South Florida fleet building toward peak of winter cruise season

The Norwegian Escape, the only brand-new ship to homeport in South Florida in 2015,was one of five cruise ships docked at PortMiami on Wednesday.
The Norwegian Escape, the only brand-new ship to homeport in South Florida in 2015,was one of five cruise ships docked at PortMiami on Wednesday. Miami Herald Staff

South Florida’s winter cruise season doesn’t have an opening day. It’s more like an opening eight weeks or so as ships leave the onset of cold weather in Europe, Alaska and New England and sail back to Miami and Fort Lauderdale for up to six months of Caribbean cruises.

Then it’s South Florida’s time in the cruising spotlight. Most of the world’s biggest and newest ships make at least a port call here. Luxury ships that spend most of the year in more exotic ports sail a few Caribbean cruises. World cruises, those of 100 days or longer, depart from here in January.

But if there is an opening week this season, it is this week, when five ships arrived at PortMiami and Port Everglades from their summer ports, or in the case of the Norwegian Escape, the shipyard. The Norwegian Escape is the only new ship of 2015 to home port in South Florida. The 4,248-passenger ship was christened on Monday in a ceremony starring Pitbull, the ship’s godfather.

5 number of ships that arrived in South Florida from Europe this week

Ships will continue to arrive well into December.

After the slow summer season, when days could go by without a single ship calling on Miami, five ships were docked at PortMiami on Wednesday, including Norwegian Escape and MSC Divina, which arrived in the morning after a repositioning cruise to begin year-round sailings from Miami to the Caribbean in the evening. At Port Everglades, Celebrity Equinox, M/S Zuiderdam and Seabourn Odyssey all arrived Monday from Europe to begin their Caribbean season.

“It’s exciting because the ships all start coming back now,” said Ken Muskat, a senior vice president at MSC Cruises. “Of course now with Divina coming back, it’s not just a celebration of her returning, but her returning and staying in Miami as her permanent home.”

It’s exciting because the ships all start coming back now

Ken Muskat, senior VP at MSC Cruises

It’s also been a week for cruise lines to introduce new features and promotions to travel agents, VIP cruisers and the news media. The Disney Magic premiered its new shipboard production, Tangled: The Musical. Michael Mondavi Family Estates hosted a dinner to celebrate its new partnership with Norwegian Cruise Lines and the opening of its wine bar, The Cellars, aboard the Norwegian Escape. MSC Cruises was set to host a Veteran’s Day nighttime event celebrating the return of the MSC Divina to Miami and honoring U.S. armed forces.

And in Fort Lauderdale, Cruise World, an industry trade show, drew travel agents and other members of the industry to talk about cruising.

On Saturday, both ports will have five ships departing on Caribbean or Bahamas cruises. That’s busy. It’s not the busiest day of the season, though. For PortMiami, Dec. 12, a Saturday with seven departing cruises, will be the busiest. For Port Everglades, it will be Dec. 20 and Jan. 3, both Sundays, with eight ships embarking on cruises.

The Norwegian Escape is South Florida’s only brand new ship this year. Last year the region got two — the Norwegian Getaway in Miami and the Regal Princess in Fort Lauderdale — and in 2013 only one, the Royal Princess at Port Everglades. That’s a far cry from the first years of the millennium when American lines and lines that cater primarily to Americans built 10 or more new ships a year and many of them home ported in South Florida.

The industry is only now emerging from a drop off in shipbuilding attributable largely to the recession. Next year American companies are scheduled to launch seven new ships. Most will come to North America, although the large lines are now sending ships to Asia and Australia. More lines are also sending ships to South America, particularly Brazil. In addition, more U.S. ports now handle cruise ships — ships that once probably would have come to South Florida.

Marjie Lambert: 305-376-4939, @marjielambert