GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Ship Island Excursions has sailed the final cruise for the 2020 season. More than one month before the usual end of the season, the typically popular attraction will remain shuttered.
Monday’s unusually chilly temps and soaking tropical rain are indicative of the kind of year South Mississippi tourism has had. Despite slow ticket sales due to COVID-19, it has been the historically active hurricane season that has overwhelmingly shut down business at Ship Island Excursions.
“We had Cristobal that came in June. The damage to Ship Island Pier was quite extensive. The National Park Service went out this week and did the assessment on damage. All indications are that it’s going to be next year before we’ll be able to operate again,” said Ship Island Excursions CEO, Capt. Louis Skrmetta. “We start operations in March, mid-March, and they’re going to need at least that much time to rebuild the pier.”
Skrmetta’s boats are actually still moored at Gulfport Lake because of Tropical Storm Beta - the second time he’s had to evacuate them. Even when the weather was great, it wasn’t smooth sailing for the coast attraction.
“COVID-19 really impacted business. We were running at 50% capacity. Even at 50% capacity, it was tight with passengers. Some of the visitors didn’t appreciate the crowded situation on the boats. We did everything we could to make them safe as possible. That was a challenge for our staff and the loss in business, of course, really hurt. It’s just been a tough year," he said.
In the face of difficult back-to-back seasons, Skrmetta remains hopeful that calmer seas are ahead for Ship Island Excursions.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, to be honest with you. Certainly the odds are in our favor that it will be a good year next year," Skrmetta told WLOX.
Skrmetta said dolphin cruises and sunset cruises will return to the waters of the Mississippi Sound this fall, once hurricane season has churned out its last storm. Information on those cruises can be found here.