Disney is bringing ships to South Florida. What that means for cruising and the port

Disney is coming to life in South Florida.

The entertainment and travel company is expanding its cruise business to Port Everglades. The first ship will set sail on Nov. 20 from Fort Lauderdale, the beginning of a minimum 15-year agreement between Disney Cruise Line and Florida’s second busiest port after Miami.

The Disney Dream, which can hold 4,000 passengers, will sail a five-night trip to the Caribbean. Then it will do four-night and five-night trips until next spring when another ship, the Disney Magic, will replace it for three, four- and five-night cruises. Trips will also include stops at Disney’s private island on the Bahamas.

Disney’s cruises are popular among families and especially those with young children. Cruises have regular shows with popular Disney, Marvel and Star Wars characters and meet-and-greets at sea with Disney characters. Some of that vibe is evident in a new dedicated terminal at Port Everglades festooned with colorful murals of characters from Disney and Pixar’s “Finding Nemo.”

The Port Everglades agreement has been in the works for a couple of years, with Disney first announcing the plans in December 2021.

Celebration at Port Everglades

The new Disney cruise terminal at Port Everglades on Nov. 11, 2023.
The new Disney cruise terminal at Port Everglades on Nov. 11, 2023.

At Port Everglades on Monday, port and community leaders along with Disney officials celebrated the partnership and touted its benefits.

The economic impact is estimated to exceed $100 million a year, Port Everglades CEO Jonathan Daniels said in an interview. More than 1,100 jobs — direct and indirect — are expected to be created, he said.

The new jobs are expected to bring in about $36 million per year in new wages, he said, and the agreement will result in $12 million in annual state and local taxes.

“We were surprised over the level of economic impact into Broward County” from the agreement, Daniels said.

Among its reasons for picking Port Everglades, Disney mentioned proximity to major airports, especially nearby Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, which is building its fifth airline terminal, a $404 million project.

For Disney, the agreement is significant as well.

“This is a major milestone in our history,” Jose Fernandez, Disney Cruise Line’s vice president of port strategy, development and operations, said in an interview.

Port Everglades will be just the second year-round home port for Disney, with Port Canaveral, in eastern central Florida, the first. And it comes as “we are undergoing the largest fleet expansion in our history,” Fernandez said.

What travelers should know on booking

(Jan. 4, 2011): The Disney Dream, Disney Cruise Line’s newest ship, arrives Jan. 4, 2011 for the first time to her home port of Port Canaveral, Fla. after traveling approximately 6,500 miles across the Atlantic Ocean from Bremerhaven, Germany. The 4,000-passenger Disney Dream will welcome guests on her maiden voyage on Jan. 26, 2011, and is scheduled to sail three-, four- and five-night cruises to the Bahamas and Disney’s private island Castaway Cay, from Port Canaveral. (David Roark, photographer)

The fleet: Disney has a fleet of five ships. Two of them — Disney Wish and Disney Fantasy — sail out of Port Canaveral.

To book: For information on all cruises Disney will offer, readers can consult their travel agents or Disney’s website at disneycruise.disney.go.com. Or call 800 951-3532 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern time; Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Guests under 18 years of age must have parent or guardian permission to call.

Port information: Contact Port Everglades at porteverglades.net/cruise/

Details of Disney deal at Broward port

New Disney cruise terminal at Port Everglades on Nov. 11, 2023.
New Disney cruise terminal at Port Everglades on Nov. 11, 2023.

The agreement is an initial 15-year term with up to three options to extend by five years.

Disney has provided the port with a guarantee of 400,000 passengers in its first year, Daniels said. In the third year, that shoots up to 750,000 passengers. Daniels said he expects Disney’s ships to sail in excess of 80% of capacity.

Cruise revival in South Florida

The Mickey Mouse pool (foreground) on the pool deck of the Disney Dream.
The Mickey Mouse pool (foreground) on the pool deck of the Disney Dream.

The agreement comes as the cruise industry worldwide is bustling.

PortMiami expects its finally tally to surpass 6.8 million cruise passengers for fiscal year Oct. 1, 2022, through Sept. 30, 2023. That would be a 70% increase over the 4 million passengers during the 2021-22 season ruined by the pandemic. The port, among the busiest in the world, recorded 6.8 million cruise passengers during the 2019-2020 season before the public health crisis emerged.

This comes even as trip prices are skyrocketing. According to Cruise Critic, owned by Tripadvisor, the average minimum cost of a five-night cruise from the United States to the Caribbean, Bahamas, and Bermuda this December is $736, a 37% increase from December 2022. That is 10 times the 3.7% inflation rate in the United States during the 12-month period ending in September.

Port Everglades meanwhile expects 2.9 million cruise passengers for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2023, said Daniels, the port CEO and director. That annual number would remain below the port’s high-water mark of 3.9 million, but he expects to reach that volume in 2025. The new agreement with Disney should help it reach that new record.

In 2025, a second Disney ship will join and sail three-night to four-night cruises from November to May, Daniels said. One ship will remain based at the port year-round.

Disney has been granted exclusivity to the terminal, unusual for Port Everglades, its port director said. It will take ownership of it by next Monday. But the berth, where one docks the vessel, can be used for cargo activity or yachts.

New Disney cruise terminal at Port Everglades on Nov. 13, 2023.
New Disney cruise terminal at Port Everglades on Nov. 13, 2023.