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It’s Time to Rethink a Mayport Cruise Terminal

Tom PattonJaxPort has said it’s time to reconsider the cruise terminal in Mayport, along with two other undisclosed locations. If Jacksonville is serious about being a cruise homeport, then they are certainly right.

Port authorities say that Charleston’s recent deal with Carnival, and Savannah’s pronouncement that it was forming a task force to explore the possibility of a cruise terminal a couple of hours north of Jacksonville, were not the deciding factors in the timing of reopening the discussion. Fair enough, though it’s impossible to believe that they aren’t at least looking over their shoulders at the potential competition from cities to the North of us, and they have said the competition has always been there.

River SunsetWhile the Port Authority says they are considering locations other than the Mayport property they already own, it seems that it would make the most sense to make that the first best option. Obviously, the concerns of the people living in Mayport are going to have to be considered in any cruise terminal plans. But it’s time for everyone to negotiate in good faith and be ready to go, because the cruise lines aren’t going to sit around and wait while Jacksonville dithers around trying to make up its mind what it’s going to do. If Savannah is ready, and Carnival, or some other cruise line is ready, they’ll make a deal and JaxPort is going to be sitting on some pricey (in normal times) riverfront property with nothing to do with it.

I’m still one of those who believes that the cruise industry would be a boon to Mayport. For businesses to thrive, there have to be customers, and for customers to come to the Mayport area, there needs to be a reason to be there. If, for instance, shops and restaurants were to open to take advantage the flow of people coming to board cruise ships, it might also attract local folks looking for someplace to have lunch overlooking the river … something in woefully short supply right now. The amount of money that would be invested in Mayport to build the cruise terminal to make the needed infrastructure improvements could not but help the area financially, but would also hopefully make the area more attractive. And if you’ve been to Mayport recently, you know that there are large areas of what can only be described as blight with pockets that represent what the area might be able to be. Safe Harbor Seafood, with its outdoor dining and thriving fresh fish market is one such example, and of course Stricklands will continue to be an institution. Jacksonville Marina, which is undergoing a renovation, will hopefully start attracting boaters back to Mayport. It had fallen into such disrepair that many had left as the economy soured. But new docks and improved facilities will perhaps make the marina thrive again.

New fishing rules may make that a more difficult proposition, but that’s a subject for another day.

Big_LittleThe Mayport Waterfront Association has said it is willing to talk with JaxPort again about the cruise terminal. The town needs something to sustain it. Suncruise suspended operations at Mayport and other ports in December with no explanation, and the shrimping industry, while holding on, is struggling.

The Ports Authority already owns the land it needs to make the new cruise terminal in Mayport a reality. It says it is considering two other sites that would also allow larger ships to call in Jacksonville, but has not said what those sites are. It has also said it favors an “open and transparent” dialog. The current cruise terminal is slated for demolition to make way for the Hanjin cargo terminal, and that’s always been part of the plan. If Jacksonville wants to stay in the cruise business, we’re going to have to show the cruise lines that we’re serious about it. With the ships sailing from here booked to over capacity, albeit often due to deep discounts to fill the staterooms, there is good reason to think that we can have a thriving cruise industry here in Jacksonville. But if the city doesn’t take it seriously, the cruise lines will go someplace where they are.

It’s a competition we’d be wise to play to win.

10 Responses »

  1. Tom, have you ever been on a cruise ship? Apparently not, from some of the remarks in your article.

    People who are going on a cruise will NOT stop and eat at a local (Mayport) restaurant either before or after a cruise. When a cruise ship is embarking the priority of the passenger is to get on the ship and start eating (already paid for). When a cruise ship is debarking, the priority of the passenger is to either get in his car and get home, get on his bus, or get a cab to the airport.

    As for passengers buying stuff in local shops, they may fare a little better than restaurants, but not much. Souvenirs are a big business for cruise ships and their ports of call. I can't see tourists spending much money in Mayport since they are going to want to either get on the ship or get home as quickly as possible.

    As for the Port Authority favoring an "open and transparent dialog", they should have thought of that over a year ago when they surreptitiously bought the land in Mayport. Talk about underhanded, behind-closed-doors deals!! A grand jury needs to investigate the crooked deals and schemes of the Port Authority.

    • Actually, yes I have been on a cruise ship, though it has been a few years. I sailed on the Carnival Celebration when it was brand new back in the late '80s, which make it even more fun to see it here. We went to Miami the night before we sailed, and likely spent money there. Is it fair to compare Mayport to Miami? Of course not, but I'll stick with my assertion that nobody's going to spend money in Mayport if there's nothing on which to spend money.

      • We live in Jax Beach and previously sailed on the Celebration out of Jacksonville. We've also been once on the ship we now have, Fascination, and will go again on back to back cruises in September. We'd love to see a cruise terminal in Mayport. Every 4 and 5 days we wait to see it enter the ocean from the river and can see it for at least and hour and a half until it goes over the horizon way to the southeast.

      • Ok, I'll agree that there are some people who will do as you did (spend a night before the ship leaves), but the vast majority of cruise ship passengers arrive in the port city the day the ship leaves, and leave the port city the day the ship arrives.

        I am still not convinced that tourism in Mayport would be significantly impacted enough to make hotels and restaurants money-making propositions.

    • I am getting ready for my 54th cruise in 58 years of life. I was on a cruise in March from Tampa and leaving in May from Cocoa. I have gone on as many as 4 per year. If you travel a couple of hours south to the Cocoa area you will see what a little commitment can do. As the ships leave the Cocoa port look out at the crowds of people filling the reataurants and bars waving at the cruise passengers. The motels that have opened in the area to house those that come in the day before the cruise. Those same hotels will keep your car and shuttle you to the ship. I have been out of that port more than any and have always had to buy gas and other items for those traveling with me.
      I think Jax Port and Jacksonville have missed the boat for no better term to use.

    • As frequent cruisers, and residents of the Port Canaveral area, I can tell you that VETERAN cruisers by far prefer to arrive at least a day early. In fact, among the regular cruisers that I know, those who do NOT arrive at least a day early are in a small minority. And those are the very ones who are more likely to return.

      There's also the money brought in by the crew to consider. On days when the ships are in port, out local Walmart is crowded with crew members doing their weekly shipping.

  2. Mayport is not going to become a "thriving" place whether it is a cruise terminal or stays a run down fishing village. No private investor is going to sink money into trying to make it some sort of historical tourist attraction, either. Once the ferry shuts down (and it will) there will be no reason for anybody to go there, period.

    Let's face it, the best and highest use is some sort of commercial/industrial acticity related to the ocean. The fishing industry isn't going to come back in it's previous form, and the big operations aren't going to come there either. That leaves sport fishing, recreational boating and the cruise business as the options. The one that is going to generate the most financial benefits for the Jax area is the cruise business. It will translate into airport income, transportation business income (busses and taxis), some spin off (although limited) for hotels and other establishments, wholesale business (someone supplies the ship with food, etc) and service jobs (port maintenance, etc).

  3. I've been on cruises in South & Central America, the Caribbean, Alaska, and Europe. Will passengers shop on shore? Yes, because the on-board shops are limited, prices are no bargain, yet there can be a great variety of merchandise, as well as interesting cultural experiences, where the ships dock. It all comes down to the willingness of merchants to set up shops, restaurants, lodging, trips, sight-seeing, etc. in the area where the ships are. This could include not just Mayport but all of the N.E. Florida, S.E. Georgia area......the beach communities, St. Augustine, St. Marys, and the resort areas near Brunswick. And I'll bet many merchants are savvy enough to figure out what works and what doesn't work with respect to appealing to cruise passengers. Let's try to be expansive in our thinking and not just focus on what Mayport looks like today, IF there is a serious commitment to the cruise industry. Let's hope the decision makers exhaustively consider all the options available and required in order to be successful.

    Expansive thinking item #1: Get Tim Tebow as Official Greeter for the Gator/NFL themed cruise terminal!

    • And how much time/money did you spend in shops that were in/near the port where your cruises started from and ended at? Not much, I'd be willing to wager.

      Cruise ship passengers spend a lot of money in shops at the various ports of call because they, for the most part, a captive audience, and because they are "on vacation".

      I don't believe that passengers consider the ships' port city in the same light as they view the various ports of call.

      As I mentioned in a previous post, when a cruise ship returns home from a cruise, the priority of the vast majority of passengers is to either get in their cars, get on a bus, or get to the airport. They just are not going to spend significant amounts of either time or money in the immediate vicinity of the cruise ship dock.

      I love Mayport as much as anyone else. I was born and raised here in the south side of Jax. I just do no believe that a cruise terminal will in any way, shape or form help Mayport.

  4. Jacksonville was perfect for cruise ships but it is the same old Jakcsonville wait discuss argue and then when the gift horse is walking away they want to talk some more. Georgia and SC will step up to the plate and take it right out from under us. I am getting ready for my 54th cruise. I have been out of the current terminal here in Jacksonville only twice and it was by far the worst cruise check-in I have encountered. Born and raised here 58 years nothing changes in the biggest hick town in the south.