Key West Votes to Keep Large Cruise Ships Out

Norwegian Cruise Line ship

Residents of Key West, Florida, have voted to impose new restrictions on cruise ships looking to pull into the four-square-mile island that's home to the southernmost point in the U.S. 

Residents voted for three separate referendums: one to prohibit cruise ships carrying more than 1,300 passengers from docking in Key West, another to limit the total number of visitors to Key West from cruise ships to 1,500 per day, and a third that would prioritize dock access for cruise lines with the best health and environmental records. 

About 81% of Key West residents voted in favor of prioritizing cruise lines with stronger health and environmental records. And more than 60% of residents voted for each of the other two measures to limit cruise activity.

“This is a historic opportunity for Key West to have this voice in how we handle the cruise ship traffic here in Key West,” Evan Haskell, an organizer with The Key West Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships, told the Miami Herald

The committee gathered the signatures necessary to get the questions on to Tuesday’s ballot and cited the role of cruise ships in spreading coronavirus as one of its concerns. 

U.S. cruise ships have been mostly docked for months to help curb the spread of COVID-19 around the world. 

Key West has long been a popular cruise destination, drawing more than one million passengers in 2019 alone — about half of the total number of tourists who visited that year. 

The new restrictions wouldn’t completely eliminate cruise traffic to the island. Major cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Norwegian, and Disney Cruise Line don’t operate ships small enough to pull into Key West, under the new regulations. But boutique cruise operators like Oceania Cruises, Crystal Cruises, and Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd Cruises wouldn’t be affected as their ships carry fewer than 1,300 passengers each. 

Meena Thiruvengadam is a Travel + Leisure contributor who has visited 50 countries on six continents and 47 U.S. states. She loves historic plaques, wandering new streets, and walking on beaches. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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