Update, 4:25 p.m. EST: The Outer Mole pier, at which Carnival ships often dock when calling on Key West, is not within the Key West Harbor, the port of Key West clarified with Cruise Critic. As such, it has not been shut down by the Navy and is open for cruise ship calls.
(12:49 p.m. EST) -- Beginning March 14, an unusual partnership between Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International will commence. That's when Carnival Fascination will call on Little Stirrup Cay for the first time. Little Stirrup Cay, commonly known as Coco Cay, is Royal Caribbean's private Bahamian island.
Carnival Fascination will make 19 calls to the island between March 14 and December. Carnival Ecstasy will also make 11 calls to the island in 2013 and one call in 2014. The port will be featured on five-night cruises that had been scheduled to call on Key West.
According to Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen, the addition of Little Stirrup Cay provides the line with "the opportunity to expand and diversify our port-of-call choices for our guests, particularly with The Bahamas."
The port of Key West confirmed the cancellations by Carnival but did not comment on why the line had pulled some of its sailings from the port.
Why Carnival chose Little Stirrup Cay, which we must assume the line is paying Royal Caribbean to use -- both lines declined comment about payment -- rather than Half Moon Cay or even Princess Cay is another question about which Carnival is being coy.
Gulliksen told Cruise Critic that Carnival examined several options for Carnival Fascination's and Carnival Ecstasy's shorter sailings, including Half Moon Cay. "We decided to include Little Stirrup Cay because given the short duration of the cruises and the other ports of call on these itineraries, it would be difficult to reach Half Moon Cay and still maintain the ships' published schedule.
"In terms of distance, both Half Moon Cay and Princess Cay are very close proximity to each other. Princess Cay also doesn't have tender operations," Gulliksen added.
Additionally, Half Moon Cay's published schedule showed Carnival or Holland America ships already scheduled to visit the island most days. Of the 31 days in March, only six are unscheduled. No scheduled day has more than one Carnival ship visiting at a time.
Royal Caribbean also deflected questions about the arrangement with Carnival.
"We are providing Carnival with access to CocoCay for as long as they need berthing and we can accommodate," Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said.
--by Dori Saltzman, News Editor