PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. — Thanks to a recent study, Port Canaveral has a clear answer for anyone wondering if the cruise industry has rebounded from its pandemic struggles.

What You Need To Know

  • A Business Research & Economic Advisors study released Wednesday shows that Port Canaveral more than doubled its economic impact in Florida compared to 2018

  • The study found that the cruise industry represents about 66% of the total impact

  • CEO Capt. John Murray said the Port is also in the early stages of adding a new cruise terminal

According to a study published on Wednesday by the firm Business Research & Economic Advisors (BREA), the port has a $6.1 economic impact in the state of Florida — an increase from about $3 billion seen in 2018, the last time the firm did an assessment.

Port Canaveral also contributed $189.5 million in state and local taxes, the study showed.

“The direct expenditures or direct output of the cruise segment is $2 billion — as I mentioned, that supports just over 17,000 jobs and almost $760 million in wages, and those impacts are up 54%, 31% and 47% respectively from the 2019 study based on 2018 fiscal year,” said BREA Principal Rich Higginson during a presentation to the Port Canaveral Commission. “Total output for cruise was about $4 billion, which is 67% of the total output and supported almost 31,000 jobs and $1.4 billion in wages.”

Following the presentation, Port Canaveral CEO Capt. John Murray said that growth was due to persistence and creativity during the pandemic when cruise ships weren’t sailing.

“We’re seeing the benefit of that now in the bigger ships, more ships, newer ships, new brands,” Murray said. “Port Canaveral is, in many ways, been discovered by a few other cruise line brands that haven’t been here before, and that just contributes to our success.”

During his presentation, Murray pointed to the 551 ship calls in fiscal year 2023 between October 2022 and April 2023, which represent roughly 4 million passengers.

He also noted some of the new cruise ships that recently started sailing, and ones that will be coming soon. The Marella Discovery’s first sailing was on May 7 and Princess Cruises will begin service with six- and eight-day sailings running from November 2024 through April 2025.

“It’s exciting to finally have Princess here at the Port," Murray said during his presentation. "It’s a brand that’s frequently requested by cruise guests that hasn’t been here and they’ve had to fly elsewhere to join the ship. So, we’re excited to actually have that product here. It’s a little different from some of our other offerings.”

Murray also offered some new details about the upcoming new cruise terminal. Unlike some cruise terminals that only work with one cruise line, like Cruise Terminal 3, he said this new terminal would be open to multiple cruise lines.

“I think we’re going to operate it more like we do Cruise Terminal 5 and Cruise Terminal 10, where it is a facility for everyone,” Murray said. “We have big ship terminals, and this will be a big ship terminal, and what we want to do is make sure that big ships are using it and not necessarily ships that don’t need to use it.”

He said it would be located on the south side of the port where the Bluepoints Marina is located. He expected the Port to complete acquisition of that lease close to the end of 2026.

He added that some of the businesses at the port that don’t necessarily need to be there may also have to relocate in the coming years.

“We have a lot of business enterprises here that, while they contribute to our rent, and lease on our real estate side, they really aren’t conducting port business here,” Murray said. “And I said since I got here at the Port in 2016 that, in reality, if you’re not doing a business that requires the bulkhead or supports a business that’s using the bulkhead, then you really shouldn’t be inside the port itself. You should be conducting business elsewhere.”

According to the BREA study, cargo operations was the next largest sector, contributing about $1.2 billion in expenditures. BREA noted that “overall tonnage is up 19%.”

“The material you see here, the raw materials, are all being used in the construction of highways in Florida," Murray said. "That’s the biggest consumer of our material coming through."

Broken down, petroleum continued to be the biggest piece of that pie for both 2018 and 2023, accounting for 58% and 54% of cargo respectively. The most notable shift was in lumber, which jumped from $211,911 (4%) in 2018 to $905,000 (13%) in 2023.

Adding to the cargo picture are the contributions of the growing commercial space industry, Murray said.

SpaceX has been the main game in town with the return to port of its capsule recovery vessels and booster recovery drone ships, which is why Murray told Spectrum News that those numbers are lumped in the “All Others” section of the cargo data.

“We have historically factored all of our space numbers into our cargo numbers and we did that for one reason,” Murray explained. “And that is because we only had one space company operating here and we didn’t want to profile their operation and expenses and everything that they do for the Port as a single line item, because everyone would know who it was.”

“Now that we have multiple operators, you know, Blue (Origin) is in the port, there’s going to be a time soon we’ll break space out as a separate component so it’s more visible as to what the impact of the space industry is on Port operations," he added.