With oil prices (and airfare) soaring, it looks like an old idea is about to be made new again. The massive deep-water port at Tampa, Florida, one of the USA’s most important cruise ship terminals, may soon offer another outstanding service set to improve the lives of North American travelers, tourists, expats, and retirees in Cancun and around the Yucatan Peninsula.
Once upon a time, Tampa was the top terminal for ferries headed to Mexico and Cuba (incidentally, as the Obama Administration continues to loosen travel restrictions to Cuba, in place since 1962, Tampa may also be the main port of call for ferries and cruises between Florida and the forbidden island). As recently as 2003, a ferry service called the Yucatan Express offered a 36-hour connection between Tampa and the Port of Morelos, just south of Cancun. Unfortunately, that operation only lasted a single season. Though passenger bookings picked up at the end of its abbreviated run, the service lost around US$5 million in a single year, sinking the company.
Fast forward almost a decade: Oil prices have quadrupled and airfare doubled, not including various taxes and fees that can nickel and dime your tickets into the stratosphere. Long-time cruise entrepreneur Bruce Nierenberg, current CEO of United Caribbean Lines, who has worked with Premier Cruises Holland America, Walt Disney, and other major players in the industry, sees an opportunity whose time has finally come.
Nierenberg hopes to offer two weekly ferries from Tampa to a yet-to-be-announced port in the Yucatan (probably Morelos or Progreso) with service for up to 1500 passengers and 600 cars. Travel time will be about 30 hours. The cost per passenger will probably be around US$350, including cabin and meals; the fee for transporting a car has not yet been announced.
Nierenberg hopes to create a network of ferries throughout the Caribbean, with cruise stops in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and other popular destinations. This is especially good news for the increasing numbers of US expats retiring to Cancun, Merida, and around the Yucatan, particularly considering huge new baggage fees levied by airlines.
Nothing has been confirmed, but if you think you might be interested in taking a Tampa-Yucatan ferry, Yucatan Living and Sac-Be.com have provided a link to tamarainprogreso [at] gmail [dot] com, and nine simple questions you can answer in an email, detailing how you might use the service—tourism, cargo, pets, vehicles, and so on. With millions of dollars on the line, this will help investors decide whether or not offering such an awesome service will be worth the risk. Let them know that it is!