1st sailing of Carnival’s Mardi Gras highlights Port Canaveral’s busy week

·4 min read

Port Canaveral has already joined the return-to-sailing party with volunteer passengers, but is set to welcome its first paying customers on board a cruise ship when Carnival’s Mardi Gras sets sail this Saturday.

After the industry shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, the port’s cruise business has been at a standstill. It wasn’t until July 18 that any passengers returned to Port Canaveral. That’s when Disney Cruise Line sailed Disney Magic with about 300 volunteers, primarily employees, sailing for free so the ship could earn a conditional sailing certificate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas then departed this past Tuesday with its own volunteers.

“It’s been a long and difficult 18 months for our port,” said Port Canaveral CEO Capt. John Murray after Allure of the Seas’ departure. “We’ve worked very hard with all of our cruise partners, and now it’s time to get our cruise business back and running. Port Canaveral is ready to help our partners provide a safe, healthy and fun guest experience.”

Both Disney and Royal Caribbean have opted to perform test sailings before rolling out revenue voyages, citing the large number of children who would be on board. The CDC has given the green light to ships that sail with at least 95% vaccinated passengers, and children 11 and under do not have an option for vaccinations.

Carnival Cruise Line, though, made the choice at least for its July and August sailings, to sail with mostly vaccinated passengers.

That’s why Carnival’s Mardi Gras, which first arrived to Port Canaveral on June 4, but has yet to welcome passengers, will be able to skip the simulated sailing and be the first sailing with paying customers from Port Canaveral when it sails Saturday on a seven-night voyage with about 70% of its normal 5,282-passenger capacity based on double occupancy.

At a media preview Friday, Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy said the debut sailing has been a long time coming.

“Today’s event has been named our ‘Sip & Sea’ preview. I understand that some of you southerners may know that a ‘sip and see’ is what a family hosts when they have a new baby they want to show off to their friends and family,” she said. “Well Mardi Gras is our new baby and we have been waiting a lot longer than nine months to deliver her.”

She thanked local officials for the efforts to finally get the ship underway, which was originally supposed to begin sailing last summer, but was sidelined by the pandemic.

“We’ve really been in this together. We’ve fought hard and here we are cruising from our beautiful new terminal here in Canaveral,” Duffy said.

The port, which relies on the cruise industry for most of its revenue, has endured millions in losses since the shutdown. For fiscal year 2021, which runs from October 2020-September 2021, cruise lines have only contributed about $1.8 million to the port’s budget, which has seen more than a $30 million loss for the year so far.

In comparison, the port earned nearly $34 million from cruise business in FY2020, which was short more than two full months of activity. In FY2019, the port saw more than $40 million.

For FY2021, the port’s revised budget plan made in January, which assumed a more robust summer restart than what the port has actually seen, only projected about $10 million in cruise revenue for the entire year.

Port Canaveral has lagged slightly behind Florida’s other two largest ports, in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, along with ships in Galveston, Texas, that have already been sailing with paying customers for several weeks.

Celebrity Cruises was the first line to sail with paying customers from the U.S. in more than 15 months when Celebrity Edge departed on June 26 from Port Everglades. Both Carnival and Royal Caribbean sailed for the first time over the Fourth of July weekend from PortMiami, and some lines have begun to sail from Seattle on Alaska cruises in the last week as well.

Now Port Canaveral is set to get back to business. Mardi Gras could be followed by four ships in short order in August with more set in September.

Carnival Magic, also with mostly vaccinated passengers, will sail Aug. 7, followed by Allure of the Seas on Aug. 8, and then Disney Dream on Aug. 9.

Later in August, Royal will begin sailing a second ship from the port with Mariner of the Seas set to return on Aug. 23.

According to Disney Cruise Line, Disney Fantasy will undergo its test sailing from Aug. 12-14, which would line it up for its first revenue sailing, a seven-night voyage departing Sept. 4.

Also in September, MSC Cruises aims to make its Port Canaveral debut with a Sept. 16 sailing of MSC Divina. Norwegian Cruise Line does not plan to return to the port until the fall with a Nov. 13 sailing of Norwegian Escape.

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