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Key West Says No to Bigger Cruise Ships

Written by: Paul Motter

Key West has decided it has all of the cruise traffic it needs through 2020 – the conchs and the Cith Council have had enough.

Some Caribbean destinations do whatever it takes to attract as many cruise ships as possible. St. Martin. an independent republic formerly of the Dutch Antilles, didn’t even have a cruise terminal as recently as 1993 – all ships tendered. The island built its first cruise dock in 1994 was recently praised by Carnival’s senior vice-president of marketing for “making big strides and attracting Carnival’s cruisers.” He said St Maarten had “taken things to the next level” with a cobblestone shopping district and a beautiful beachfront area.

“They’ve done a fabulous job of watching what cruise customers want and really going ahead and building around that, putting important funds behind it to make the experience good for people. St Maarten can be held up as a superlative example of port development.”

In fact, on September 15, 2010, the largest ships of the three largest cruise lines in the U.S. were all in Saint Martin on the same day’ Carnival Dream, Oasis of the Seas and Norwegian Epic. The island is currently building a special dock just for Carnival that will enable it to have six ships in port at the same time.

But not all Caribbean-centric cruise ports are out to get as much cruise ship business as possible – Key West, the southernmost island in the Florida Keys, has decided by an overwhelming majority of it City Commission members that it will not take steps to enable the world’s largest cruise ships, Oasis and Allure of the Seas, to dock there.

The first step was to commission a study, just to see whether or not it is possible to dredge the city’s shipping channel from a width of 300 feet to 450 feet. That study alone would have cost $5.5-million, half to be paid by the federal government.

It was estimated the dredging project would cost as much as $36-million. The current channel can accommodate ships as large as Freedom of the Seas and Norwegian Epic, the world’s next largest category of ships. So, we are talking about spending over $40-million just to add access for Oasis and Allure of the Seas. These ship each carry over 6000 cruisers each, but Key West already commonly receives about 800,000 cruise passenger visits per year anyway.

In addition, there are only two ships too large for the current Key West ship channel, and no cruise line has expressed any interest in building any more ships of that size – despite the fact that Oasis and Allure have become phenomenally successful in terms of attracting bookings.

The feasibility study alone would have required four years, and then the process of funding and completing the dredging project would have taken an additional four years. This means it would 2020 before these two ships could arrive in Key West even if the study started now – which it won’t because it has been killed.

The question is whether or not there will be more ships of the size of Oasis by the year 2020. It only requires two to three years to build a cruise ship. So, although no cruise line has plans right now to build more ships over 200,000-tons, it is a possibility.

In fact, the three ships projects currently planned for construction in the next two years; from Norwegian, Princess and Royal Caribbean, are all in the 140,000-ton range, smaller than the largest ships already calling in Key West now.

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Comments

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time November 8, 2011 at 5:24 am

The facilities in St. Martin are wonderful, akin to some of the modern vestiges found in the Mediterranean along the Riviera. The strolling and people watching, and the cold beers along the quay are delightful.

I have been in St. Thomas with 11 ships is, and somehow, Charlotte Amalie always handles this mass of many thousand- passengers, mobbed, yes, but it copes. Recently while on the QUEEN MARY 2 she was the only cruise ship in, and the town seemed eerie without the mobs of passwengers.

Should Key West limit the size of ships and thus have less of a mob in town, it is up to Key West, and I feel the numbers should be lessened. Marthas Vineyard and Nantucket has done so, and Bermuda won’t dredge or do anything to allow larger ships in.

A semblance of balance is the rule.

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time November 9, 2011 at 6:51 am

“Saint Martin an independent republic formerly of the Dutch Antilles…..” When did Sint Maartan become independent?

Comment from Paul Motter
Time November 9, 2011 at 7:53 am

Sint Maartin became independent in 2010 when all the Dutch Antilles were changed to independent states. It now has its own government.

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