Port Manatee wants cruise ships again

- Cargo ships deliver 48 million pineapples and over a billion bananas to Port Manatee each year.   With that comes $2.3 billion in economic impact. 

The port has become known for its cargo, but Port Manatee Executive Director Carlos Buqueras sees the opportunity to attract thousands of tourists with a cruise ship operation. 

"It's a matter of timing it right," he said. 

There are six ports that serve cruise lines in Florida: Five on the East Coast, and only Tampa on the West Coast.  That could make Port Manatee attractive to potential cruise lines. 

"It just makes sense that the cruise lines would be interested in having a second port. The demand on cruise and terminals is almost unlimited," said Buqueras. 

For 10 years the Regal Empress set sail from the port.  Operations closed up in 2003, but the old cruise ship terminal has sat as a reminder of the past -- and maybe of the future. 

"Those cruise ships are moveable assets and those cruise lines plan 18 to 24 months ahead. So we are wanting to get into that cycle of their planning so we can be in the sweet spot of the cruise decision-makers within the next couple of years," continued Buqueras. 

It's been a year and a half of trying to lure a cruise line to the port, and Buqueras said he's not giving up until one arrives. 

"I can't commit to a time frame,” he added.  “I'll tell you as soon as we have something confirmed and firm we will call you.”

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