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Holland America drops Tampa as cruise ship port, but maybe not forever

One of four cruise ship lines operating out of Port Tampa Bay, Holland America accounts for about 5 percent of the port's cruise ship passengers.

TAMPA — Holland America is dropping Tampa as a cruise ship launch point after April, though the company says it might return to Port Tampa Bay in the future.

"Holland America Line reviews deployment plans several times each year for future scheduling," Holland America director of public relations Erik Elvejord said in an email response to an inquiry from the Tampa Bay Times.

"Several ships are moving to new itineraries, including (the) Rotterdam," which currently sails out of Tampa to the Caribbean and Europe, he said. "The Port of Tampa has been a great gateway for us to the Caribbean, and we will look forward to a continued partnership in the future."

Port officials say Holland America has carried about 50,000 of the one million-plus passengers that Port Tampa Bay saw last year, or about 5 percent of the total, so they don't expect the Rotterdam's departure after the spring to have a big impact on the port's overall cruise ship business.

"We still remain bullish" on the port's outlook for cruise ship growth, said Wade Elliott, the port's vice president of marketing and business development.

RECENT COVERAGE: Port Tampa Bay plans $10 million in cruise ship terminal upgrades

Elliott said port officials also are continuing discussions with Holland America, which has been one of four cruise lines operating out of Tampa, along with Carnival, Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line, about the possibility of returning to the port in the future. For now, the cruise line lists no sailings from Tampa after April, and none in 2020 and 2021.

The Rotterdam carries about 1,400 passengers, making it one of the refurbished ships that have become a niche market for Port Tampa Bay. The latest generation of 5,000- and 6,000-passenger "megaships" that sail from Fort Lauderdale and Miami won't fit under the Sunshine Skyway bridge, so the port is limited in the size of cruise ships it can accommodate.

Still, Port Tampa Bay has grown its cruise ship business nearly 20 percent since 2016 by bringing in refurbished ships in the 2,000- to 3,000-passenger range, as well as by marketing to Florida's growing population and serving easy-to-reach destinations in Mexico, Cuba and the western and southern Caribbean. This works well for many cruise passengers who often drive in from around Florida and neighboring states.

BACKGROUND: Port Tampa Bay finds niche in growing cruise industry

And those smaller ships have a charm all their own, said past Holland America cruiser Margo Keesler of St. Petersburg, so it's too bad to see one go.

"I think the big attraction was that it was a smaller ship," Keesler said of the Rotterdam. "When you arrive in a port you don't have 4,000 people getting off a ship. It's just a more intimate feeling."

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Contact Richard Danielson at or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times