Eight o’clock in the morning, on a Monday, in the Port of Miami. In front of the cruise terminals spread over 2.5 kilometers of quays, it’s a rush. The behemoths that moored at dawn, after a few days’ circuit to the Caribbean islands, vomit thousands of tourists. The latter join the dozens of coaches departing for the airports of Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
Already, the relay is organized. Mack trucks are lined up, trailers facing the boats. Forklifts extract hundreds of pallets of foodstuffs. The largest cruise ships load 60,000 eggs, and the rest is to match. The relief crews, often with an Indonesian, Sri Lankan or Filipino passport in hand… climb aboard these floating buildings which stack up to ten floors of cabins.
On the other side of the ships, invisible from the quay, barges fill the fuel tanks: up to 1.5 million liters for a one-week cruise. From 12:30 p.m., the agitation resumed. The first passengers of the following cruises arrive from the airports by bus, and enter the boarding terminals where they are dispatched in long lines to the 240 check-in counters. Around 4 p.m., the first boats set sail and, at the end of the afternoon, the port was empty.
This ballet, which regulates four days a week, from Friday to Monday, the arrival and departure of ships (up to eight in the winter season), makes Miami the world capital of cruises. In fiscal year 2018, nearly 5.6 million passengers were handled, 300,000 more than the previous year.
To maintain its rank, PortMiami (a public entity owned by Miami-Dade County) strives to pamper the four giants that dominate the sector. Carnival, whose global market share is 44.3% and which owns the brands Princess, Cunard, Aida, Costa, Holland America, Seabourn, P&O, etc., has two terminals that can accommodate two Horizon class ships, the new jewel of its fleet. Royal Caribbean (24.5% of the world market, with Celebrity or Azamara Club, among others) has just inaugurated the new terminal A at the beginning of November and can finally serve Miami with its Oasis class liners, which carry 6,500 passengers. and 2,100 crew members.
” Exceptionally, the port did not invest. Royal Caribbean has spent $247 million on this 15,800 square meter building with glass and aluminum facades, whose silhouette recalls its crown-shaped logo. We charge it rent, not the usual tax per passenger levied in other terminals, which are financed by the port. observes Nolwenn Fouillen, in charge of business development at PortMiami.
For its part, Norwegian (9.1% of the world market, with Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, etc.) hopes to settle in early 2020 in a new terminal B, which will be able to accommodate the liner Encore, the flagship of its fleet, currently in construction. Finally, MSC (6.8% of the world market) moved into the new terminal F in 2017, and last July signed an agreement for the creation, by 2022, of an AAA terminal, capable of also to accommodate ships carrying more than 6,000 passengers.
PortMiami by the Numbers
• Structure: 2.5 km of platforms, 4 terminals (A, B, F, J) and 240 check-in counters.
• Ridership: 5.6 M passengers handled in 2018 (5.3 M in 2017).
• Economic weight: 21,800 direct jobs and 320,000 indirect jobs for Miami-Dade County, $41 billion in revenue for the State of Florida for the cruise sector alone in 2017.
Race to gigantism
It is the presence of these four mass-market specialists that makes the Caribbean region the world’s leading cruise area, with 35.4% of passengers in the sector. Departing from Miami, but also from Port Canaveral (2nd world cruise port) and Port Everglades (3rd), Carnival and Royal Caribbean offer trips from four to eight days, at a price starting at around 100 dollars per day and per person, cabin for two, pizzas, hamburgers and access to music hall shows included.
Norwegian and MSC are only slightly more expensive. Among these companies, MSC is a bit of an intruder. For this Swiss-Italian company based in Geneva, which ranks fifth in the world for container transport, cruising is just a diversification activity. And in this area, its preferred markets remain the Mediterranean and Northern Europe, Miami being its only home port in the United States. That doesn’t stop it from intending to expand its market share in the Caribbean by tying up its brand new MSC Seaside, which includes the world’s largest fleet water park, to Miami.
For their part, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, the three major players in the history of cruises, are all based in Miami, where they employ more than 10,000 people. Norwegian, created in 1966, revolutionized the activity by inventing the combination of “cheap plane ticket and boat trip”. The company also opened the era of giant ships by buying and transforming the liner France (300 meters long), in 1979.
Carnival, founded in 1972 by one of Norwegian’s original shareholders, pioneered theamusement on board to rejuvenate the clientele, who were more of a senior citizen at the time.
Finally, Royal Caribbean, which was founded in 1968, has constantly increased the size of ships in order to achieve economies of scale: Song of Americain 1982, at Symphony of the Seasdelivered in 2018, its boats, the largest in the world, increased the number of passengers on board from 1,660 to 6,500. The company also invented the concept of dynamic diningremoving the main dining room and replacing it with numerous themed restaurants.
The four cruising giants
All based in Miami, Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and MSC total nearly 85% of the global cruise market.
The cruise, a destination in itself
The business model of these companies is based on paid services on board: excursions to stopovers, alcohol (with an “unlimited” offer for 65 dollars per day!), entry to spas, portrait photos (10 dollars each), high-end restaurants range, shops and casinos.
Distractions are however free: they include swimming pools, water parks, surf and golf simulators, a planetarium, a climbing wall, trampolines, an ice rink… The cruise therefore becomes a destination in itself. But massification is not its only future.
Despite the race for gigantism and innovations in theamusementthe Caribbean zone and its Florida homeports show weaker growth than that of China, Australia, the Pacific or Alaska… Regions where customers are younger, boats more modest, and where the cruise is often used to visit stops that are difficult to access.
Miami therefore seeks to attract slightly more upscale operators (Disney, Virgin), and above all luxury, such as Oceania, Seabourn or Azamara. ” The concept is then different. Prices range between $1,600 and $3,200 per week in a single cabin, but everything is included “, explains Alfredo Pereira, in charge of marketing and social networks at PortMiami. Circuits often give way to point-to-point itineraries: for example, from Miami to Costa Rica, via the Panama Canal, in eleven days with six stopovers, including Havana. Or, end of the end, from Miami to Singapore in 71 days, with 32 stopovers, including Recife, Cotonou, São Tomé, Zanzibar and Rangoon. PortMiami seeks to boost this market with dedicated terminals.
Paradox: the preponderant part played by cruises in the local economy is only visible on Dodge Island, the island on which the port is located. Elsewhere, no trace of cruise passengers. Efforts to convince them to visit Miami, before or after their stay at sea, have so far been unsuccessful. As if sightseeing and cruising were two incompatible activities…
The private port boom
It was Norwegian who launched, in 1977, the “Out Island” cruises stopping in front of virgin beaches. Huge success, despite the difficulty in disembarking passengers. Hence the idea of creating private ports. Since then, these ports have become real seaside resorts filled with attractions. The Canadian transport economist Jean-Paul Rodrigue sees in these ” private enclaves the way to sell short cruises to secure destinations while capturing additional revenue streams “. In the Bahamas, Norwegian opened Great Stirrup Cay; Royal Caribbean, Coco Cay; and Disney, Castaway Cay. Holland America ships stop at Half Moon Cay, and Carnival is building a new port for two giant ships in Gran Bahama. The investment reaches between 50 and 120 M$ per port. Other openings have taken place in Belize, Haiti, Mexico, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Honduras, the Dominican Republic… Passenger surveys show that they prefer to stop in these “private islands” rather than in Saint-Barth, Aruba or Curaçao: you disembark there at the quay and not in a rowboat, you speak English there, and the shopping, restaurants and attractions (water parks, horseback riding on the beach, shows featuring “local culture” scene…) are a few minutes walk away.