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Key West’s Debate Over Cruise Ships Intensifies

There is no doubt about the fact that Key West, like the rest of the Florida Keys, relies on tourism to sustain its economy. For years, however, residents of Key West homes have clashed about the role that cruise ships should play in this balancing act of helping the economy versus hurting the living experience for those who live in Key West. Just a few weeks ago, cruise ships returned to Key West’s docks for the first time in over 20 months. The pandemic saw a halt put on the cruise ship industry, and no cruise ships have docked in Key West since it began. Now with the pause lifted, cruise ships are free, once again, to bring thousands of passengers to Key West everyday. Just this week, a protest was organized in Mallory Square. Hundreds of protestors came out to show their displeasure at the Norwegian Cruise Lines ship Norwegian Dawn docking at Pier B in Key West. The large cruise ship came ashore with more than 2,000 people.

Protestors have several areas of concern as it relates to cruise ships. Some are concerned that the thousands who come ashore each day could cause an outbreak of coronavirus in Key West. Others are environmentally minded and protest the stress that cruise ships put on the already fragile environment. It seems that the majority of residents in Key West want limited numbers of tourists from smaller ships only. In the November 2020 election, three referendums passed by more than 60% with voters choosing to limit the number of tourists coming ashore each day, as well as banning the larger cruise ships. Though voted on and passed by voters in Key West, the measure was canceled by legislation that was signed in June 2021 to bolster the cruise industry and tourism. Many residents express frustration that their votes have been essentially ignored.

On the other side of the coin, many small business owners in Key West welcome the cruise ships with open arms. Many who rely on tourism have felt the pinch caused by the lack of cruise ship passengers and are eager to have them come ashore and frequent their businesses.

It is a delicate balance that is being sought in Key West. For now, it seems that the cruise industry is poised to return to business as usual, while those who protest the ships will continue to make their views known.

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92300 Overseas Hwy Suite 303
Key Largo, Florida 33070

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