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Port Tampa Bay: Cruises could return to Tampa by October

As the cruise industry inches back to life, Port officials are preparing terminals for ships to arrive.
A cruise ship is seen docked at Port Tampa Bay in March 2020. Cruise ships with passengers have not departed the port since then.
A cruise ship is seen docked at Port Tampa Bay in March 2020. Cruise ships with passengers have not departed the port since then. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Aug. 18

After an absence of more than 18 months, Port Tampa Bay officials are preparing for cruise ships to return to Tampa this fall.

“We are encouraged to see the cruise industry slowly starting back up across the county,” Wade Elliott, the port’s vice president of business development, said during a Tampa Port Authority board meeting on Tuesday. “We anticipate that we will begin to see regular sailings from Port Tampa Bay starting again in mid-October, so we’re excited about that.”

More detailed projections on the resumption of cruise travel in Tampa are likely to come at Thursday’s annual port budget workshop, during which officials will forecast how the industry will ramp back up over the coming months.

The current fiscal year’s budget, for example, projected cruise would return in a limited capacity in April. That did not happen, which has led to a loss of about $861,000 in expected revenue from October 2020 through July.

The first cruises from Tampa in October are from Royal Caribbean — a five-night cruise to the Bahamas leaving Oct. 16, and a four-nighter to Cozumel, Mexico on Oct. 21.

After a legal battle over the right to mandate proof of vaccination for passengers, Norwegian Cruise Line launched its first ship from Miami on Aug. 15.

Related: Judge backs Norwegian Cruise Line in Florida 'vaccine passport' fight

Elliott said Port Tampa Bay’s facilities teams have been making cosmetic tune-ups to the terminals and the port will be ready for cruise travel in weeks.

“Structurally, we’re in good shape,” he said.