One of Florida’s East Coast ports is enjoying a triple-digit surge in cruise passenger traffic, and it’s not Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or Port Canaveral. And it’s largely thanks to a single vessel with a distinctively Jimmy Buffett feel to it.
Cruise Traffic at Palm Beach Soars in 2023
The Port of Palm Beach saw cruise passenger traffic skyrocket 183% in 2023 from 2022’s level. In addition, the port was completely full on February 1, 2024, with all berths occupied that day by a cruise ship, cargo ships and private yachts.
“This achievement is unheard of in my 22-year tenure as a Port Commissioner,” said Wayne Richards, Port of Palm Beach Board of Commission chairman.
Net operating revenue in 2023 rose 11 percent, resulting in $3.3 million in net income. Cruise industry changes and improvements to the cargo areas of the port drove the results, Richards said.
“Under the direction of Executive Director Michael Meekins, port staff identified innovative strategies to further boost the port’s revenue and ensure the Port of Palm Beach remains a primary economic engine in Palm Beach County, the state of Florida and the region,” Richards said.
Jimmy Buffet-Themed Ship Driving Traffic at Palm Beach
While Palm Beach doesn’t see the cruise traffic of other East Coast ports in Florida – Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Port Canaveral are the top three homeports in the world – it does play host to the Margaritaville at Sea cruise line.
Formerly known as Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, Margaritaville at Sea operates one vessel – Margaritaville at Sea Paradise. The ship was originally built for Costa Cruises and named Costa Classica.
Through a partnership with the Jimmy Buffett-themed Margaritaville Resorts & Hotels group, Margaritaville at Sea Paradise sails 2-night cruises between Palm Beach and Freeport in the Bahamas. Guests can extend their vacations by staying at partner hotels on Grand Bahama Island.
The ship was built in 1991 and can accommodate a maximum of 1,680 guests. In May 2023, she underwent a series of renovations in dry dock to add a pickleball court, outdoor lounge space, a dueling piano bar, and a new burger restaurant.
Cruise Passenger Traffic in Florida Sets Record in 2023
The Port of Palm Beach is actually located just north of the city in Riviera Beach along the Atlantic Coast of Florida. More than 30 tenants make use of the port’s 165 acres. Cruise passenger traffic is estimated at 400,000 per year.
By comparison, PortMiami welcomed 7.3 million cruise passengers in 2023. Port Canaveral reported 6.9 million, and Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades hosted 3 million.
In total, seven Florida ports reported 19.4 million cruise passengers in 2023, besting the previous record set in 2019 by 1 million guests.
In addition to Margaritaville at Sea, SeaDream Yacht Club has previously used the Port of Palm Beach for sailing charter and regularly scheduled cruises to the Bahamas.
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SeaDream II is scheduled to resume 7-night cruises from Palm Beach to the Bahamas in April 2025. The three-deck vessel can accommodate 110 guests.