Tampa businesses welcome record-setting cruise crowds

Port Tampa Bay is coming off of its busiest cruise weekend ever. This past Saturday and Sunday, more than 29,000 passengers passed in and out of Tampa on six different cruise ships. It's just another milestone for the growing port.

Saturday brought the Carnival Paradise, Carnival Miracle, and Royal Caribbean Brilliance. Sunday brought the Norwegian Dawn, Holland America Rotterdam and Royal Caribbean Rhapsody. In all, 29,167 passengers came in and out of the port, smashing a previous weekend record of 22,960 set back in February.

"I can't say enough about the cruise lines, trusting in Tampa and seeing the opportunity," said Paul Anderson, CEO of Port Tampa Bay.

The port counted 50,256 passengers from March 25 to April 1, which includes the return of Carnival Paradise into rotation. Though they've never kept a weekly count, they believe this is their highest count for a single week.

That's a lot of suitcase wheels on the ground. A key part of this was the renovation of Terminal 6, which included new ticket counters, new baggage tables, more parking, and the ability to handle ships with 2,500 passengers.

"We have an eye to the future," Anderson said. "We have plans to try and expand our capacity and continue to work with our cruise partners to tell the Tampa story and get passengers and people to come here and take a cruise."

Cruises are set to sail everywhere from Cozumel to Havana to St. Thomas to the Panama Canal. This area is in a continued state of growth from the Channelside Bay Plaza waterfront development to the Water Street Tampa Project.

"It's what's going on in Tampa," Anderson said. "It's a renaissance happening in the south waterfront area of Tampa."

At Zelda's Cafe and Deli, owner Carl Smalling knows that when it's cruise season, he has a lot of hungry travelers to feed.

"We have people waiting in the courtyard in the front of the building," Smalling said. "The gas station is really busy, the store is really busy, we sell a lot of wine in the store. People buy a lot of stuff and take it to the ship."

Smalling and his chef both spent time working on cruise ships. "We are all sailors also," he laughed.

The blare of the horn is a welcome sound.

"I'm getting ready to put a bar out there right now, get some music going when the cruise ship is coming," Smalling said. "It's a good thing. They need to keep them coming. Everybody in the neighborhood needs the business."