Port Canaveral prepares for one-day record 57,000 passengers
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Ringing in the new year on the open seas sounded like a pretty good idea to tens of thousands of people who made their way to central Florida. Port Canaveral is preparing to handle 57,000 passengers on and off cruise ships on New Year’s Eve alone.
what you need to know
- Port Canaveral will see six ships in port on December 31st.
- The expected 57,000 passengers boarding and disembarking cruise ships on Saturday will be a one-day record for Port Canaveral
- A record 145,000 passengers came through Thanksgiving week
Six cruise ships will be in port December 31, including two of the largest in the world: Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas and Carnival’s Mardi Gras. At full capacity, these two ships alone can accommodate 7,084 and 6,465 passengers respectively.
The pair will be joined by Carnival Magic, Disney Fantasy, Norwegian Escape and Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas.
The historically high number of passengers passing through in a single day will come a day after the port saw about 39,000 people come and go from five cruise lines on Friday.
Heading into the Christmas holiday weekend, Port Canaveral saw 50,000 passengers on Friday 23 December and 52,000 on 24 December.
During the December 7 Port Commission meeting, Port Canaveral CEO Capt. John Murray pointed to the heavy traffic this holiday season after navigating a record-breaking Thanksgiving week.
“During Thanksgiving week, we carried 145,000 passengers in one week. It’s an all time record for us and I want to let you know that we are counting on numbers well past the Christmas holiday. So we’re very busy,” Murray said.
Port officials said the main reason for the record number of people boarding and disembarking ships stems from the fact that the port is home to and accommodates more ships. The ships there are also larger than those in 2019 and can accommodate more people.
During the 2022 State of the Port speech on Dec. 1, Murray noted that the operational comparison of ships between fiscal 2019 and fiscal 2022 shows a 39 percent increase from 3.8 million passengers to 5.3 million passengers.
Port Canaveral had 11 home ships in 2022 and plans to have 13 ships calling the port home in 2023.
While passenger growth is good for the port, it also brings additional challenges. Murray said they contract off-duty deputies with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office to manage traffic on busy days.
He added that cruise line delays can also cause disruption throughout the port.
“Any time a ship is out of order, arrives on a different day, or arrives late in the afternoon, we have a problem,” Murray said. “And sometimes the communication from the shipping companies to the guests and our communication from the port collide.”
Aside from the potential confusion and some confusion for passengers, Murray said ship delays can also create a difficult situation for those trying to park.
“The challenge we have today is one that we have never had in the past. When a ship arrives, the cars vacate the parking spaces in the garage until it disembarks, there is no space for new people arriving to park,” he said. “So until we don’t have a count on this ship and everyone has left the ship, it’s very, very difficult to accommodate new guests who arrive early. And that then builds up traffic and creates the situation on site.”
Murray also noted that the post-COVID influx is important not only for the port but also for the surrounding economy.
“We bring a lot more people to Brevard County as cruise guests, and a lot of those people stay here,” Murray said. “You heard from the hoteliers at the last State of the Port that there was a lot going on here. It’s not just Port Canaveral. We bring a lot of people here and great economic value to this community.”
Murray made the comment in the context of the need to move ahead with a proposed expansion project for State Road 528, a major east-west thoroughfare connecting Port Canaveral with Orlando International Airport, which he and others believe is needed to accommodate the increasing Transport support and from the port for cruises and cargo.
Two Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) projects to widen the 528 from four to six lanes are in the design phase. The first project, which runs between SR 524 (Industry Rd.) and SR 3 (North Courtenay Pkwy.), also includes the reconstruction of the Indian River Bridge. The 3,719-mile project is still in the design phase, which is estimated at $12.2 million. The construction costs currently amount to 349 million US dollars.
The second project extends from east of SR 3 to SR 401 (Port Canaveral intersection) and will add one median lane in each direction. They will also reconstruct the crossings along with the bridge over the Banana River. Long project is valued at US$10.2 million with construction costs estimated at US$329 million.
Murray said Dec. 7 that there will be a public meeting in February to discuss the draft of a third project, centered on the SR 401 bridge.
“They have been able to advance the funding for this bridge so I think it is also more consistent with the 528 expansion at this point,” Murray said.
FDOT noted in its project description that in addition to being a central access point for Port Canaveral, it also “serves as the primary access point to Cape Canaveral [Space] Force Station, Naval Ordinance Test Unit, US Coast Guard facilities and access to Space Florida operations.”