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Cruise ships just returned to Key West after the COVID shutdown. Are more coming?

Gwen Filosa, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI — Two cruise ships arrived in Key West over the weekend, ending a 20-month absence during the COVID-19 pandemic that brought the industry to a halt.

The Crystal Serenity docked Saturday morning at the privately owned Pier B at the Opal Key West Resort and Marina. The smaller Azamara Quest arrived at the nearby city-owned Mallory Pier.

The return marked a milestone in Key West, where the relationship between cruise ships and local people is complicated.

Key West voters last year approved three referendums to restrict ships by size and capacity. That vote, however, was canceled by legislation signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in June.

“This is what we voted against,” said Stuart Strickland of Key West, at Pier B viewing the Crystal Serenity. “Today is not going to be a huge impact as far as the number of people, but it’s just the beginning.”

Key West residents and business owners continue to argue over the environmental impact of the ships and whether the local economy needs the influx of passengers. City commissioners are awaiting proposed ordinances written by municipal administrators that keep in place the cruise traffic limits approved by voters.

 

The ships that arrived in the Southernmost City weren’t full. The Crystal Serenity, which can hold a little more than 1,000 passengers, had 476 people aboard. The Azamara Quest held 435 on a ship that can carry about 680, according to Caribe Nautical Services, which schedules and assists cruise ships at the Key West’s port piers.

The two ships had approval from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S Coast Guard, and COVID protocols were “strictly adhered to” on both, said John Wells, founder of Caribe Nautical.

Both ships left Key West by 5:30 p.m. Saturday, said Doug Bradshaw, Key West’s port and marine services director.

At Pier B, several businesses, including the Opal, sent their employees at the pier to hold signs that welcomed back the passengers to the tourism-dependent island, which has been regularly filled with visitors this year despite the lengthy suspension of cruise ships.

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