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Jonathan Daniels on Everglades high points and cruise terminal upgrade plans

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Jonathan Daniels' cruise accomplishments at Port Everglades include the pandemic restart, bagging Disney Cruise Line and diversifying the lineup
As he winds down an eventful 3.5 years at Port Everglades' helm, Jonathan Daniels remains enthused about plans for ambitious cruise terminal upgrades and reflected on accomplishments.

Daniels is moving to a new role as executive director of the Maryland Port Administration and the Port of Baltimore Feb. 5

He's leaving accomplishments that include nailing Disney Cruise Line as a prestigious new long-term customer with its own dedicated terminal, and a more varied book of cruise business that's resulting in calls throughout the week.

And Daniels and his team are deep into drafting work letters with Royal Caribbean Group for a significant transformation of Terminal 29 and with Carnival Corp. & plc for a Terminal 21 upgrade for Princess Cruises, along with plans to create a new headquarters at Terminal 28 for Balearia ferries, which aims to branch out its routes.

Joined during the global cruise shutdown

Daniels had come to Everglades, one of the world's busiest cruise ports, in summer 2020 when no cruise ships were sailing.

Getting through the pandemic may be one of his career highlights. Daniels explained: port directors and port authorities are 'planning-centric.' The pandemic transcended any planning that had gone on at any port.

'I stepped outside my comfort zone. Every single day during the pandemic we were forced to react, not only to our ports but to the impact on a global scale. We were trying to survive,' he said. 'We took a very active approach in changing our model at Port Everglades: how we would come back, what that would look like.' 

US ocean cruising restarted at Everglades

So, on June 26, 2021, at Terminal 25 when Celebrity Edge became the first oceangoing revenue cruise to sail from a US port since the global shutdown, the sounding of the ship's horn was an emotional moment.

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Cheering oceangoing cruising's US restart with Royal Caribbean executives and Celebrity Edge Capt. Kate McCue

'It was not that the pandemic's over but it was a significant step in creating a level of normalcy for the port and the cruise industry,' Daniels recounted. 'There were so many starts and stops by the CDC ... It was a significant accomplishment that occurred almost to the day I reported to work at Port Everglades in 2020.'

Also, it was personally meaningful since his late father, who had started his career as a longshoreman, had frequently asked 'When are the ships starting again? When?'

Bagging Disney

The long-term agreement with Disney was another highlight. It was possible because of a change in the port's agreement with Carnival Corp., just one of many steps. Nov. 13's ribbon-cutting at the new Disney Terminal 4 followed years of laying the Disney groundwork and two years of construction.    

'The [passenger] numbers have been far and beyond what we anticipated,' Daniels said, not just for the port but for stays in Broward County, and it's still early days.

For Disney's ribbon-cutting, he'd arrived very early, about 6:30 a.m., and was in the concierge area of the new terminal as a worker sounded the ship's 'When You Wish Upon A Star' sail-away tune.

'It was very emotional,' Daniels said, following the 'amount of work to negotiate the Disney deal and knowing what it meant for the county and the line and, especially, for the children to experience that.' In the terminal a week later, he heard a 6-year-old exclaim 'Wow! Mom and Dad, look at this!'

'That's why we do what we do,' Daniels said.

New ships, more diverse lineup

Besides Disney, Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Group have deployed larger and brand-new ships at Everglades, plus the port has increased its luxury lineup.

'This allowed us to smooth out the vessel calls. It's rare that we don't have a ship in on any day,' said Daniels, noting how on a recent Tuesday, six cruise ships were in. They included three brands that weren't customers pre-pandemic: Azamara, Viking and Disney.

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Terminal 29 is at the lower end of the map in south port, while Terminal 21 is above, at mid-port

Terminal 29 transformation plans

An ambitious transformation of Royal Caribbean Group's Terminal 29 is in the planning. As the southernmost cruise berth, it has challenges as the 'first in, last out' terminal.

Upgrades of that facility would improve its reliability and consider extra terminal space to accommodate Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea ships.

The work letter addresses the ability to serve more modern ships and the widening of the channel, part of the port's deepening and widening project that is still being finalized with the Army Corps of Engineers. The channel expansion could take place sometime in the late 2020s with full completion in the 2033-34 timeframe, but the specifics aren't known yet.

New parking structure and port headquarters

The scope of work is being reviewed in order to move forward on a design process. This also entails a new 1,500-space parking facility to the west of the terminal in an area that's now a cargo site. Connected to that structure, and perhaps on top of it, will be the port's new administration headquarters.

The current headquarters, built in 1987, will be torn down and the property will be used as a lay-down area for containers.

Royal Caribbean has a hybrid preferential use agreement where it gets first dibs on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, 'so we're able to bring additional brands to 29,' Daniels noted, and on days when their ships aren't in, that 'provides us flexibility.'

Terminal 21

A 'very complicated evaluation' is involved in drafting the work letter for Terminal 21 for Princess Cruises. It's currently a dual-use facility for Carnival Corp. and the Balearia ferry.

The terminal sits on a narrow property that has restricted access for provisioning.

The port and Princess are reviewing a 2019 plan to assess what's good and what's not viable. Daniels pointed out terminal use has changed in the post-pandemic era so the same amount of space may not be needed. Thanks to facial recognition technology for security screening, Customs and Border Protection has become so efficient that many passengers are processed and on the curb very quickly. So changes in ground transportation flows are an important consideration, too.

Balearia move and route expansion

And the port is working with Balearia to relocate its operations to a permanent facility at Terminal 28, taking over the Seacor building at the south end of Terminal 26 used by Holland America Line. What's envisioned is a new headquarters office for Balearia and a terminal for ferries to expanded destinations.

Today Balearia's high-speed Jaume II serves the Bahamas (Bimini and Grand Bahama). The company is considering longer Caribbean routes to link the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico and, ultimately, South Florida with the islands.

Princess growth

It's too early to know the timeframe for Terminal 21, Daniels said, adding: 'I hope it would move expeditiously. Princess is excited about the opportunity to expand and have a greater presence. Sun Princess and the Sphere class need world-class facilities. Their capacity growth fits extremely well with what Port Everglades looks at accomplishing.'

Princess can bring Sun or any vessel to Terminal 21 now, however the current narrow apron there makes it not as efficient to accommodate larger ships. Daniels said talks about the terminal design, construction and financing are taking place 'in earnest.'

Princess also has its Medallion-class Terminal 2. And the line, which has maintained an office at the port for decades, now fields more senior executives there — leaders including President John Padgett, Chief Commercial Officer Terry Thornton and Chief Marketing Officer Jim Berra. It's added more administration office space outside the port gate on 17th Street.

Dedicated cruise operations team

Another change during Daniels' tenure is the recent creation of a dedicated cruise operations division, splitting that from cargo operations 'because the cruise industry is so important to us,' he said. As earlier reported, that is headed by Robert Moroney as assistant director of operations, cruise, whose team includes four cruise services staff dealing with traffic, ground transportation and parking, plus a dedicated parking person.

Daniels praised the 'great staff here.'

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Jonathan Daniels, center, as a speaker at Seatrade Cruise Global

Ports are a catalyst

His move to the Port of Baltimore takes him to a facility that is smaller than Everglades but with 'opportunities to grow that business. I'm excited about that, along with its incredible history,' he said. Daniels noted Baltimore is a top Ro-Ro port in the US and has an 'extremely strong labor force and a vibrant business community.

'Ports are really a catalyst for development. We're responsible for putting the infrastructure in place so that the private sector [can thrive].'