Miami city skyline and coast at sunset

It's an understatement to say Florida ports are popular with cruisers; Miami and Fort Lauderdale are home to the busiest cruise ports in the nation. Which is why the challenge for ports in the Sunshine State is, and will remain, how to grow responsibly to meet demand. According to the Tampa Bay Business Journal, nearly $3.7 billion will be spent in state, local and private funds over the next few years to support the growth at Florida seaports.

Cuba and the United States made history last year when after tourism restrictions were loosened, the first U.S. cruise ship in several decades sailed from Miami to Cuban ports. In 2017, three Florida ports will serve as homeports for ships offering regular sailings to Cuba.

Florida ports, beginning with Port Everglades, also serve as a testing ground for rolling out Customs and Border Patrol initiatives like Global Entry and the Mobile Passport app to cruise ports.

Apart from innovative technology, designs and major building initiatives -- including new terminals to house new cruise ships -- there's plenty else be excited about for the 2017 Florida cruise season and beyond. Read on for our roundup.

Onboard view of a ship sailing out of Ft. Lauderdale

Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale)

  • In 2017, 38 cruise ships are sailing from Port Everglades, across 11 cruise lines.
  • During summer 2017, there will be four cruise ships sailing regularly from Port Everglades instead of three as Carnival Cruise Line is adding a second cruise ship to its summer schedule: Carnival Splendor joins Carnival Conquest on May 7, 2017.
  • Pearl Seas Cruises is operating the first cruises to Cuba from Port Everglades since the '50s. The 210-passenger Pearl Mist sails on nine-night cultural voyages to Havana and several other Cuban ports of call through April 2017; more sailings are scheduled during the 2017 and 2018 cruise seasons.
  • Slip 2 (a docking station), adjacent to recently renovated Cruise Terminal 4, will be extended by 250 feet for a total 1,150 feet of berth length to accommodate larger cruise ships. The Slip 2 extension is slated to be completed by June 2017. The project will cost an estimated $18 million.
  • Crystal Cruises returns to Port Everglades after a 10-year absence. Two Crystal ships will sail from the port for the 2018 season -- Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity -- beginning in October 2017.
  • Port Everglades is the first and only cruise port in the United States to adopt the new U.S. Customs and Border Protection-approved Mobile Passport Control smartphone program for cruise ship travel. This first-of-its-kind app is in use at a number of airports across the country, including Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The app allows U.S. citizens with a valid passport (and Canadian citizens with both a valid Canadian passport and B1 or B2 visa status) to complete their customs declaration upon debark on their smartphones or mobile devices, expediting their clearance process.
  • Princess Cruises will begin year-round sailings in April 2018 with Caribbean Princess, which will also be one of the first cruise ships equipped with Carnival Corp.'s Ocean Medallion service. In order to accommodate the new technology the port's Cruise Terminal 2 will receive a high-tech renovation.
  • Celebrity Cruises' first-in-class Celebrity Edge will sail from Port Everglades beginning December 16, 2018.
  • Silversea Cruises' newest ship, Silver Muse, is scheduled for five 2018 sailings from Fort Lauderdale. Fleetmates Silver Spirit, Silver Whisper and Silver Wind are also sailing from Port Everglades.

PortMiami

  • PortMiami's cruise season kicked off with the arrival of Regent Seven Seas Cruises' newest ship, Seven Seas Explorer and Carnival Cruise Line's largest ship, Carnival Vista. Miami will see 34 cruise ships embark on sailings from its port in 2017, across 12 different cruise lines. One line it won't be seeing much more of is Fathom, which as of June is folding.
  • In anticipation of Vista, renovations and expansions were made to Terminals D and E, with amenities like automated baggage claim and the addition of plenty of natural light within the port facility. Carnival Horizon, the line's newest ship, is also scheduled to sail from the Port of Miami in 2018.
  • MSC Cruises and PortMiami have entered into an agreement, with renovations taking place at the terminal where MSC Seaside, the line's first ship to be inaugurated in the U.S., will debut in December 2017. MSC Meraviglia will also homeport in Miami, beginning winter 2019, which means including Divina, the cruise line is slated to have three ships homeported in Miami during the 2019/2020 winter season.
  • An agreement with Royal Caribbean to build a new terminal to accommodate an Oasis-class ship was made good on when the cruise line announced it would be homeporting its newest vessel, Symphony of the Seas, here in November 2018. Groundbreaking for Terminal A took place in early March, and the $200 million project will be funded and operated by Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. The terminal is being designed to look like the crown from Royal Caribbean's crown-and-anchor logo when seen from a ship as it enters or leaves the port.
  • Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Equinox is scheduled to sail from Miami beginning this spring, again offering passengers year-round Caribbean sailings.
  • New-build Norwegian Bliss is heading to Miami in the winter of 2018.
  • Looking further ahead, Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Voyages will offer seven-day cruises to the Caribbean in 2020.

Enchantment of the Seas in Port Canaveral

Port Canaveral (Orlando)

  • After investing $85 million in terminal upgrades and onsite activities, Port Canaveral is anticipating a record-breaking cruise season for 2017.
  • Carnival (Carnival Sunshine, Carnival Magic and Carnival Liberty), Disney (Disney Dream, Disney Wonder and Disney Fantasy, mentioned below), Royal Caribbean (Majesty of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas) and Norwegian (Norwegian Epic) all have ships homeporting here in 2017.
  • Cruise terminals One, Five and 10 have been expanded and renovated. Changes include increasing passenger capacity; the addition of a new 1,044-space parking garage across from Terminal Five (along with a pedestrian bridge); new paint, furnishings, carpeting and more.
  • The port also implemented new signage and passenger flow operations to improve efficiency and enhance the customer experience.
  • Disney Fantasy is undergoing a dry dock in May 2017, and will sail its first post-upgrade cruises from Port Canaveral, in mid-May.

Port Tampa Bay

  • Tampa will soon have not one but two cruise ships using its facilities to embark on sailings to Cuba. In 2017, Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas will run four-, five-, six- and seven-night cruises from Tampa with a stop in Havana, and Carnival Paradise will run sailings that are four or six nights, with a call in Havana. Both lines will offer itineraries that include an overnight in the famous Cuban city.
  • Holland America Line (Rotterdam, Oosterdam) and Norwegian Cruise Line (Norwegian Jade) will also homeport ships at Tampa for the 2017 season. Other Royal ships (apart from Empress) homeporting here include Brilliance of the Seas and Rhapsody of the Seas.
  • A $1.7 billion revitalization project, announced in 2015, continues through 2017 at Port Tampa Bay. It will result in a bigger cruise ship terminal, new marina and two 75-story high-rises by 2030.

Jaxport (Jacksonville)

  • Carnival Elation is the only ship to depart from Jacksonville in 2017, sailing four- and five-night Bahamas cruises.
  • Jaxport was ranked as one of the top five cruise ports in the world according to Carnival's Staff of the Year awards, an annual award program based on passenger surveys.
  • Jacksonville's 2 millionth passenger set sail on July 7, 2016.

Port of Palm Beach

  • Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line is the only cruise line sailing from the Port of Palm Beach, with its ship Grand Celebration.

The "Pulse of the Ports" series offers a glimpse of what's happening around the country at our nation's cruise ports. From multimillion-dollar expansions and projects that widen waterways to the cruise ships calling there, we let you know what's happening this year from the East Coast to the West Coast, down to the Gulf Coast and on over to Florida and Alaska, home to some of the world's most popular ports of call.