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Cruise Ships in Key West

I first visited Key West in 1974 on mv Island Princess. We had the most wonderful welcome from the locals. I remember having a lei of frangipani placed around my neck. The city was very inclusive and welcoming. Very much a one-horse town with lots of derelict property about to fall down. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but how I wish l had the money and the nerve to invest in Key West in 1973.

My next visit to Key West was some twenty years later in the early 1990’s Hoover offered two complimentary round-trip plane tickets to the United States, worth about £600, to any customer purchasing at least £100 in Hoover products.

Consumer response was much higher than the company anticipated, with many customers buying the minimum £100 of Hoover products to qualify. It was perceived as two US flights for just £100 with a free vacuum cleaner included. The resulting demand was disastrous for the 84-year-old company. Hoover cancelled the ticket promotion after consumers had already bought the products and filled in forms applying for millions of pounds worth of tickets. Reneging on the offer resulted in protests and legal action from customers who failed to receive the tickets they had been promised.

However, we were two of the lucky ones and received our two free tickets to America and our love affair with Florida and Key West began. For the next few years, we had an annual visit to Key West and for the last twenty years apart from the last two covid restricted years have visited Key West often.

Oriana visits Key West in January 2017

Before large cruise ships were unwelcome in Key West

Key West must have a love-hate relationship with Cruise ships. Over the years we have seen more and more ships visit the delightful island paradise of Key West. The city has built facilities to welcome up to three ships at a time. All the area around Mallory Square is geared to cruise ship passengers.

It has always been doubtful as to how many hard dollars the cruise passengers actually spend on the island but according to the Key West Chamber of Trade, cruise passengers spend on average $32 when an average visitor to Key West spends on average $550. Of course, a statistic is a statistic and can be interpreted any way you like. An average cruise passenger visits Key West for 8 hours or less, probably only ashore for around half that time. Remember the City of Key West requires Cruise ships to sail from Mallory square before sunset. Now compare this with the $550 an average tourist spends on a visit to the Island. This January I was shocked to discover that a night’s accommodation during the season can set you back $400 - $500 per night. Take a look at

Cruise ships account for $85 -$90 million revenue a year for Key West. Berthing fees overall, for cruise ships in 2019 brought in $5.9 million to city coffers from the $10-per-head disembarkation fees at two of the ports, according to figures provided by the city's finance department. The privately-owned Pier B allows the city to take only $2.50 per passenger.

The good people of Key West voted in November of 2020, for a referendum that limited cruise ship traffic for nearly 95% of the ships visiting the area. This referendum meant cruise ships were not welcome in Key West.

However, on July 1 of 2021, Governor DeSantis signed a new law prohibiting municipalities from regulating marine commerce through a referendum. At this point, there was no law anymore that banned cruise ships from docking at one of the three available docks in the city. Up to this point, the issue had been straightforward. Until city commissioners stepped in and said they wanted to find a way to implement the voters’ will through an ordinance restricting cruise ships.

Regent Seven Seas Splendor - One of only two small cruise ships allowed into

Key West harbour this January.

Wow-what a mess as one dock is owned by the city, one privately owned and the third leased by the city from the navy. As of now, no big cruise ships are coming to Key West. Virgin Voyages new ship the “Scarlet Lady” was due several visits this year but following a meeting. Mayor Johnston declared that the Scarlet Lady would not be allowed in Key West because it exceed the number of passengers allowed under the cruise ship referendum.

Azamara Quest was the other small cruise ship to visit Key West this month

I am very torn by this latest turn off events. On the one hand, I loved going down to the cruise terminal in the evening to watch the ships leave harbour and sail off into the sunset. Some businesses like The Conch Train and Historical Tours of America will suffer a loss from the cruise ships but will weather the storm in other ways. However, some very small businesses will be badly affected by this loss of business.

Maria and her husband who run a small ice cream business down on Front street, make and serve ice cream from 100% natural ingredients using equipment over 50 years old, first used by her Italian father. We visit most evenings and enjoy their wonderful Italian Gelato. Maria and her husband pay high rent for a site near to the cruise ships and their business is greatly affected by the drop in cruise ship passengers, along with many other small independent traders.

Maria at Gladiator Ice Cream 407 Front Street Key West

Has Key West killed the goose that lays the golden egg? Probably not judging by the number of tourists in town at the moment. It seems that America and its wife are down here escaping the northern weather and the fact that they are unable or unwilling to travel outside the United States.

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Jamie, The Purser
Jamie, The Purser
Jan 17, 2022

Interesting point of view regarding cruise ship visits to Key West. Have never been to this paradise, but having read your blog, all these cruise ship visits would have been enough to deter me from visiting the island. Seems the place is busy enough without cruise ship passengers (guests) and although, in days of old, it would have been a pleasure to watch the liners sail out of the harbour into the sunset, todays unattractive vessels would be no attraction for me, nor the throngs from these ships. Its such a pity many ports have been ruined by cruise ship passengers (Venice), ok good for the tourism trade and shop owners but for locals it must be a nightmare. Her…

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