Home Cruises It Just Got A Lot Harder To Go To Key West

It Just Got A Lot Harder To Go To Key West

by SharonKurheg

Although Florida is a popular travel destination, Key West has always been a little something extra special for many travelers. Whatever it is, be it the laid back attitude, the party atmosphere, the LGBTQ+ friendliness, the amazing sunsets, etc., the southernmost point in the continental U.S. gets over 2 million visitors every year, between those who fly and drive in, along with day visitors who come via cruise ships.

Several months ago, we wrote that Key West was going to have some amendments on the ballot that had to do with allowing cruise ships to stop in Key West (take a look at the statistics they gathered – they’re pretty fascinating!). Welp, it just got harder to go to Key West because the Key West cruise ship ballots were approved.

All three of the issues were approved by more than 60% of the vote. This means ships calling at Key West will be limited to no more than 1,300 passengers, and the number of cruise passengers coming ashore each day will be limited to 1,500. Plus, in a nod to Key West’s fragile environment, ships with “better” environmental and public health records will have priority.

These changes will prevent even the smallest of the major cruise lines’ ships from calling at Key West.

Last year nearly one million people visited Key West on a cruise ship. Although that’s almost half its total number of tourists, cruise passengers only account for about 7% of total tourism spending.

The tourism community of Key West plans to, of course, fight the referendum. In fact, port operator Pier B Development had already started federal legal proceedings against the city and the Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships, who originally introduced the bill. But meanwhile, the changes will be added to the city’s charter imminently.

Meanwhile, it looks like once cruises can start again, there might be some itinerary changes on the horizon.

Feature Photo: Needpix.com

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

33 comments

Wendy Wilson November 9, 2020 - 5:20 pm

I find your opening very misleading. Just because people in Key West care about their environment doesn’t mean it will be “harder” to get here.

What it means is it will be cleaner and less crowded when you get here.

I’m guessing you haven’t seen the herds that clog traffic and tosses their trash in their wake every time a huge cruise ship dumps its load. I have, although not for years as I refuse to go to Duval and it’s environs when a ship is in.

Smaller ships tend to bring more upscale tourists. Key West has so much more to offer than tacky t-shirts, slices of crappy cheese pizza, and watery drinks. With all of the creative people who live in the Keys, I find it hard to believe that we can’t come up with more upscale attractions and food choices.

Eco-tourism is a big draw, especially for those with the money to spend. We can either use our environment to attract tourists or we can let huge cruise ships destroy our environment and depend on drunks to hold up our economy.

As for those complaining about “pricing out middle class families”, Key West has been doing that for years. Do you KNOW what it costs to stay in a hotel in Key West? Most middle class families can’t afford that. Plus, Key West is NOT a family friendly destination. It has never been and will never be.

Aim higher, because that is the future. The ships won’t be coming back until sometime next year. Time to brainstorm a new direction for Key West and the Keys.

Oh, and, don’t forget: CIVID-19 was a really big deal on cruise ships.

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SharonKurheg November 10, 2020 - 1:05 pm

Hi and thanks for writing. I live in Orlando, visit Key West once or twice a year, and have friends who live there – I’m well aware of the environmental factors that have affected the city. That being said, our blog is about travel, so we focus on travel more than we do about environmental issues. 50% of KW’s tourists come from cruise ships; it’s more convenient for John Q. Public & family to go to KW as part of their itinerary than it is to drive down Rt. 1, or even to to fly on Silver Airways and the other airlines that fly into KW’s airport. If it wasn’t, I suspect the number of KW’s drive/fly-in tourists would be significantly higher.

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Ron November 11, 2020 - 10:56 am

I’m a native Floridian and have been to KW a hundred+ times. I’ve never been on a cruise ship, never will. Fly or drive. From my experience, cruise ship arrivals completely kill the vibe of the island. One minute you’re enjoying a lazy stroll down Greene, the next minute you’re inundated with hundreds of some of the rudest, inconsiderate people you’ve ever met. I just want to go back to my room and hide when a ship comes in. Good riddance to those floating petri dishes.

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Robert lubberman November 11, 2020 - 3:26 am

Thanks Wendy. Until I read this I thought this was just an example of locals trying to kill the golden goose. Thanks for explaining it so clearly

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Wanda Roldan November 11, 2020 - 10:00 am

So glad those large ships won’t be able to come. I have seen on satellite what they doing to our ocean. It wasn’t Good.

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Laura Colon November 11, 2020 - 8:39 pm

It’s not coming to port that’s polluting it when they are allowed to dump their trash and waste out at sea…bad news and sad news for KW

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Mike Hassall November 10, 2020 - 12:51 pm

You might be surprised to learn that there is an airline-served airport in Key West and a beautiful road that leads to the mainland. At the end of that road, in Miami/Ft Lauderdale, live 3.5 million people, Many of them would frequently visit Key West (I was one of them), filling hotel rooms, restaurant seats and, yes, bar stools.

Once the cruise lines started dumping 8,000 day trippers into little Key West every single day, the multi-day fly-in or drive-in visitors stopped coming. Why fight for beach space or sidewalk space with the hordes? Forget about finding a cool drink overlooking the harbor. The revenue lost in hotel room and meal taxes was hardly replaced by the sales tax on t-shirts, scooter rentals and watery rum drinks.

Key West will do fine without the cruise ships. I only hope Bar Harbor is paying attention.

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SharonKurheg November 10, 2020 - 1:10 pm

Hi! You might want to re-read my post. We’ve flown into KW many times. Since we live in Orlando though, it’s sometimes more convenient for us to drive. 😉 Regardless, you might want to re-check your statistics – from what I’ve found, it looks as if Key West arrivals and hotel stays have increased steadily since at least the past decade and change. https://www.keywesttravelguide.com/key-west-tourism-statistics/

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Jennifer November 11, 2020 - 3:05 pm

You are leaving out another route to Key West besides flying or driving…go to Fort Myers or Naples and take the Key West Express.
50% of the visitors (along with their garbage) but only 7% of the tourism spending?…sounds like good riddance.

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RENE November 13, 2020 - 7:13 pm

I have been there a few times while cruising. No great loss to miss this port.

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SharonKurheg November 13, 2020 - 9:01 pm

Whether any port (or, for that matter, cruising in general) is a great loss or not is very subjective.

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Ron S November 11, 2020 - 4:02 am

Correction Southern most point in the continental U.S. Not the southern most point in the U.S. need to go to Hawaii for that.

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SharonKurheg November 11, 2020 - 9:38 am

My bad. I’ll fix that. Thanks!

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Vicky Roberts November 11, 2020 - 12:02 pm

I drove down to KW so I could have the experience and take in the beauty. I think the people in KW should protect their homes and community. Us as outsiders don’t see the whole picture. KW is a beautiful unique island. I love all the history and locals. I did not meet a stranger. 🙂 It was nice the streets were not overly populated. I will return to see the gorgeous sunsets. The week I was down was overcast so I missed out on the sunsets. 🙁 I will return!

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Fred November 11, 2020 - 5:20 am

I think the article was factual from what I’ve read elsewhere. The main point being cruise ships bring in more tourists but they only bring in 7% of the tourism revenue. Key West can focus on making up that small percentage of revenue by focusing on longer term staying guests. The only part they might miss out on is cruise guests that make their next trip a long term stay at one of their cruise stops as their next vacation. Not sure about the comment about fighting crowds though. If you don’t like crowds then one of the other keys is more suitable anyway.

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Capt Tyed November 11, 2020 - 6:02 am

Loved Key West the few times we visisted via big ship cruises. Last time we dropped over $5k on Atocha jewelry, clothing , souvenirs and food with chickens as scenery in just one afternoon. Took the conch train, saw Mel Fishers and awed Hemingway. Loved it and swore to go back. Planned and paid for next 2021 trip to go again to see what more KW has to offer. We loved the charm of the place. That being said, whether our ship stops there or not, we will not get off the ship, or ever visit here again. Will not waste our time or money where we are not wanted. There are too many other more exciting places to visit. Hope the businesses there have the resilience to survive without cruise dollars during these trying times. We wish you the best KW and thanks for the few now deemed semi-mediocre memories!

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Amy November 11, 2020 - 10:51 pm

Thank you for visiting our beautiful island. As a business owner down here I want to say thank you. Hundreds of us will lose our jobs and many of us will lose our businesses with the loss of these ships. We don’t have 1000’s of people disembarking daily, these ships do not dump their waste. Many of us fought the other side of this battle for months and we accept that the voters decisions but will continue to shed the truth as well. Hearing that you will not visit because you do not feel welcome breaks my heart. The most ironic part is that my businesses are not open during the day when ships are here but we still will feel the effects because of exactly your experience. Heart broken down here 🙁

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Hurricane MonRoge November 11, 2020 - 6:25 am

Im a native Floridian (18th gen Miccosukee-Seminole) and maintain a primary residence in Palm Beach Cty with our 2nd Home in Key West. We have many friends in Key West that own business’ including bars, restaurants & retail and I’ve witnessed and heard a high preponderance of negative affect the Cruise Ships have had than positive. Our personal opinion is based upon the fact that our home is close to the Grave Yard. Where in the world do you live that its ok to leave your rubbish in a grave yard ANY WHERE? From tourists urinating in our front yard to picking up the remains of a picnic on a 100yr old tomb it didn’t exist pre cruise ships. So hallelujah and good riddance to them!

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Bob November 11, 2020 - 7:44 am

Sad response from earlier.
You basically called Cruisers, LOW CLASS Humans
How about this Idea.
Check Points so people can prove their Net Worth is high enough for your standards.

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Angela Christine Thurmond November 11, 2020 - 8:34 am

We just left the Keys a few weeks ago and fell in love with all of the islands. I also found myself wanting to fight for KW’s unique environment and the barrier reef that protects the chain of islands. Large cruise ships have no business plowing through the shallows, causing massive siltation and threatening juvenile coral. You can walk the shoreline (in a few places when the tide is low) and find coral skeletons in abundance. There are so many different varieties of coral and aquatic life that live in this reef. This unique ecosystem is absolutely being threatened by human behavior!! Once it is gone..it’s gone forever. We have to protect these ecosystems because the wildlife that inhabit them, can’t. There is NO amount of revenue that can replace KW’s beauty- it’s priceless.

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Mermaid 33 November 11, 2020 - 10:00 am

This article has such a strange, twisted slant. Cruise ships had their chance, and really blew it. Perhaps a more balanced article would read “Key West locals hope to preserve the environment and provide a magical experience for visitors and locals” , but alas, in these late days of capitalist greed, all that anyone cares about is money.

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SharonKurheg November 14, 2020 - 7:26 am

That title would be entirely too long ;-). That set aside, our blog focuses on travel, so we wrote it in the interest of travelers. Frankly, we personally won’t miss the cruise ships being there on our 1-2 visits to KW every day (we drive in), and I’m thrilled that the environment will benefit from the decision.

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Susy November 11, 2020 - 11:40 am

Key west

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Susy November 11, 2020 - 11:43 am

Key west never had cruise ships years ago and survived and will continue to do so

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Omar Diaz November 11, 2020 - 11:59 am

Comments killed it. The trash and garbage that many people leave when they visit is totally out of control. The ships have bars and restaurants and meals on board so even though the ships passengers make up 50% of total tourists who visit only 7% of the revenue comes from them. The damage done to KW from the large ships is not worth the minimal income. What else needs to be said. It’s good to point out that if Covid-19 had not come around none of this would have passed. So between health, environmental and revenue to businesses issues it just doesn’t make sense to keep bringing these huge desease carriers at this time.

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Candy Kane November 11, 2020 - 12:11 pm

I’ve had a home in Key West since 1987, before the cruise ships visited. The water was a beautiful aqua, everywhere. The reef was healthy! After many years of cruise ships, the water turned a dark grey in many areas, strangely enough, the path that the cruise ships took. The reef has changed and not for the better. During the pandemic, the color was once again aqua and the reef has gotten so much healthier looking. Regardless of the money tourists spend in the first few blocks of this town, we can’t overlook the damage the big cruise ships bring, due to carelessness as well as size. We have a little island, we can really only accommodate little ships. Mother Nature told us that, and proved it with the healing we’ve seen in only 7 months without the big ships.

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Valerie Christine Goulet November 11, 2020 - 8:20 pm

So this dude on a cruise shipsays like oh we drop this much money at the jewelry store whatever and then he goes and like bashas the conchs by saying you’re mediocre island because the government wants to stop it listen all of us at work and live in key West we need your money okay so it’s not us so don’t be so rude everyone act like you know they liked it and then all of a sudden and then they say watery drinks and stuff like that so what is it then do you like it here in key West or don’t you like it in key West I grew up there’s no gray in the middle babies it’s either black or white yes or no there’s no ifs ands or buts

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Ruth November 12, 2020 - 6:18 am

Did you mean- it just got easier to get to Key West instead? I think Key West will be just fine, less garbage, less garbage, but even more Floridians and other Keys locals will flock in.

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SharonKurheg November 12, 2020 - 11:39 am

Since 50% of KW’s visitors were arriving by cruise ship, it will be more difficult for those people to get to KW since they’ll have to make a concerted effort to go there, instead of it just being part of their itinerary. I understand your point, but no, it won’t be any physically easier or more difficult for Floridians or other Key locals to go.

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Robin Hardin November 13, 2020 - 9:29 am

If they build a bridge to Cuba, Key West will just be a Truckstop. Hookers, Coffee; Chesp Gas!

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Holly November 14, 2020 - 3:33 am

Outside opinions aside it seems the citizens have spoken. What is the challenge?

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Stephen Degrave November 14, 2020 - 9:29 am

For your information the only ships that dump sewage etc overboard, and yes it is legal, are the smaller ships they cannot hold that much sewage! the newer bigger ships do not dump anything fish can’t eat! thats first. the cruise lines pay the highest amount of anyplace per passenger to go to key west,10 years ago it was $14.95 per passenger. the smaller ships are the discount ships and do not bring higher scale passengers (for the vast majority) they bring the cheap bargain passengers I cruise at least 4 times a year and love it! I talk to passengers and they love key west. I will not cruise on the smaller ships! you have been sold a bill of goods by those that want to make key west like sanibel island! Next thing you know all the festivals will be canceled and bars will be required to close early and Duval will be a mall! I beg of you do not kill Key West for all the condo snobs!

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Gary getty November 15, 2020 - 7:07 am

What bridge is that Robin?b

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