Miami’s ship has come in. And it looks more like a fleet.
The Carnival Breeze, which starts regular sailings from its new year-round home Saturday, will be joined Thursday by Oceania Cruises’ Riviera and Dec. 1 by Celebrity Reflection. All three launched earlier this year in Europe and make their U.S. debut in Miami.
After a three-year dry stretch ending in 2010 that saw no shiny new vessels mooring in Miami’s waters — and years of efforts to draw new operators coupled with millions spent on upgrades — the port is touting its biggest expansion ever with the three new ships as well as three new cruise lines signing on for this season and next.
“You want your newest ships to have the newest facilities, and that’s what Miami has done,” said Miami cruise expert Stewart Chiron, CEO of CruiseGuy.com.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises moved its ships from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale to Miami, and Disney Cruise Line will sail for the first time from Miami starting in late December. Next year, MSC will bring its newest ship, Divina, to Miami after previously sailing from Fort Lauderdale.
And Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line, which reignited the parade of new ships in 2010 with the Norwegian Epic, is bringing the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Getaway in January 2014 to Miami, where it will sail year-round.
“I never, ever would have considered going anywhere else, because we are a Miami company and we really believe that means something,” said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian’s president and CEO.
That hasn’t always been the universal sentiment. Nearly six years ago, the port was under fire for a history of inefficiency and sub-par facilities. In late 2007, Royal Caribbean chose Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale as homeport for Oasis and Allure of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ships — despite having a Miami headquarters.
The presence of those giant ships has meant some other cruise lines felt the squeeze, and a couple, like Regent Seven Seas Cruises and MSC Cruises, have opted to move south.
“Once upon a time, Port Everglades was known as the boutique cruise ship port,” said Frank Del Rio, chairman and CEO of Prestige Cruise Holdings, parent company of Oceania and the luxury Regent Seven Seas. “Now Port Everglades is the megaship port. We’re the antithesis of megaships.”
But Chiron said the moves aren’t necessarily a negative for Fort Lauderdale’s port.
“These ship movements and repositionings, all it’s really doing is opening up both ports for really bright future opportunities,” he said.
Port Everglades has grown its multiday cruise passenger numbers from about 2.6 million in fiscal 2008 to an expected more than 3.6 million on 45 ships in fiscal year 2012. By comparison, PortMiami’s passenger numbers have grown from about 3.8 million in 2008 to what is expected to be more than 4 million with 26 ships at the peak for the current fiscal year.
For its part, Port Everglades continues to invest in upgrades, recently finishing the $54 million reconstruction of four cruise terminals under a 2010 agreement with Carnival Corp. for brands including Holland America Line, Seabourn and Princess Cruises.
The investments go on at PortMiami as well, where director Bill Johnson, who took the job in 2006, listened to criticism that Miami hadn’t done enough to support the cruise industry. In the last few years, the port built a pair of terminals for Carnival for about $100 million. Since those terminals opened about four years ago, the port will have spent and continues to spend $70 million more in improvements, Johnson said.