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Key West limits cruise ships in referendum

Note: The 2021 Florida Legislature passed a law that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed June 30 that eliminates a city’s power to regulate cruise ships, thus overturning these referendums. 

Visitors who think Key West “has been ruined” often blame the huge cruise ships that are frequent visitors, spewing thousands of day-trippers onto the island.

That might be changing, as Key West residents passed three referendums Nov. 3 limiting Key West cruise ships.

Approved by more than 60 percent of voters were measures to:

  • Limit the number of people disembarking from cruise ships to 1,500 a day
  • Limit the capacity of ships that can call at Key West to 1,300 people
  • Give priority to ships with the best environmental and health safety records.
key west cruise ships Cruise Nieuw Amsterdam Royal Majesty Wikimedia Key West limits cruise ships in referendum
Key West cruise ships will be limited to smaller vessels with fewer passengers as a result of a Nov. 3 referendum. Here two cruise ships are at the piers in Key West. (Photo: Photo by Ray Blazevic via Wikimedia)

The group’s website says that “cleaner” will be measured two ways:

  • By a ship’s scores by the Vessel Sanitation Program from the Centers for Disease Control.
  • By its records of environmental violations.

Groups for and against limits on Key West cruise ships

The referendum effort started during the pandemic and was led by the Key West Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships. Its website describes the committee as “everyday” residents of the Lower Keys concerned about health, the environment and the economic health of the area.

Opponents of the limitations on cruise ships conducted a study that reported that of the 3 million annual visitors to Key West, more than a million arrive by cruise ship. Cruise passengers contribute 7 percent of total visitor spending, according to the study. Because they are not spending on hotels, the bulk of that cruise-visitor money goes to restaurants, shopping and recreation.

Cruise ship passengers support 800 jobs, according to the report, and contribute $21 million in tax revenue.

The group that fought for limiting cruise ships had its own set of statistics: “On average, cruise ship passengers spend only $32 per person. Overnight visitors spend $550 per person,” according to the group’s website.

The cruise industry has exploded in the last 30 days: Since 1990, cruise ship traffic in Key West has increased by 650 per cent, according to Key West Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships.

Since the cruise industry is on pause because of the pandemic, this referendum won’t have an immediate impact and it is likely to be settled in court. There were challenges to the referendum filed in court even before the election.

Here’s more information about limits on Key West cruise ships from WLRN.

Things to do in Key West

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m. Wilson

Tuesday 17th of November 2020

The cruise ships do introduce people to that bit of heaven and many may come back to stay longer after visiting there.. If this goes through, they will find out how much money they will miss from these visitors. I find it hard to believe that all the stores will be able to stay open with such a change in visitors, but maybe the merchants are not needed there and the restaurants having fewer customers is what they want. Lovely idea to keep it secluded, but surely hope it will be sustainable. I wish them luck in what ever they decide, I have visited the Keys both by car with a hotel stay as well as cruise ship and always love it there.

David Cannon

Monday 16th of November 2020

Grass roots, or given the location, sea grass roots activism is alive and well in Key West. I am acquainted with 2 of the 4 board members of the Committee for Safer, Cleaner, Ships. The other 2, are my nephews. I could not be more proud.

JS Shipley

Sunday 15th of November 2020

My wife and I since 1990 have been to and stayed in Key West 7 times in the past 30 years. First 4 between 90&95 the last trip was this Past January. Since 95 Key West just doesn't have the charm it did in the earlier years. The January trip we stayed off Duvall, to commercialized. The cruise ship industry has ruined Key West.

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