has dock space to handle additional cruise lines, and the port could be expanded to meet the needs of larger ships, McLouth said.

Preliminary design work is under way on Cruise Terminal 6-7, a $50 million project that, when completed, would be able to handle the largest ships.

"We've got to be sure we can fill Terminal 6-7 before we build it," McLouth said.

McLouth predicted that at least one ship will be added as a tenant by the end of 2001.

The passenger increase at Port Canaveral is attributed in part to the launch of the Disney Magic in mid-1998 and the Disney Wonder last year.

The 2,400-passenger ships became the largest to sail out of the port at that time.

The Disney ships were joined in May by Royal Caribbean's 2,800-passenger Sovereign of the Seas.

McLouth said one likely area of expansion was for Disney to add a third ship.

A Disney spokesman said the company has no plans for a third ship now but is focusing on the new seven-night cruises to the Caribbean on the Disney Magic that began on Aug. 12.

Royal Caribbean's three- and four-night cruises to the Bahamas on the Sovereign of the Seas exceeded expectations during its first month of operations by drawing more than 2,700 passengers per cruise, McLouth said.

Royal Caribbean may bring one of its planned Voyager-class ships to Port Canaveral to replace or join the Sovereign of the Seas, he said.

McLouth said a major reason for the port's success is its proximity to Walt Disney World.

"We have a special niche in the market because of our closeness to Orlando and its 40 million-plus visitors a year. So if you can attract only a small percentage of that, that's our market," he said.

The port appeals mostly to domestic travelers, many of whom drive here from elsewhere in Florida.

"Domestic [visitor traffic] makes up maybe 98% of our market. We're not a huge foreign market," he said.

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