Make us your home page
Instagram

Tampa hopes for ferry service to Yucatan, Cuba

Looks like ferry service from Tampa to Mexico is going to make a comeback.

And if you're a little more patient, you might even see the first passenger ships to Cuba sail from Tampa since the days before the Castro regime.

Tampa port officials said Tuesday they are in serious discussions with two groups seeking to launch scheduled cruise ferry service to Cuba and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. The first trips could start early next year, said port director Richard Wainio.

"They are moving forward very quickly," he said.

One of the companies is United Caribbean Lines, an Orlando area startup run by cruise industry veteran Bruce Nierenberg. Port officials wouldn't name the other group.

Cruises from the United States to Cuba are currently illegal. Nierenberg applied to the U.S. Treasury Department in 2009 for a license to run ferries to Cuba from Tampa, Miami and Fort Lauderdale. A cruise industry veteran, Nierenberg said he's still awaiting an answer.

Last week, the federal government further relaxed travel restrictions by approving nine additional airports — including Tampa International Airport — as gateways for charter flights to Cuba.

If Cuban-American families and people on religious, educational and cultural exchanges can fly to Cuba, why not let them sail there overnight, asked Nierenberg.

U.S. Rep. Cathy Castor, D-Tampa agreed.

"Local retailers would benefit when Cuban-American families purchase goods that can be transported by ferry," she said. "I aid these families on a regular basis, and this would offer another travel option."

And a cheaper one at that. Round trip air fares from Miami, now Florida's only airport with Cuba flights, cost around $500. A round-trip ferry ticket from Tampa would run $300, with a cabin and meals included, said Nierenberg.

Oceangoing cruise ferries are a familiar part of the landscape for travelers in northern Europe and Mediterranean countries. The vessels combine modest cruise ship amenities — dining rooms, cabins and casinos — with the capabilities of vehicle-carrying ships.

Yucatan service would require the Tampa port to construct roll-on, roll-off ramps for cars and additional fenced areas for U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents to check vehicles and cargo. That would cost the port well under $1 million, said Wainio.

Nierenberg expects to run two round trips weekly to the Yucatan with a vessel that carries 1,500 passengers and 600 cars. Service will begin in the first half of next year, said Nierenberg.

United Caribbean will charge $350 for a round trip with a cabin and meals. The company hasn't decided how much it will cost to bring a car on the ferry.

The last Mexico ferry from Tampa, dubbed the Yucatan Express, left in 2003 after only one winter season. Business started slowly, with as few as 37 travelers in the ferry's 322 cabins on one 36-hour cruise.

Passenger loads picked up at the end. The last two cruises drew more than 500 passengers. The ferry's owners lost $5 million and didn't return the following winter.

Cuba ferries have a history here, too. As late as the early 1960s, P&O Cruises had two ships, the Florida and Cuba, which carried passengers and cars between Havana and Port Tampa near the southeast corner of the Interbay Peninsula, said Arthur Savage, owner of shipping agent A.R. Savage & Son.

Steve Huettel can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3384.

Tampa hopes for ferry service to Yucatan, Cuba 03/15/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 17, 2011 1:09pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Seminole Heights restaurants face struggles amid killings, post-Irma

    Food & Dining

    SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — The neighborhood's hip circle of popular, well-regarded restaurants is feeling the squeeze in the wake of a recent killing spree. And the timing is rough.

    Ella's American Folk Art Cafe. Times files
  2. St. Pete-Clearwater holding food, supply drive for hurricane refugees

    Airlines

    CLEARWATER — St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport and Allegiant Air are holding a food and supply drive for the Hispanic Outreach Center in Pinellas County. The event, which will benefit refugees displaced by Hurricane Maria, will be held Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the airport at 14700 Terminal Blvd.

    St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport and Allegiant Air are hosting a food and supplies drive Tuesday for refugees displaced by Hurricane Maria. | [Times file photo]
  3. Tallest building in Pinellas County in search of a new name

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — The name "Priatek" is gone from Pinellas County's tallest building, perhaps to be replaced by that of a much better-known company new to the Tampa Bay area.

    The Priatek name is off of downtown St. Petersburg's tallest building.
 [LARA CERRI  |   Times.  2015]
  4. Estuary wins pier design contest for the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway extension

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — And the winner is… Estuary.

    Voters overwhelmingly supported a pier design called Estuary for the $200-million extension of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway in Tampa.
[Courtesy of AECOM]
  5. Amazon receives 238 proposals from places eager to become its 2nd headquarters

    Business

    NEW YORK — Amazon said Monday that it received 238 proposals from cities and regions in the United States, Canada and Mexico hoping to be the home of the company's second headquarters.

    Earlier this month, an Amazon employee gives her dog a biscuit as the pair head into a company building, where dogs are welcome, in Seattle. Amazon says it received 238 proposals from cities and regions hoping to be the home of the company's second headquarters. 
[AP Photo/Elaine Thompson]