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Cruises Out Of Port Tampa Bay Should Return By Fall. Businesses Hope Sooner

A man with shoulder length silver hair and a gray suit points out his office window to the Tampa skyline. There are framed photos on the windowsill.
Daylina Miller
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WUSF Public Media
Santiago Corrada, CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, points out his office window in downtown Tampa at tourist destinations like the cruise port, Sparkman's Warf, Riverwalk and Amalie Arena.

Cruise companies are starting to announce that more ships will resume sailing this summer, but that’s not the case yet at Port Tampa Bay.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly recommends that cruise lines require passengers to be vaccinated.

But Royal Caribbean announced last week it will set sail in July and will not require vaccines, while Norwegian plans to resume cruises by August, and will require vaccines.

Both will sail out of Miami, Port Canaveral, and Fort Lauderdale. However, as of right now, operations at Port Tampa Bay won’t resume until October at the earliest.

RELATED CONTENT: Talks At Impasse In Florida-CDC Cruise Industry Fight

A man with shoulder length silver hair smiles at his standing desk in his office.
Daylina Miller
Santiago Corrada is the CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, the city's convention and visitors bureau.

Santiago Corrada, CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, hopes cruises will resume locally sooner than that, despite an ongoing lawsuit between Florida and the CDC over vaccine requirements.

“Right now, we can't say that — that you can come here and take a cruise out of Tampa. So it's one of those pieces of the puzzle, you know, one of the ingredients in the soup that's missing.”

He said cruises are a part of the city’s tourism economy.

“We can market that you can take a cruise out of Tampa. So somebody might say, you know, part of my vacation is to take a cruise. So I want to go to Tampa because I’m gonna enjoy, you know, all the attractions, the restaurants… but I’m also going to take a cruise.”

a man in a light blue polo stands with his arms crossed in front of the Fermented Reality Biergarten  sign.
Daylina Miller
Joel Bigham, the owner of the Fermented Reality Biergarten at Sparkman Wharf, says business is really picking up thanks to their outdoor seating and the Tampa Bay Lightning winning. The bar's six screens broadcast all the games.

Fermented Reality Biergarten at Sparkman Wharf is right next to Port Tampa Bay. Owner Joel Bigham said they don't get much business from the port because it’s not a destination place for people when they disembark.

“So people are not coming here getting off the boat and then expecting to like, hang around Tampa, get back on the boat and then go to their next port. It's the port they come in on — they bought a full drink package and they cannot wait to get on the ship and start drinking.”

But when a cruise is delayed, Bigham said, that’s when the cash rolls in.

“We have a thousand people out here with their suitcases all buying something.”

Even so, Bigham admits, it was nice to have the Norwegian Pearl as a backdrop for the wharf.

While businesses can’t estimate the total economic impact of not having cruises, officials with some restaurants and hotels near the port believe there has been some decline in revenue because of the shutdown.

Ron McAnaugh_DM-060321.jpg
Daylina Miller
Ron McAnaugh, the general manager for the Tampa Marriott Water Street Hotel, said they definitely get business from the cruises, but it’s mostly from locals doing staycations.

Ron McAnaugh, the general manager for the Tampa Marriott Water Street, said the hotel definitely gets business from the cruises, but it’s mostly from locals.

While it’s hard to quantify the economic impact of cruises on hotel business, it’s much easier to see where people are coming from. And what the data show, he said, is that more people than ever are opting for vacations in their hometowns.

“Staycations. You know, I think that's a much bigger influencer of our occupancy right now than it ever was in the past,” McAnaugh said.

He said, ultimately, the biggest driving force of occupancy for hotels in downtown Tampa is conventions coming back.

“We built a lot of space for conventions, so we need the people to come in, eat, drink, you know, use our convention space," he said. "That's what's going to push us back to normal, whatever normal is.”

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