Carnival Conquest arrived in Key West, Florida this morning, marking the first time a Carnival Cruise Line ship has called on the port since the cruise industry shutdown.
It’s another milestone for Key West and for Florida as a whole, as cruise lines and ports continue to reopen and find a new normal as the pandemic winds down.
But not everyone is happy about cruise ships docking in Key West. The majority of local voters on the Florida Keys’ southernmost island voted to restrict the number of daily cruise ship visitors, ban vessels carrying more than 1,300 passengers, and prioritize docking for cruise lines with the best health and environmental records during an election in November 2020.
However, the Florida government overturned the restrictions, with state senator Jim Boyd saying that allowing port cities to pass their own rules on maritime commerce “could result in abrupt changes in the supply lines bringing goods into and out of this state, thus disrupting Florida’s economy and threatening the public’s health, safety, and welfare.”
Following the cruise industry shutdown, cruise ships first returned to Key West this past November, when small ships Serenity (Crystal Cruises) and Quest (Azamara) arrived into town with a combined 911 revenue guests.
But it’s the large cruise ships that anger locals the most. Many vessels that have called on Key West in the past few months have been smaller vessels, but Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line have both called to the island with their larger ships as well. On some of those port days, activist group Key West Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships has organized protests at Mallory Square where the ships dock.
Despite the protests, the Key West port has a busy season ahead, with the schedule showing upcoming calls for mostly Carnival, Norwegian, Celebrity, and Virgin ships.
The cruise industry restart began in the Caribbean in spring 2021, and cruise lines have been bringing their ships back into service — and ports reopening to visitors — in a steady stream ever since. The last main Caribbean cruise port to reopen is Grand Cayman, which is currently planning to begin welcoming cruise ships this month.
The Port of Key West began hosting its first regularly-scheduled cruise ship in 1969 — Norwegian Caribbean Line’s Sunward. The ship visited Key West once a month.