Now, cruise operators say they are embracing Miami for a host of reasons: proximity to Miami International Airport, which offers direct flights for cruise passengers both domestic and international; the responsiveness of PortMiami officials to their needs and the appeal of Miami as a destination unto itself.
“We, like everyone else, positioned ourselves in places that people want to go to,” Del Rio said. “People want to come to Miami.”
Also a bonus is the relative strength of the Caribbean after a bleak summer in Europe due to continued fallout of the Jan. 13 Costa Concordia shipwreck in Italy, the shaky European economy and high cost of airfare from the U.S.
“Whether you’re talking about the U.S. economy or talking about the European economy, it’s been a tough time for consumers,” said Gerry Cahill, president and CEO of Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines. “One of the nice things about the Caribbean is you really can put together a great value proposition.”
For Miami, the influx means more tourists. Even if they only stay an average of 2 1/2 days, the daily amount spent by cruise passengers is about $264.58, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“It may be the first exposure for these folks to the Miami brand and certainly there’s reason then to either stay later or come back again,” said William Talbert III, the bureau’s president and CEO.
Miami-based cruise travel agents say the flotilla of new ships is cause for their own celebration.
“It translates into something very important to me: sales,” said Victor Vianello, a CruiseOne franchise owner who works from his home in the Coral Gables area.
Because he lives in South Florida, Vianello can easily check out the features on all the new ships that arrive here. And his customers are very curious about the latest features.
While the pace of orders for more new vessels has slowed considerably, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian have all made recent announcements about contracts for ships to be delivered in 2015 or 2016 — including talks for a third sibling to Oasis and Allure. None have said where those ships will be based.
Chiron, the Miami industry watcher, said few ports can accommodate such a giant, so he expects the third Oasis to come to Miami while another Royal Caribbean megaship might shuffle to Port Canaveral near Orlando.
Johnson said it’s too premature to comment on what Miami’s role might be with any future ships. But, he said, the port has on the drawing board plans for “the world’s most advanced cruise facility,” which could accommodate four Oasis-sized ships at once. He said such a project would cost $250-$300 million and would only move forward based on the needs of cruise line partners and industry growth at the port. But whatever happens, he’s not taking the current successes for granted.
“My job was to dust off that dust on the diamond, make that diamond shine again,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a ways to go in terms of the real brilliance.”