Florida's Port Canaveral has best cruise month ever as revenue surges

A record cruise month has driven Port Canaveral revenue to nearly $50 million in the first three months of the fiscal year.

December cruise revenue, which includes parking, hit $19.3 million, which is $8.7 million over budget. Those funds were driven by 95 ship calls with nearly 700,000 passengers. That includes two weekends around the holidays that saw near or over 100,000.

“We spent a lot of time and advanced coordinating to make sure we had as little disruption as possible,” said Port Canaveral CEO Capt. John Murray at the port commission meeting Wednesday. “We brought in support from [the sheriff’s office] with a lot of help keeping the traffic flowing and it was an all-out effort to plan it upfront. And for the most part it was it was quite successful.”

The port’s number of ships and their sizes have been growing in the last year. It includes Royal Caribbean’s new Wonder of the Seas, which is the world’s largest cruise ship, as well as Carnival’s Mardi Gras, Norwegian Prima, Disney Wish and MSC Meraviglia among newer and larger ships calling the port home.

Since the beginning of the fiscal year in October, the port has seen 243 ship calls with more than 1.7 million passengers.

Cruise accounts for $40.7 million of the overall operating revenue of $48.9 million. In three months, cruise revenue is up $7.6 million from the proposed budget with extra money coming from a higher number of passengers than planned while ship visits remained on target.

By comparison, December of 2021 saw only 300,000 passengers, although cruise lines were still getting up to speed from the COVID-19 pandemic. Of note, December 2022 did include five weekends instead of four with New Year’s Day falling on a Sunday, so some extra revenue was to be expected.

The sheer number of people, though, did reveal one cruise terminal shortcoming, Murray said. Cruise Terminal 10, which has pay-at-the-gate parking, was faced with roughly 5,000 passengers who departed a ship that had only sailed a two-night voyage. Because of the short voyage, most people had not checked baggage, so it caused a major backup.

“Everybody descended on the garage at the same time,” he said. “Simple math with our four gates all operating in the time it takes to process getting out. There’s no way you can get that many people out that quickly.”

The headache is prompting changes in transportation flow now, but the port is also considering payment on entry for this garage instead.

“We’ll have to do with handheld units. It’s not as efficient, more manpower-intensive, but we’re going to do it because we can’t have people stuck in a garage,” he said.

Operating expenses are down as well by $1.1 million to $27.1 million with savings made on service contracts, salaries, engineering, insurance, maintenance and supplies.

Combining the extra revenue and reduced spending, operating income is at $21.8 million for September-December, which is $9.8 million above budget.

The proposed budget for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 was already projected to be a record year hitting more than $154 million including $124 million from cruising.