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Port Canaveral’s new $155M cruise terminal remains unused due to pandemic

Cruise ships don’t plan to sail until March

Cruise Terminal 3, the largest-ever construction project at Port Canaveral is set to be completed in May. (Image: Port Canaveral)
Cruise Terminal 3, the largest-ever construction project at Port Canaveral is set to be completed in May. (Image: Port Canaveral)

Port Canaveral’s new $155 million Cruise Terminal 3 is all dressed up and ready for visitors. But no one is coming — at least not just yet.

The 188,000-square-foot terminal was considered substantially completed in May and became fully operational in June.

It was supposed to be used this year for Carnival Cruise Line, including for Carnival’s new Mardi Gras, the biggest ship in its fleet. The Mardi Gras also would be the first cruise ship to be based in North America to be powered by liquefied natural gas.

But those plans have been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, reports News 6 partner Florida Today.

Multiday cruise ships have not sailed from U.S. ports since March, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a no-sail order. The order was lifted Oct. 30, but cruise lines now are working to meet a series of complex CDC requirements before they can resume sailing. Cruise lines with ships based at Port Canaveral don’t plan to begin sailing until at least March.

In the meantime, the terminal sits idle.

The port is making semiannual debt payments as part of the $112 million in loans it took out to help pay for the terminal’s construction.

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Port officials say the port is using money from cruise and other revenue it has accumulated in the past to meet the debt payment, and also is paying back the debt ahead of schedule to reduce interest expenses.

Under terms of a deal announced in 2018, Carnival will pay $50 million to Port Canaveral through a special fee, called a “capital cost recovery charge,” to help pay for Cruise Terminal 3. The port will charge Carnival for every passenger getting on or off a ship at Port Canaveral until the $50 million total is reached.

‘Ready to go’

Cruise Terminal 3, the largest-ever construction project at Port Canaveral is set to be completed in May. (Image: Port Canaveral)
Cruise Terminal 3, the largest-ever construction project at Port Canaveral is set to be completed in May. (Image: Port Canaveral)

Cruise Terminal 3 “is really a spectacular facility,” Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Murray said during his recent State of the Port presentation.

Murray said, like other Port Canaveral facilities, the terminal will be available for use as soon as cruise lines resume sailing.

“We have to have this port ready to go on a moment’s notice,” Murray said. “We’ve got six terminals that are ready to go. We’ve got some of the most exciting facilities available in the cruising industry right now.”

Bill Crowe, Port Canaveral’s vice president of engineering, construction and facilities, said Cruise Terminal 3 is the largest project in the port’s history.

He describes its construction as “a labor of love for many of us.”

Four components

Cruise Terminal 3, the largest-ever construction project at Port Canaveral is set to be completed in May. (Image: Port Canaveral)
Cruise Terminal 3, the largest-ever construction project at Port Canaveral is set to be completed in May. (Image: Port Canaveral)

The four major components of the Cruise Terminal 3 project:

Passenger terminal: Ivey’s Construction Inc. was the general contractor, and Bermello Ajamil & Partners was the designer for the terminal.

Including related roadwork and site utilities, that component of the project cost $74.89 million. The port received a $5.79 million Florida Department of Transportation grant to help pay for the terminal project.

The first floor will be used for disembarking, and has an area that can hold 10,000 pieces of baggage.

The second floor will be for embarking. It will have 12 scanning machines for security, precheck kiosks and 10 check-in counters. There will be seating for a total of 1,700 passengers in the general boarding area and VIP lounge.

Among the features of the terminal boarding area is work by April Slater, a local decorative finishing artist and the owner of Merritt Island-based Fauxnique Co., who painted a faux wood finish on the giant aluminum “wagon wheels” that are part of the decor in the terminal.

The terminal decor also includes tilework in the boarding area that matches tilework in the Mardi Gras staterooms, as well as a large floor tile display inside the terminal entrance that depicts Carnival’s iconic “whale tail” that’s part of the cruise line’s logo and the shape of the funnel on its ships. The terminal also features decorative lighting resembling clouds and halos.

The terminal is expected to have facial recognition technology that will allow most departing passengers to clear through customs without having to stop at a checkpoint.

A baggage scanning area and crew building are adjacent to the terminal.

Parking garage: Ivey’s Construction was the general contractor and Finfrock, a building design company, was the designer for the $29.54 million, 1,800-vehicle garage.

The ground floor of the garage will be for passenger drop-off for both buses and cars. The other five floors will be for long-term parking.

There is an elevated walkway connecting the third floor of the garage to the second floor of the terminal.

Cruise passengers will be able to use E-Pass prepaid accounts to pay for their parking fees in the Cruise Terminal 3 garage. The port also has plans to implement the technology at its five other cruise terminal garages.

“The convenience of the E-Pass system aligns with our goal of moving to contactless payment transactions throughout the port,” Murray said.

Waterside berth: Rush Marine was the contractor. CH2M Hill Engineers and Atkins, a design, engineering and project management company, were the designers for the $38.60 million, 1,309-foot-long berth.

During the pandemic, the Cruise Terminal 3 berth was used occasionally by the Carnival Breeze and Carnival Magic, which stopped at Port Canaveral without passengers to take on fuel and other supplies.

Passenger boarding bridges: Adelte Ports & Maritime was the contractor for the two passenger boarding bridges, which cost a total of $5.25 million.

The bridges adjust vertically and horizontally to handle cruise ships of any configuration and door heights.

Port Canaveral Project Director Tom Foxhoven said one of the Cruise Terminal 3 challenges of the project was, at times during the pandemic, contractors reported as many as 30% to 40% of their employees absent for various reasons.

But, by scheduling night and weekend shifts, the project remained on schedule — and came in under its initial $163 million budget.

Awaiting Mardi Gras

Bolt is set to debut on board the Carnival Mardi Gras.
Bolt is set to debut on board the Carnival Mardi Gras. (Carnival Cruise Line)

Crowe said port officials “are very enthusiastic about the arrival of the Mardi Gras” in the coming months. The ship is scheduled to begin sailing out of Port Canaveral on April 24, offering seven-night cruises to the Caribbean. Pre-pandemic, the Mardi Gras had been scheduled to start sailing from Port Canaveral in October.

Carnival on Dec. 18 officially took delivery of the Mardi Gras during a signing ceremony at the Meyer Turku Shipyard in Turku, Finland.

The Mardi Gras has a capacity of more than 6,500 passengers at full capacity.  Passengers will have the choice of more than 2,600 staterooms and 180 suites across 11 categories. The ship will have a crew of 2,000.

The ship’s venues, dining and entertainment will be dispersed throughout six zones, and include a new restaurant by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse; the line’s first-ever Big Chicken by Shaquille O’Neal; two dining venues led by Food Network star Guy Fieri; and a new restaurant concept by master chef Rudi Sodamin.

The ship also will feature BOLT, the first-ever roller coaster at sea; and a three-deck-high atrium with floor-to-ceiling windows and movable LED screens that open up to an ocean view.

The Mardi Gras has 19 decks, is 1,115 feet long and weighs 180,000 tons.

“I cannot wait for our guests and crew to see and experience Mardi Gras,” Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy said in a statement marking the ship’s delivery. “Notwithstanding the delays related to the pandemic, there is tremendous enthusiasm and pent-up demand for this ship.”

Duffy said Carnival has worked closely Port Canaveral in the construction of Cruise Terminal 3 accommodate the Mardi Gras, as well as to facilitate the new LNG fueling process.

Like other port officials, Crowe is anxious to debut Cruise Terminal 3 for passengers of the Mardi Gras and other Carnival ships that will use it.

“There are so many things to celebrate about it.” Crowe said.

Dave Berman is government editor at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Berman at 321-242-3649 or dberman@floridatoday.com. Twitter: @bydaveberman