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Can't Call At Cuba? Some Cruises Stopping At Key West Instead

The recent U.S. ban on cruise ships traveling to Cuba has had a ripple effect on South Florida's cruise industry. Yet not all of it is bad news.

In fact, it's bringing more attention to the southernmost port of call for these big ships in the continental U.S.

About 300 cruise ships a year stop in Key West. More than 860,000 people reached the island that way last year, spending 6 to 8 hours taking tours and shopping.

So when Havana was suddenly off limits, the port 90 miles away was an obvious alternative.

"Because we're so close to Havana, it's an easy change. They can come directly to us if we have the space available and then they can continue on with the rest of their itinerary," said Greta Philips-Ford, executive director of Caribe Nautical, the ship's agent that handles logistics for cruise ships stopping in Key West.

She said Key West is both gaining and losing calls from cruise ships as the cruise lines re-position the trips.

"For the month of June, we've lost two ships and we've gained five," she said. "In July, we're looking at about the same thing — losing four, gaining five."

Philips-Ford said it will take awhile for the cruise lines to re-do itineraries and figure out which ships are going where. And, she said, the cruise industry is always changing.

"It's always based on the whim of Mother Nature, what the passengers want to see and do, what's happening politically in the world," she said.

The change has already brought new business to Key West. The Italian cruise line MSC has started calling at the island since the ban on Cuba. Virgin Voyages announced that the trip once planned to stop in Havana will go to Key West insteadwhen it starts sailing next year.

Nancy Klingener was WLRN's Florida Keys reporter until July 2022.
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