There is a large untapped cruise market from several Florida ports, and officials at the ports of Canaveral, Tampa and Key West are aggressively pursuing the cruise lines, according to their spokespeople.

At Canaveral and Tampa, officials are actively seeking to attract more cruise lines to home port in Central Florida. The close proximity of these ports to Orlando and the Caribbean provide good opportunities for cruise operators, they said. In Key West, the goal is to become a major port of call on itineraries in the Western Caribbean and Mexico.

Port Canaveral 44 Percent Ahead of 1986

Port Canaveral welcomed 586,243 cruise passengers in Fiscal Year (FY) 1986 (October 1985 through September 1986), a 30 percent increase over FY 1985, according to Chuck Agosinelli, spokesman for the port. Total revenues generated for the port were $2.6 million, he said.

Premier Cruise Line accounted for 294,000 of those passengers, and SeaEscape, for 286,000. The balance came from 18 port calls, including those of the Stella Solaris, Ocean Princess, Eugenio Costa, and Galileo.

Results from the first half of FY 1987 reveal a 44 percent increase over the same period last year, and the port is projecting a total of 750,000 to 800,000 by year's end. Officials expect to top the one million mark in 1988, Agosinelli said.

These projections are based on the assumption that Premier will add a ship in the fall of 1987, and a second one the following year, Agosinelli said. However, a spokesperson from Premier said, "we cannot say for sure when we will introduce another ship, and believe that the port must base its projections on what is existing."

Sun Line will be operating two seven-day cruises to Bermuda from Port Canaveral, May 8 and 14, and if successful, plans to increase those sailings in 1988, Agosinelli said. According to reports from the line, the May 8 sailing is sold out and the May 14 cruise is two-thirds sold, he added.

Agosinelli said the port is working closely with two other lines, and that the deputy port director is actively marketing Cape Canaveral as a cruise port. "He will put in about 50,000 miles this year promoting the port to cruise lines and travel agents throughout the country."

To accommodate the passengers, the port currently has three cruise terminals: two 9,000-square ft. facilities and a 12,000-square ft. facility. "We can move 1,200 people through each in one hour," Agosinelli said.

To handle the anticipated increase, the port is planning a 15-year, $150-ton development project at the West Turning Basin that will eventually consist of nine cruise berths, seven cargo terminals, a hotel convention complex and a large drydock facility.

The first phase will add two new terminals scheduled for completion in late 1988. The port already has been dredged, and the Canaveral Port Authority is soliciting bids from architect and engineering firms.

According to Agosinelli, there is a large untapped cruise market from Cape Canaveral.

"Location, location and location are our chief assets," he said. "We are a one hour's drive from Orlando-Florida's number one tourist spot," he added, noting that Disney World attracted over 28 million visitors in 1986. We are also 15 minutes away from Kennedy Space Center and walking distance to the Atlantic beaches."

Agosinelli added that a seven-day cruise to the Caribbean from Port Canaveral is "very viable."

New Terminal for Tampa To Open in May

Tampa Port Authority expects to unveil a new cruise terminal next month, the first of three that will be part of a 21-acre mixed use development near downtown Tampa.

The port saw cruise traffic rise about 10 percent in 1986 to 480,000 passengers, and is expecting about 560,000 in 1987, according to Joe Valenti, director of the port. Based on the assumption that embarking passengers spend about one-and-a-half days in port and an average of $225 per day, the port estimates that the cruise industry brought about $22.5 million into the area last year.

The ships operating from Tampa in 1987 are: the Veracruz operating year-round from the port for the first time; the Scandinavian Star; and the Nieuw Amsterdam (seasonally). Ocean Cruise Line and Chandris will offer spot cruises from the port and in November, Regency will base the Regent Sea there.

Tampa is seeking to double home porting activity to eight to 10 ships, Valenti said. As part of its program to promote cruising from Tampa, officials hold events at the port for local residents, and co-sponsor travel agent seminars with cruise lines.

Valenti said the port is well-equipped and ideally located to serve the industry. "The new terminal will be within 12 minutes of the airport, which has been voted the most popular by users for the past six years. And we are located near all of Central Florida's attractions - Busch Gardens, Disney World, the beaches."

Valenti also said there is an untapped market of 1.9 million affluent residents within a 50 mile radius, including a large upscale retired population.

Key West: US Port With Caribbean Flair

Officials at Key West believe the island is a "natural stop" on cruises from Tampa to Mexico, and are seeking to increase the ship calls there to two a day, according to Chuck Hamlin, director of the port.

"Key West has plenty to offer cruise passengers, including excellent watersports and diving, Hemingway's House and spectacular sunsets that are highlighted by street entertainers and vendors at Mallory Square. We are part of the US but we have a distinct Caribbean flavor," Hamlin said.

Key West has two docks capable of handling cruise liners up to 700 feet, and a third for vessels up to 300 feet. All are located just a few hundred yards from the center of the city.

Officials are currently negotiating to convert the longer piers into a continuous dock in excess of 1,000 feet, capable of handling at least two ships simultaneously. The project will take approximately a year to complete from the date of bond issue, Hamlin said.

There are about 189 ship calls scheduled for Key West in 1987, generating an estimated total of 138,625 passengers and approximately $226,000 in revenues for the port. The figure is up from about $65,000 in 1986, a disappointing result brought on by the sale of the Caribe, Hamlin said.

The port's estimates are based on scheduled calls by the Bermuda Star, Vera Cruse, Southward, Galileo and the Princessan - the 740-passenger ship Royal Fiesta Cruises reportedly is buying for operation from Tampa (CIN 4/15/87). Hamlin reported that William Folz, president of Royal Fiesta said he is very close to completing the deal and expects to be in operation by year's end. Calls to the line could not confirm this report.

The Southward will be returning to Key West after a leave, on her new eight, 10 and 10-day rotation, beginning October 18. She will be staying in port from 8 p.m. Friday until 5:30 p.m Saturday during her eight-day roundtrip cruises from Miami.

According to a spokesperson from NCL, passengers loved Key West in the past. "It is a difficult port to sell because most people do not realize that it really has its own flavor, but once they get there, they love it," she said.

Al Walleck, vice president of marketing and sales for Chandris, reported that "passengers really enjoy the port call. It is a taste of Florida as it used to be and offers a good sample of what the keys are like.

Hamlin added that there are several untapped of it opportunities from Key West, including exploration of the Dry Tortugas and excursions to Cay Sal, an island that can be developed as a private out island.