Mardi Gras Ship

Carnival Cruise Line’s new Mardi Gras, shown here on its sea trials is expected to sail for the first time from Port Canaveral on June 5.

While Port Canaveral waits for enough Americans to be vaccinated against COVID-19 so that cruises can resume, the Canaveral Port Authority can expect its own shot in the arm — millions in federal stimulus funds.

Gov. Ron DeSantis recommended March 16 that Florida’s seaports should share in nearly $260 million from the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that President Biden recently signed into law.

“That is an amount equal to the losses they’ve accrued during the pandemic through February of 2021,” DeSantis said in Tallahassee while outlining his proposal for spending up to $10 billion in relief funds expected to reach the state.

With cruise ships idled since March 2020 due to the pandemic, Port Canaveral has lost 79 percent of its operating revenues, cut its workforce by more than 43 percent, absorbed a $10 million year-over-year reduction in operating expenses and deferred more than $119 million in capital projects for two to five years.

Despite the pandemic and a shutdown order on cruise lines from the Centers for Disease Control, the Port has remained continuously open and operational, keeping fuel, food and other critical supplies moving throughout Florida.

Until now, Port Canaveral, unlike other transportation entities in the state, had no access to emergency funds to help manage the pandemic’s impact on Port operations.

In a March 17 statement, Port CEO Capt. John Murray thanked Gov. DeSantis and Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault “for recognizing and supporting our critical mission as a gateway of commerce.”

“We look forward to working with FDOT and our legislators on our financial needs as they work through the Governor’s requests and remain steadfastly committed to reviving the economic prosperity we have delivered for decades to our surrounding community and the State of Florida,” Murray added.

Cruise lines have been working with the CDC on plans that meet the agency’s “framework for conditional sailing” that replaced a no-sail order in October 2020.

Meanwhile, Port Canaveral terminals have mainly remained empty, including Cruise Terminal 3, the home of Carnival Cruise Line’s newest cruise ship, the Mardi Gras. The Port’s single biggest construction project at $155 million, the two-story terminal and parking garage complex was completed in May 2020.  Carnival, which has canceled all cruises through May, now targets June 5 as the LNG-powered Mardi Gras’ first sailing from the Port.

Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line, two other cruise lines that operate from the Port, also canceled all cruises through May. A fourth, Norwegian Cruise Line, has extended its suspension of sailings through June 30.