TAMPA — Port Tampa Bay last week welcomed its 1-millionth cruise ship passenger for the first time ever in a single year.
The port hit the milestone on Sept. 17, when the count hit 1,000,524 for this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. It rose further over the weekend when three more ships called at the port. The port on Monday projected a year-end total of more than 1.04 million passengers, which would be a 9 percent increase over last year.
"A fantastic moment for Port Tampa Bay and our cruise line partners," port CEO Paul Anderson said in announcing the news. Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Holland America Line and Norwegian Cruise Line sail out of Tampa, offering 4-, 5-, 7- and 14-day cruises to Mexico, Cuba and the western and southern Caribbean.
Still, while a million passengers is cause for celebration locally, Tampa is still not the busiest port for cruises in Florida. In 2016, Miami saw about 4.9 million passengers, Port Canaveral about 4.2 million and Port Everglades about 3.8 million.
Tampa’s port is limited in the range of cruise ships that can call here because the biggest ones — the so-called megaships that can carry 5,000 or 6,000 passengers — won’t fit under the Sunshine Skyway bridge. But it has grown its cruise ship business nearly 20 percent since 2016 by bringing in refurbished smaller ships in the 2,000- to 3,000-passenger range, as well as by taking advantage of the state’s growing population and serving easy-to-reach destinations.
Over the past year:
• The port set a single-weekend record over the March 31-to-April 1 Easter weekend, when 29,167 passengers sailed from or came ashore at the port.
• Carnival added 20 cruises to Cuba, finished the makeover of the Carnival Paradise and doubled the line’s capacity locally by adding the Carnival Miracle’s only year-long program with seven-day cruises from Port Tampa Bay.
• Royal Caribbean put a larger ship in rotation, the 880-foot-long Majesty of the Seas, to accommodate customer demand for Tampa-to-Cuba cruises.
Tampa port administrators expect cruise numbers continue to grow as the development of the $3 billion Water Street Tampa project — including the transformation of the chronically under-performing and port-owned Channelside Bay Plaza into Sparkman Wharf — gives cruise ship passengers more options for dining out, shopping and touring.
The New Jersey-based market analysis firm Business Research & Economic Advisors estimated that a 3,000-passenger ship generates an average of $403,000 in passenger and crew onshore spending per call in a home port city.
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