FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — As cruising returns, ports in South Florida are hiring.
The Port of Palm Beach recently held a job fair looking for greeters and baggage handlers among other positions.
The terminals at Port Everglades are still empty with no crowds, but there are signs it won't stay that way for long.
Celebrity and Disney ships are now docked at the port, and Johnnie Dixon couldn't be happier.
"We're down about 1.4 million man-hours," Dixon said.
Dixon is the president of the Longshoreman's Union Local 1526 in Fort Lauderdale, which represents the baggage handlers.
On a normal day before the pandemic, Dixon would have nearly 500 people at the port moving luggage, equipment and supplies for the ships. All of those people are now eager to get back to work.
"[They are] extremely anxious. They would call me every day," Dixon said. "Some of them during the shutdown would call me crying trying to figure out how to pay their mortgages, pay their rent, keep food on the table, so it's been a tough 15 months."
It's also been a tough 15 months for Andrew Garnett's business, Special Needs Group, which supplies wheelchairs and scooters for ship passengers.
During the pandemic, he said his workforce dropped from 35 to seven.
"We did have someone who works the phones show up to the office last week Friday saying, 'I know things are getting started. I want you to know I'm ready. Just let me know,'" Garnett said.
He and others connected to the cruise industry are now focused on returning to work as ships start sailing with limited capacity.
They are among the last workers to get back to work -- something the rest of the country has already done.
"As things start to normalize, we're hoping to ramp up quickly. I'm thinking probably November is when it will really ramp up," Garnett said.
"I do expect my members to be working the cruise ships, just not in a setting that we are used to when the vessels are 100 percent occupied. It's going to be a slow process but something is better than nothing," Dixon said.
As the ships get ready to sail again, there is new optimism for those who depend on the ships that they will return to seeing a steady paycheck. They just hope the passengers will return.