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Key West ban on large cruise ships officially becomes law


The City of Key West officially certified the results of a recent referendum that limits cruise ship traffic to Key West.

The residents of Key West voted on November 3 to approve three proposals that would effectively ban large cruise ships from Key West, and the results of the voting were certified this week by Monroe County Supervisor of Elections R. Joyce Griffin.

The voter-approved amendments to the City Charter have now been authenticated by Mayor Teri Johnston and filed with City Clerk Cheryl Smith.

The final tally for the three new laws of Key West are as follows:

Limiting persons disembarking from cruise ships to 1,500 per day.
YES: 8,186 (63%)
NO: 4,743 (27%)

Prohibiting cruise ships with a capacity of 1,300 or more persons.
YES: 7,852 (61%)
NO: 5,087 (29%)

Prioritize cruise lines with the best environmental and health records.
YES: 10,587 (81%)
NO: 2,453 (19%)

The group behind the proposal, Key West Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships, celebrated the certification with its backers and vowed to defend the new laws against any legal challenges, "After 30+ years of rising dissatisfaction with the effects of unregulated cruising, the people of Key West have spoken loud and clear.

"And while we expect corporate powers to challenge the new laws in court and in the monied halls of Tallahassee, one thing is certain: the City Commission now has an unquestionable mandate to defend this legislation against any and all opponents."

How will this affect Royal Caribbean cruises?

The newly certified laws will prohibit any Royal Caribbean ship from being able to visit Key West, since the capacity of even the smallest Royal Caribbean International ship exceeds the prohibition set forth by the prohibition on a ship with a capacity of more than 1,300 passengers.

The bigger question is what legal hurdles will these new laws face, as even the Safer, Cleaner Ships organization recognizes private businesses in Key West (such as the owner of the pier) may challenge these laws.

A few Royal Caribbean ships were small enough to dock in Key West, such as Brilliance of the Seas, Majesty of the Seas and Radiance of the Seas.

There has been no official word on what might happen to these itineraries, and if visits to Key West will be replaced by another port visit or a sea day.

In 2019, Key West had its busiest year with 417 cruise ship visits that brought 965,000 passengers.

Cruise fans not happy with new laws

Cruise fans that enjoyed being able to visit Key West on a cruise without the long drive from Miami shared their displeasure with the new laws on the RoyalCaribbeanBlog message boards.

karl_nj lamented that he may never visit Key West as a result of the laws, "I had always wanted to visit Key West, but never got around to it.  I figured visiting via cruise ship would have been my best bet; i don't really envision myself flying to Florida, renting a car, and driving all the way down to Key West.  Oh well,  plenty of other places to visit and spend money."

FManke was surprised any city would want to turn away business given the current economic climate, "With what's going on these days and the uncertain future, I can't see anybody turning away business."

Key West voters approve ban on large cruise ships


The voters of Key West approved a referendum during last night's election to limit cruise ship traffic to the city.

Three different referendums to limit cruise ship traffic passed, which will ban large cruise ships completely, as well as limit small cruise ship traffic.

The new rules for Key West that passed are as follows:

  • Limit the number of daily cruise ship visitors at 1,500
  • Prohibit cruise ships with 1,300 passengers or more from docking
  • Give docking priority to cruise lines that have the best health and environmental records

All three were approved by majorities of more than 60 percent, with the "giving priority to cruise lines that have the best environmental and health records" proposal passing at over 80%.

All three proposals passed with 63.34%, 60.7% and 81.19% voting yes, respectively.

Safer, Cleaner Ships is the organization that lobbied and pushed for the referendums.

Key West was a minor port of call for Royal Caribbean, with a few ships stopping there periodically, primarily smaller or older ships, such as Brilliance of the Seas or Majesty of the Seas.

Now that the referendums have passed, they are binding, meaning they will change the city’s charter. 

The Miami Herald reports that a court case could be coming between the city and the private ownership of the pier.

In 2019, Key West had its busiest year with 417 cruise ship visits that brought 965,000 passengers.

Cruise line impact

Naturally, many are curious what impact cruise lines had economically on Key West.

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) commissioned a study of the comparative visitor economic impacts for Key West in August 2020, and it appears cruise passengers brought 7% of the total spend to the island.

"Cruise visitors contribute about $73 million in visitor spending, or about 7% of the $1.2 billion of total visitor spending in Key West."

The study did note that while cruise passengers do not pay for hotels or flights, they do "contribute a decidedly higher proportion of visitor spending in the food and beverage, retail, and recreation sectors."

"Of these sectors, cruise visitors contribute about 12% of direct visitor spending."

CLIA concluded that "the drastic reduction in cruise visitor spending would irreparably harm the long-term economic health of the community."

Cruise fans react

The news that Key West has banned large cruise ships was a mix of surprise and disdain among cruise fans.

Many cruisers shared on the RoyalCaribbeanBlog message boards they felt Key West's voters made a foolish decision in the long run.

monctonguy thinks the long-term effect may prove to be a bad decision, "wonder if after a few years they will regret this especially with the hit that tourism is taking worldwide currently."

rjweber3 feels there may be a larger legal battle looming, "The privately owned pier would probably be litigating with the city.  The owners of the pier just took a terrible hit to their bottom line."

Royal Caribbean offering inexpensive Caribbean shore excursions starting at $19


Royal Caribbean's Shore Excursions offerings are now featuring some inexpensive shore excursions for guests on shorter sailings to Nassau, Bahamas and Key West, Florida.  Many of our readers are always interested in good and low-cost shore excursion options, so perhaps some of these will be helpful.


Through March 7, 2017, guests sailing on Empress of the Seas, Majesty of the Seas and Enchantment of the Seas can take advantage of these fun and inexpensive tours.

Nassau Tours

Key West Tours

Royal Caribbean warns Key West that no dredging will result in ships passing them by


On Wednesday, residents of Key West, Florida discussed plans to dredge the channel to allow larger cruise ships to visit the city.  Royal Caribbean warned without such a dredging, Key West would simply be passed over by it and other cruise lines.

According to a reconnaissance study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the project would be economically viable and cost about $35 million.

There are opponents to the plan who cite economic and environmental concerns.

Key West's Director of Port Operations, Jim Fitton, is worried that without dredging the channel, Key West will simply be bypassed by Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines on their way to Mexico.

Fitton told the room of residents, "They'll bypass us and go straight to Mexico. Royal Caribbean used to be our biggest client. In a couple of years, it'll be down to no boats; that's where we're going. "

Some residents wanted to know who exactly made the statement that Key West would be crossed off itineraries.  In response, Fitton named Royal Caribbean's vice president of government relations for the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia Michael Ronan.

In an email Ronan sent to Fitton earlier this month,  "All ships we have built and are planning to build since 2005... cannot call Key West under present channel conditions. We operate our newest, largest ships in the Florida/Gulf and East Coast itineraries.

As we bring on our newer vessels they replace older, smaller ones on the preferred U.S. itineraries. We presently operate routes that would call Key West if the channel could accommodate them.

With the opening of the new larger locks in the Panama Canal [scheduled for a 2014 completion] our ship designs for the forseeable [sic] future will be of a size that will not be able to call Key West if the channel is not modified. "

Key West considering dredging channel to allow bigger ships in


Key West officials are considering a plan to widen the shipping channel into Key West that would allow larger cruise ships to visit the iconic island.

The city council is considering the plan and wants input from its residents as well as consider the economical and environment impact dredging would have.

By enlarging the channel, ships like Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas could stop at Key West.  Currently Oasis is too big for Key West, but dredging would allow a ship like Oasis to make a stop there.

City Manager Jim Scholl cautions the plan is still in its infancy but it's a step in the right direction, "It's just a presentation and discussion.  The commission will hear about all the aspects of the channel-widening project and what the true impact of that proposal will be for Key West being a port of call for the cruise-ship industry. And really whether or not the commission will want to support the next step."

Grandeur of the Seas possibly to skip Key West


UPDATE: Guests aboard Grandeur of the Seas reporting they will skip Key West.

Due to a tropical storm Tropical Storm Bonnie brewing near the Bahams right now, there is a possibility that Grandeur of the Seas, which departed today, may not be able to dock in Key West. It has left port in Fort Lauderdale but a statement by Royal Caribbean had this to say about what lays ahead:

"According to the most recent weather forecasts, the ship will be able to depart on time and head south to Key West, Florida. However, U.S Coast Guard has closed the Port of Key West until tropical storm force winds have subsided. If the Port of Key West has not reopened by early tomorrow morning, Grandeur of the Seas will be unable to make its scheduled port of call there tomorrow. Should the ship be unable to visit Key West, Grandeur of the Seas will spend the day at sea tomorrow, sailing directly to Cozumel, Mexico, where it will arrive earlier than scheduled on Saturday."

Photo of the Day: Grandeur of the Seas in Key West


Photo by Ashley Sindaco