Which port is No. 1? - Tuesday 12th of April 2005

When Port Canaveral passed Port Everglades near Fort Lauderdale in cruise-passenger traffic several years ago, leaders at Port Canaveral began billing Brevard County's seaport as the world's second-busiest cruise port, second only to the Port of Miami-Dade.

However, the latest cruise passenger statistics tell a different story.

If you count only multiday cruises on cruise ships, Port Canaveral is third -- far less busy than Miami and slightly behind Port Everglades.

But if you include single-day cruises on gambling ships, Port Canaveral is easily the world's busiest cruise port, followed by Port Everglades, then Miami.

Is it all just meaningless number-crunching? Not exactly.

Port Canaveral is in the midst of remaking its image to attract more business. And promoting Brevard's seaport as the leader in passenger traffic could give Canaveral an edge in attracting new cruise lines and new ships, giving tourists more cruising options, as far as destinations and amenities are concerned. Bringing in more passengers also could pump millions of dollars more into the local economy.

A 2001 study by the Canaveral Port Authority found the port's cruise business already had an economic impact of $276 million a year in Central Florida.

"It's extremely important to the area, with all the business we're bringing in," Port Commissioner Chairman Ray Sharkey said about Canaveral's cruise business.

On the other hand, Port Canaveral is the leader in passenger traffic because of its two gambling ships -- a business with little room for growth, as port commissioners have said they don't want more gambling vessels at the port.

It also could be a bit misleading, considering that Miami, despite a drop in business last year, still is the clear leader in terms of multiday cruise passengers.

Port of Miami officials still consider their port to be the world's busiest because Miami has the most multiday passengers.

Being able to make that claim is extremely valuable when marketing the port, said Hydi Webb, the Port of Miami's cruise development manager.

To maintain its position as the leader in cruising, the Port of Miami is spending about $60 million to build two "state-of-the-art" cruise terminals designed to handle 4,000 passengers each when they open in October and November, Webb said.

The Port of Miami also touts itself as "the cruise capital of the world," with cruise industry leaders Carnival, Celebrity, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean all based in Miami.

"Thirty years ago," said Carnival spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz, "Miami was the end-all and be-all of Caribbean cruising."

Today, that's changed somewhat, as the cruise industry has branched out to more ports in the United States. Still, Miami remains the focal point.

Carnival Cruise Lines and other cruise lines like Miami because it's the closest port in the United States to the Caribbean, giving Miami a geographical edge over other domestic seaports.

Carnival, the largest cruise line, has five ships based in Miami, including four year-round vessels, compared with two Carnival ships at Port Canaveral.

Port Canaveral's breakthrough in cruising came when Disney Cruise Line started operating in the late 1990s. Disney based its two ships -- the Magic and the Wonder -- at Canaveral for cruises to the Bahamas and the Caribbean.

Disney's success foreshadowed major cruise lines, such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean, basing newer, larger ships at Canaveral in recent years.

Although Port Canaveral has billed itself as the world's second-busiest cruise port, Port Everglades officials also lay claim to the No. 2 spot.

"We say the same thing," said Port Everglades spokeswoman Ellen Kennedy.

Everglades has slightly more multiday passengers than Canaveral, but fewer passengers from one-day gambling and pleasure cruises.

However, Kennedy noted that Port Everglades' passenger statistics were boosted by last year's hurricanes, which forced ships out of Port Canaveral and into Port Everglades temporarily while sand from the storms was dredged out of Canaveral's shipping channel.

In recent years, Port Canaveral has been recognized more often as a port-of-call stop for cruise ships that depart from other ports, which Sharkey noted is a valuable asset because it brings thousands of tourists into the area for a day.

"I don't know if we'll ever be No. 1, but with the work Bobby G. is doing, we could increase" our cruise business, Sharkey said, referring to Bobby Giangrisostomi, the Canaveral Port Authority's vice president of business development. "We're looking to build terminals, if we get commitments from other companies" to base ships at Canaveral.

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