A year since cruise ships last sailed, Port Canaveral officials remain hopeful for the future

PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. — It’s been almost exactly one year since cruise passengers last departed from Port Canaveral, creating financial hardships that extend well beyond the port itself.

Canaveral Port Authority CEO Capt. John Murray says he remains hopeful that cruise ships will soon be able to leave the port again with passengers aboard, but it could take months to get there.

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Ch. 9 Eyewitness News cameras were rolling on March 13, 2020 as passengers boarded the Disney Dream, which would become the last ship to set sail from the port with passengers before cruises were suspended.

A year later, the Disney Fantasy and her crew remain in the port, but only for maintenance and supplies.

“At the time, everyone thought it was going to be 30 days, 45 days, and the industry would develop a plan and move forward,” Capt. Murray says. “But the CDC order remains in effect a year later...no end in sight when they might consider lifting the restrictions on sailing.”

While the port’s cargo business is able to continue, parking lots and passenger terminals remain as empty as the cruise ships that have mostly sat off-shore.

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“It’s been devastating to the businesses here. You know the hotels, the tourism is just taking a hit, and we’ve got ground transportation drivers, Uber drivers, LYFT drivers, buses from Orlando, you name it,” Murray says.

With its main source of revenue dried up, port officials were forced to reduce its workforce and postpone a number of major projects.

However, for the first time, the latest stimulus bill signed by President Joe Biden Thursday includes funding for Florida’s ports.

Even with that relief, Capt. Murray says the real stimulus for the port won’t arrive until more Americans are vaccinated against COVID-19.

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“It’s going to take the industry months to get back up and running,” Murray says. “It’s not something that if they said the restrictions are lifted tomorrow, we’d have our first ship on the weekend. It’s not going to happen.”

Murray says it’ll take time to get crew members back, as they are scattered all over the world, and many of them are dealing with travel restrictions of their own.