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Key West voters deliver a blow to cruise lines with big-ship ban

Nov. 04, 2020
4 min read
Disney ship in Key West
Key West voters deliver a blow to cruise lines with big-ship ban
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Is the era of big-ship cruising to Key West, Florida, coming to an end?

It's looking more likely after Tuesday's election.

Residents of the laid-back island town in the Straits of Florida on Tuesday voted to approve three referendums that will ban most cruise ships operated by major lines, such as Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line, from visiting.

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One of the referendums prohibits cruise ships with more than 1,300 passengers from docking in Key West. That would affect even the smallest ships from Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line.

A second referendum limits the number of daily cruise ship visitors to 1,500.

A final referendum gives docking priority to cruise lines that have the best health and environmental records.

Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises

A Disney cruise ship docked in Key West, Florida. In the wake of a referendum on Tuesday, the vessel will be too big to visit the town. (Photo by Ullstein Bild/Getting Images)

The referendums passed by wide margins ranging from 60% to 81%.

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The referendums are binding but are expected to be challenged in court.

A spokesperson for the main trade group for the cruise industry, the Cruise Lines International Association, told The Points Guy on Wednesday that the association would not put out a statement about the vote.

Tapping into residents' worries about the COVID-19 outbreak, a political action committee that pushed for the referendums' passage, the Key West Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships, promoted them as a way to keep Key West safe and healthy. The group pointed to the many COVID-19 outbreaks on cruise ships earlier this year and noted that Key West only has one hospital and seven ICU beds for the entire community.

Unless overturned by the courts, the referendums could have a profound impact on cruising to Key West, which draws close to 1 million cruisers a year.

Related: 8 great hotels to book in Key West using points

Still, it won't bring cruising to Key West to an end. While the fleets of big lines such as Royal Caribbean lack vessels that are designed to carry fewer than 1,300 passengers, there are many small-ship cruise lines and luxury lines that operate ships under that threshold.

Upscale line Oceania Cruises, which sometimes sends ships to Key West, for instance, has six vessels that carry from 688 to 1,250 passengers.

Crystal Cruises, Seabourn, Silversea and Germany's Hapag-Lloyd Cruises are four more lines that sometimes send ships to Key West that would not be affected by the ban. They all operate vessels that carry fewer than 1,300 passengers.

The effect of the referendums, if they are allowed to stand, will be to transform Key West into a small-ship cruise destination that mostly caters to upscale vessels.

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Featured image by ullstein bild via Getty Images