PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. – One year ago, Fishlips Waterfront Bar and Grille in Port Canaveral would bustle with patrons who came out to watch the cruise ships go by. It wouldn’t be uncommon for there to be two or three moored at the various terminals just a stone’s throw away.
But right now, that’s not happening.
"It’s been a big, big dent in our wallets," Michael Schwarz, who owns the restaurant, told Fox News. He stated that the cruise industry is "missed very much. We’re hopeful it is going to get going soon."
In 2019, the cruise line industry contributed over $55 billion to the US economy, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), with state’s like Alaska, Texas, New York and California playing large roles.
But no state has a bigger hand in cruising than Florida, which is home to the world’s three busiest cruise ports: Port Miami, Port Canaveral, and Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale respectively.
Since March of 2020, however, cruises have been canceled due to the pandemic. A November report from the CLIA says over 160,000 people had lost jobs as a result of the hiatus.
"The cruise industry is all about jobs, it’s all about people working in the state of Florida," Captain John Murray, CEO of Port Canaveral, told Fox News. Murray said Port Canaveral has been severely impacted by the loss of cruising, forcing them to cut budgets and delay capital projects in the short-term.
Luckily, cargo shipments have helped keep them afloat. But to get back on track, they’ll need cruise liners to return.
That may not be for a while, however. Companies like Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Disney have canceled U.S. trips through April 2021. Other liners like Cunard and Princess have gone ahead and axed cruises into and through May.
Murray said his team’s "forecast" is for cruising to return over the summer, but that’s far from certain.
"I don’t think anything is definite right now," said Murray. "The only thing we can do right now is do our own individual parts to control this pandemic."
But while airports have received billions of dollars in pandemic relief, seaports have not. Murray hopes that changes soon.
"There’s a lot of jobs that depend on the cruise business in the states," said Murray. "Unfortunately, for ports, not every state has a port. Every state has airports so that gets high visibility in the national limelight. Seaports don’t necessarily get that coverage because not every state has one."
Still, Murray is optimistic the industry will be phased back in slowly this year, and things will start to return to normal. When that begins, he emphasizes to the public that they are taking extra COVID-safe steps to ensure everyone’s protection.
Schwarz hopes to see those big ships on the Port Canaveral horizon sooner rather than later, believing they will reinvigorate a community that has sorely missed them.
"I just pray that we get there safely," said Schwarz. "It’s gonna be exciting, it’s gonna be vibrant. I think it will really put a shot in the arm to everybody that if they’re sailing, things are a little bit back to normal."