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Port Tampa Bay To Add Three Cruise Lines

Cruise ship being guided in Port Tampa Bay
Port Tampa Bay Flickr
A Carnival Cruise ship being guided into Port Tampa Bay. Holland America, Celebrity and MSC Cruises will join them at Port Tampa Bay next year.

Passengers who prefer sailing out of Florida’s Gulf Coast over the ports on the Atlantic side of the state will soon have some new cruise lines to choose from.

Holland America and Celebrity will resume using Port Tampa Bay as a port of call next year, where they will be joined by newcomer MSC Cruises.

This will give Port Tampa Bay six cruise lines for next winter, as the three join Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian.

Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas stopped at Port Tampa Bay awaiting cruisers.
Credit Port Tampa Bay Flickr
Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas stopped at Port Tampa Bay awaiting cruisers.

Even with the additions, Tampa won’t get much closer to Florida’s busiest ports in Miami and Port Canaveral in terms of passenger traffic. While the pair hosted almost 5.6 million and 4.6 million travelers respectively in 2018, Tampa welcomed just over one million people.

The reason: Port Tampa Bay can only accommodate liners that are able to sail under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which excludes colossal 5,000 passenger mega-ships.

But what may seem like a limitation can actually be an advantage for cruise passengers, says Chris Gray Faust, Managing Editor of cruisecritic.com.

According to Faust, rather than retiring older ships, companies are giving them modern makeovers and deploying them on a variety of cruise lengths that might attract a certain passenger who would enjoy a smaller ship rather than a mega-ship.

“Tampa probably does appeal to people who want a more intimate experience, who don't want huge crowds and who don't want to stand in line with 5,000 other people,” said Faust.

The return of Celebrity, which last departed out of Tampa in 2007, may have an even greater effect as the nearby Sparkman Wharf and Water Street project increase their offerings to travelers.

“Celebrity is a little bit more of an upscale line,” said Faust. “Even though the ship is about the same size as the other ships, you might be getting a slightly different passenger,” meaning someone more likely to spend more money locally before boarding.

Port Tampa Bay’s smaller terminals and close proximity to the Caribbean, Mexico and, in the past, Cuba, has drawn in popular lines Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian.

In Faust’s opinion, the update of the port’s line-up won't cause longer wait times or disorganization at terminals.

“It seems like they are able to accommodate about three of those 2,000 passenger ships pretty well,” said Faust. “I haven't seen anything that particularly stands out on our site in terms of complaints about Tampa, so that's good.”