Cuban Cruising Causing Angst in Florida

The fight to cruise Cuba is on and the battleground, which may or may not surprise you, is Florida.

As the U.S. and the Communist country 90 miles from its southernmost shore inch towards normalizing relations, Florida sees some of its cruise stakes slipping away, like fragments of driftwood floating into the Gulf of Mexico.

The two imminent victims are Tampa and Key West.

While they aren't exactly hot ports of the industry, both have enough of a cruise-ship presence that if it should go away, there would be an impact on each's economy. While places like Miami and Fort Lauderdale are clearly poised to send Varadero

-Henryk Kotowski photo

ships full of passengers to Cuba, the concerns of Tampa and Key West have nothing to do with their geographical desirability, which both have with regards to Cuba.

It has to do with ships.

In Tampa, the port is not equipped to handle the biggest cruise ships, and when Cuba is finally on-limits you can anticipate there will be a rush. (As an aside, there has been talk of Tampa being the northern terminus for ferry service from Cuba.) Tampa's ineligibility for cruise ships is tied to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which isn't high enough. If you can believe it, government officials are looking at raising the bridge!

In Key West, a frequent port on many Caribbean cruises, the concern is that it will be replaced by Havana and other Cuban ports less than 100 miles away. So it's "problem" is being "attractive" beyond making channels wider and deeper, although that's part of the equation. Can Key West compete with Cuba…when the time comes?

Meanwhile, to the West, Florida's "enemy" for Cuban business is lurking. Mobile, New Orleans, Galveston and Houston right now are better equipped to serve Cuba with larger ships than either Tampa or Key West.

With friendlier relations between the countries inevitable, the clock is ticking for two Florida ports.

Cunard Queen Elizabeth
11 nights
January 10, 2014
LondonNew YorkFort Lauderdale
Balcony: $1,299
Cost per day: $118
www.cunard.com

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