Port Canaveral was dedicated in 1953, when a special act of the Florida legislature created the Canaveral Port Authority to operate the port. The US Navy asked for Congress’ approval to build a deep water port there in 1878, but final approval did not come until 1929. It was another twenty years before its military and commercial value was recognized. The deep water port was finally dedicated in November 1953.
Commercial fishing was the first industry to appear, but cargo vessels soon appeared carrying oil, newsprint, and orange juice. By 1966, a million tons of cargo was moving through the Port every year. In the mid-60s, petroleum was the bulk of cargoes through the port. By the 1980s, scrap steel, citrus exports, citrus imports, and solar salt were added to the cargo mix. In 1990, a solar salt processing plant opened at the Port.
In 2004, cargoes related to construction passed petroleum as the largest cargo. In 2006, total tonnage through the port surpassed 4.5 million tons. Of course, with the space center at the doorstep, Port Canaveral also became a center for receiving, tracking, and retrieving space vehicles.
Cruise traffic started in the 1970s as passenger ships brought visitors to the many attractions in central Florida. The first cruise terminal opened in 1982, and cruise passengers bring more than $4 million US a year in revenues to Port Canaveral.
Bulk and breakbulk cargoes dominate Port Canaveral’s commercial traffic today. Important bulk cargoes include cement, petroleum, aggregate, and salt. Major breakbulk cargoes include lumber, frozen concentrate, newsprint, perishables, steel, and special project cargo. Special project cargo ranges from pleasure boats to parts of the International Space Station.
Cargo piers feature two liquid bulk facilities, nine dry cargo berths with depths of almost 40 feet, and one roll-on/roll-off ramp. The facilities include 750 thousand square feet of covered dry freight storage, about 40 acres of open-air storage, and almost 9 million cubic feet of vessel-side freezer and chill storage.
Exports include fresh citrus, frozen citrus juice, and cement and building materials. Imports include lumber, solar salt, automobiles, and steel sheet and plate. Port Canaveral has the shortest direct entry on the East Coast of Florida, and it offers less than an hour in transit time from the first buoy to dock.
Port Canaveral boasts one of the biggest Foreign Trade Zones in the United States, with over five square miles with three main hubs. The Space Coast Regional Airport sits on over 1300 acres in North Brevard County and includes the Spaceport Commerce Park. The Canaveral Port Authority governs 886 acres in Central Brevard County of commercial, warehouse, and distribution districts for the Port. It includes the Tate Industrial Park, covering over 23 acres in Cocoa, Florida. The third hub, in South Brevard County, covers almost 2 thousand acres near the City of Melbourne.
In 1982, the first cruise terminal was dedicated, and the SS Scandinavian Sea was the first cruise vessel to homeport at Port Canaveral. The first trips were day cruises into the ocean and back. But the potential was clear, and in 1983, two more old warehouses were converted to cruise terminals. Year-round 3- and 4-day cruises to the Bahamas became very popular. In 1986, a fourth cruise terminal was opened. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Port Canaveral hosts several modern, busy cruise terminals to support the almost five million passengers that visit it every year. Cruise Terminal 5 is an elegant two-story building with a 30-foot atrium and lush tropical plants. It boasts enclosed air-conditioned boarding ramps and towers and two hydraulic gangways. The terminal has 970 feet of docking space, a 565-foot pier with 35 feet draft, and a 63 thousand square foot embarkation/baggage handling facility.
Cruise Terminal 8 is the first terminal in the US to be built for a specific cruise line, Disney. This $27 million terminal has two glass towers and features a 13 thousand square foot terrazzo map of the Bahamas and Florida’s East Coast. Terminal 8 offers 1,000 feet of docking space, 600 feet of pier space with 35 foot draft, and 70 thousand square feet for embarkation and baggage handling.
Port Canaveral’s Cruise Terminal 9/10 was designed to berth large vessels – two medium ships at once or one mega-ship. It has a three-tiered passenger loading tower and an automated baggage conveyor system, and it is near a six-level, 60 thousand square foot parking garage. Displaying the region’s biggest outdoor art display, exterior murals decorate the parking garage. Cruise Terminal 9/10 offers 1100 feet of docking space, 700 feet of pier space with 35 foot draft, and an 80 thousand square foot embarkation/baggage handling facility.
Cruise Terminals 2, 3, and 4 were the first facilities at Port Canaveral dedicated to cruises. Combined, these three terminals can accommodate two large or three medium cruise ships to 2100 feet total length. Cruise Terminal 2 provides 8500 square feet of embarkation space and 17 thousand square feet for baggage handling. Cruise Terminal 3 offers 8500 square feet of embarkation space and 16 thousand square feet for baggage handling. Cruise Terminal 4 offers 9200 square feet of embarkation space and 20 thousand square feet for baggage handling.