Cruises set sail from Port Tampa Bay for the first time in 19 months

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Starting Saturday, cruise ships are once again departing from Port Tampa Bay.

After more than a year and a half of being shut due to the global pandemic, the cruising industry is ready to set sail again.

Around 5 p.m., Royal Caribbean International’s “Serenade of the Seas” was the first cruise ship to depart from this port in 19 months.

Surrounding businesses are excited.

“They would be like, the guy from the port told us to come here because you all have the best food,” said Zelda’s Cafe & Deli’s Julia Whitter.

Whitter said Zelda’s has sat across from Port Tampa Bay for nearly 20 years, and in the past when people got off a cruise ship, they would come there. However, she said they saw a major decline in businesses when no one was setting sail.

The cruise industry makes up 20 percent of the port’s income, which translates to $7.5 million.

Advisers said a boat with 3,000 passengers generates more than $300,000 of economic impact for local businesses.

“Two weeks ago, a lot of people who used to work on the ship or had to do something with the ship came back to eat and I asked them are you ready, and they’ve been waiting,” Whitter said.

Local businesses like “Milkin’ It” are eager about the change.

“Everyone goes through here, everyone makes their dollar on that aspect, so waiting on that,” employee Sebastien Rivas said.

At 9 a.m. Saturday, there’s an event welcoming back the return of cruising, highlighting its economic benefit for the Bay Area.

“We know this is going to be a rebuilding process, and we’re okay with that,” Lisa Wolf-Chason with Port Tampa Bay said.

Carnival Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises will follow in November and Norwegian Cruise Line in December.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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