Tampa businesses prepare as cruises set sail for first time since start of the pandemic

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Cruise ships are returning to Tampa Bay. On Saturday, Port Tampa Bay will see it’s first departing cruise ship in more than a year.

Businesses tell 8 On Your Side they’ve felt that loss.

Zelda’s Cafe & Deli has sat across from Port Tampa Bay for nearly 20 years. Julia Whitter says in the past when people got off a cruise ship, they would come there.

“I think we were the spot everyone sent from the Port, they would say, the guy from the Port told us to come here because you all have the best food,” Whitter said.

Whitter says it’s not the same without cruises going in and out of the Port. Fortunately for Zelda’s and other businesses, the cruise industry is back, and they hope that means things go back to how they were pre-pandemic.

“Right now we close at five but we used to close at nine, hopefully when everything comes back we can go back to nine,” Whitter said.

Royal Caribbean’s “Serenade of the Seas” is set to depart from cruise terminal 6 on Saturday. It’s the first cruise vessel to leave the port since March 14, 2020, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a no-sail order.

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

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

According to leaders at the port, the cruise industry makes up 20% of their income, or $7.5 million. They say every 3,000-passenger ship generates $334,000 of spending in and around Tampa Bay.

The cruise industry makes up 20% of the port’s income, which translates to 7 and a half million dollars. . Business Research & Economic advisors say a 3,000 passenger ship generates 334,000 dollars of spending in and around Tampa Bay.

Whitter says there’s some concern because the virus is still out there, but she says there’s also excitement, not just from Zelda’s and other businesses in the area, but from people who haven’t worked in months.

“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.

Port leaders say they used the time during the pandemic to update their terminals and improve their cleaning procedures so they were ready when passengers return. They’re holding a celebration Saturday morning before the cruise ship leaves.

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