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.
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.
Things to do in Key West
- Free things to do in Key West
- Key West on budget: Accommodations, restaurants
- Eight Key West restaurants for authentic local flavor
- Key West Butterfly Conservatory: A tranquil stop
- Audubon House, a lovely refuge in Key West
- Historic Key West Seaport: Scenic stroll along the harbor
- Historic Key West Cemetery is full of stories
- Fort Zachary Taylor State Park: Top beach in Key West
- Hogfish Grill: Where Key West locals go for fresh fish
- Key West Tropical Forest and Botanic Garden: It will charm plant lovers
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.