As of 5:45 p.m. on Thursday, August 31, 2023, Port Tampa Bay officially reopened and resumed all normal vessel operations. The last of three Florida cruise homeports to reopen after Hurricane Idalia swept through the state as a Category 3 major storm, the resumption of normal cruise activities will be welcome news for travelers with upcoming sailings over the Labor Day weekend.
Port Tampa Bay Now Open
Port Tampa Bay reopened all shipping channels and resumed normal operations late Thursday afternoon, after detailed assessments of all essential waterways, channels, and port facilities, including cruise terminals and docks. The US Coast Guard (USCG) issued the clearance to reopen and set the port condition to normal.
The port had closed ahead of the storm early on Tuesday, August 29, when the USCG set Port Condition Zulu, with gale force winds expected within 12 hours.
“We want to express our sincere appreciation to those who helped our port prepare and recover from the impact of the storm,” a statement from the port read.
“The port’s Operations, Security, Facilities staff, maritime community, the U.S. Coast Guard, and our local law enforcement and emergency response agencies were critical to our ability to minimize the effects of the storm and help our port to return to operations as soon as safely possible.”
During the storm while marine operations halted, landside activities did remain open to ensure fuel delivery, as Port Tampa Bay is critical to Florida’s fuel infrastructure and supply.
“Few people understand the full impact a seaport has on their daily lives until a crisis hits. We are proud to help our community and region get back on its feet following Hurricane Idalia and welcome back the fuel and cargo ships that are the lifeblood of our local economy,” said Paul Anderson, Port Tampa Bay President and CEO.
In total, Port Tampa Bay impacts more than 85,000 regional jobs and has a $17 billion (USD) economic impact on Florida.
Cruises Set to Return Friday
The cruise ships – with their combined 4,200 passengers onboard – were originally scheduled to return to Tampa on Thursday, August 31.
Because the port reopened late in the day, however, both cruise lines had already planned to extend the current sailings by one day and shorten the next sailings by one day to compensate for the closure.
Now, both vessels are cleared to return to the port on Friday, September 1, and each cruise line is communicating with its guests about necessary adjustments.
Other Florida Ports Already Open
Two other Florida homeports, Jaxport in Jacksonville and Port Canaveral on the central Atlantic coast, also closed during Hurricane Idalia. Those ports were able to reopen more quickly, however, with Port Canaveral resuming operations at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, August 30 – just 18 hours after having initially closed.
Port Canaveral was on the southern fringe of the storm only, and while strong winds did impact the area, the overall effect of Hurricane Idalia on the Port Canaveral area was minimal.
Jaxport set Port Condition Zulu and closed at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, August 29, but was able to reopen at 10 a.m. on Thursday, August 31 after the storm was well out of the area and inspections were complete.
Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Elation was delayed several hours returning to Jaxport due to the closure, and embarking guests were asked to arrive at the terminal from 2:30-5 p.m. instead of their originally scheduled arrival windows. As Carnival Elation is the line’s oldest and and one of its smallest vessels with just 2,130 guests, the disruption to their 4-night Bahamas cruise is minimal.
No cruise operations at Florida’s other two major cruise homeports – PortMiami as well as Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale – were impacted by Hurricane Idalia.