Royal Caribbean International’s Empress of the Seas, with 878 passengers and about 600 crew members, docked in Key West Sunday marking the first cruise ship visit since before Hurricane Irma struck the Florida Keys Sept. 10.
Officials said resuming cruise ship port calls is significant for the region’s economy, and vital for residents whose livelihood depends on serving visitors.
“Being a tourist-based economy, we need our visitors to come to town, and that is our primary economy,” said Key West Mayor Craig Cates, who was on hand to welcome passengers and ship officers. “They come here to see our beautiful resources, our beautiful town and architecture — and the servers, the bartenders, the hostesses, everybody, depends on them.
“The people need to go back to work, and this is a huge part of our recovery,” Cates said.
Keys county and tourism officials are to meet Monday to discuss formal opening dates for visitors to return to the Keys. Electric and water restoration is almost complete.
In addition to the port, Key West International Airport has reopened for commercial service. Officials say most hotels and visitor facilities in Key West have recovered and are resuming normal operations.
Still, some attractions and businesses were still closed in Key West Sunday, such as the Hemingway Home and Museum. One of the top attractions in the Keys, the one-time residence of Ernest Hemingway is still undergoing landscaping cleanup, but suffered no structural impacts and all of the property’s six-toed cats are well, according to Mike Morawski, who runs the museum.
While Hurricane Irma caused varying degrees of damage along the 125-mile Florida Keys island chain, Key West and the northernmost island of Key Largo reported the fewest impacts.
A number of Keys special events scheduled for mid to late October — including Key West’s Fantasy Fest, Marathon’s Stone Crab Eating Contest and Key Largo’s Humphrey Bogart Film Festival — are to take place as planned, according to organizers.
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.