BY RICHARD TRIBOU
ORLANDO SENTINEL (TNS)
ORLANDO — Out with the old and in with the new. That’s the theme for the Florida cruise port shuffle in 2016 as new builds make their way to the Sunshine State.
PortMiami, Port Everglades and Port Canaveral will all benefit as newer and larger ships arrive this year, with big shifts coming from Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival Cruise Line.
The biggest change literally will be the arrival of the new record-holder for world’s largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s 5,479-passenger Harmony of the Seas, which is set to debut in Europe this spring and then make its way to Fort Lauderdale by November.
The third Oasis-class ship from the line, it’s a sister ship that will be slightly larger than the current record holders for world’s largest cruise ship, the two Oasis-class ships that currently call Port Everglades home, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.
To make room for Harmony, though, Royal Caribbean will see if Central Florida has a taste for giant ships, sending the 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas to Port Canaveral starting November.
Port Canaveral is benefiting from the giant ship shuffle from Norwegian Cruise Line as well.
Since PortMiami is now home to both Norwegian Getaway and the new Norwegian Escape, what used to be Norwegian’s largest cruise ship and used to call the Magic City home, the 4,100-passenger Norwegian Epic, will also make its way to Port Canaveral. The line, which just this fall returned to Port Canaveral after a three-year absence, will bring Epic the same month as Oasis of the Seas.
“We’re a very strong cruise line in Florida,” said Andy Stuart, Norwegian Cruise Line’s president and chief operating officer. “We’ve been here since the beginning. Florida for 50 years has been Norwegian’s home and we have our two newest ships in Miami, so the opportunity to put one of our big, new ships in Port Canaveral was one that we were excited about.”
Carnival Cruise Line is also bringing one of its largest ships to Port Canaveral when the 3,690-passenger Carnival Magic arrives in April. Magic is the second of the line’s three Dream-class ships, built in 2011. It’s shifting from Galveston, Texas, which will get the line’s latest Dream-class ship Carnival Breeze, currently sailing out of PortMiami.
That will leave PortMiami without any of Carnival’s biggest ships from May until December, when the new Carnival Vista arrives. The 135,000-ton, 4,000-passsenger Vista will be the largest the cruise line has ever built.
Not all changes are on a grand scale at the ports. Port Everglades just welcomed the 2,260-passenger Costa Deliziosa, which brings the line back to the port after a four-year hiatus. The Italian line has not sailed from Fort Lauderdale since 2011 and will sail out of South Florida until March.
And filed under what’s old is new again, a ship will be returning to Royal Caribbean after sailing with the line’s sister line Pullmantur since 2008. Empress of the Seas, which debuted in 1990, will offer short cruises from Miami beginning in March. Also coming to Miami will be what is now Princess Cruises’ Ocean Princess, but with a new name when it is handed over to Oceania Cruises.
Sirena will debut after a 35-day, $40 million overhaul in November.
Older, smaller vessels, which often make way for newer builds, have proved profitable for lines such as Royal Caribbean, which also is bringing Majesty of the Seas to Port Canaveral beginning in May. At one point, Royal had planned on sending the ship, which was built in 1992, to Pullmantur, but rethought its strategy as the 2,350-passenger ship will take over 3- and 4-night sailings for the Tampa-bound Rhapsody of the Seas. Tampa will also get Norwegian Jade beginning in fall 2016.
Other highlights of 2016 will be the Florida debuts of the latest ships from Holland America and Regent Seven Seas. Holland America’s ms Koningsdam, which will sail the Mediterranean beginning in April 2016, will make its way to Port Everglades to sail the Caribbean from November 2016 to March 2017. Also coming to South Florida in 2016 will be what’s billed as the most luxurious cruise ship ever built when Regent Seven Seas Explorer makes its way to Miami by December.