By Scott Wyman South Florida Sun-Sentinel
December 1, 2007
Royal Caribbean has agreed to base both of its two new super-size cruise ships at Port Everglades year-round, ending months of competition for the business between the Broward County port and its Miami counterpart.
The Port of Miami has long been Royal Caribbean's base of operations in the region, but the deal creates a major, long-term partnership with Port Everglades by guaranteeing 17 million passengers over the next decade.
Port Director Phil Allen said the deal will make Port Everglades the largest cruise port in the world. It currently ranks behind Miami and Port Canaveral directly east of Orlando.
Each ship will carry up to 6,400 passengers and 2,000 crews members on weekly Caribbean voyages. The ships, called the Genesis class, are being built in Finland, and the first is expected to begin cruises from Port Everglades in mid-2009.
A spokesman for Royal Caribbean said the company viewed Port Everglades as a better choice than Miami because it offered "a little bit more in terms of servicing passengers and the development of the port."
Because Miami and Fort Lauderdale have such consistently pleasant weather, we always bring our newest and best hardware here so it was a matter of working with the particular ports in the area to see what we could offer them and they could offer us," Royal Caribbean spokesman Harrison Liu said.
Royal Caribbean approached Port Everglades in February about the possibility of stationing at least one ship there, but also said it was in similar discussions with other ports. Port Everglades countered with the suggestion that both ships be based there.One of the terminals at Port Everglades will be renovated at a cost of $37.4 million to handle the new business.
Neither local taxpayers nor the port will foot the bill. Royal Caribbean will pay for the work through a $5.70 surcharge on passengers when they leave and arrive. That's in addition to a $9.95 port-user charge each passenger will pay.
Oivind Mathisen, editor of Cruise Industry News, said Royal Caribbean's choice of Port Everglades runs counter to its history with Miami, but likely was spurred by the greater convenience and efficiency of Broward's port. He said the two Genesis ships will be a boon for the softening Caribbean cruise business.
"Miami would have seemed natural for Royal Caribbean to put one or both of the Genesis-class ships there so this is a big move, a big change," he said.At $1.2 billion, the ships will be the world's most expensive to build, and they will dwarf current cruise ships.
The largest cruise ship that now docks at Port Everglades carries 3,100 passengers, while the world's current largest, Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, holds 4,300.
Under the deal, Royal Caribbean could move the two Genesis ships after their first year at Port Everglades. However, the guarantee of 17 million passengers over the next decade would remain.Allen said he anticipates more new ships from Royal Caribbean and its sister Celebrity line to meet that promise.
The company's presence at Port Everglades would grow from 750,000 passengers next year to 2.1 million in 2012 under the terms of the agreement.
To break the agreement, Royal Caribbean would have to pay the port $20 million in damages, pay off the cost of renovating the terminal and give one year's notice.Cruise operations at the port have hovered around 2.5 million passengers a year since 2001, but will skyrocket with the agreement. Allen anticipated 4.9 million passengers at Port Everglades in 2010.