(5:52 p.m. EDT) -- As cruisers look for convenient and affordable alternatives to flying to their cruise vacations, homeports have become an important piece of the pie. Some homeports across North America are doing a great job of attracting new ships, a boon for the drive-to market, and improving their terminals -- no more deserted cargo ports in the middle of nowhere! On the flip side, other ports are stagnating as ships flee to potentially more profitable homeports or as cruise lines choose to alter itineraries.
Is your nearest homeport sporting bigger and better ships next year, or is it cooling off? Here's the scoop on which departure cities are hot -- and which are not -- in 2010:
Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot!
Baltimore: In 2008, 27 cruises departed from Charm City's port. In 2009, that number nearly tripled to 79 cruises, and in 2010, the number will increase again to a record 92 cruises. Why? Two reasons: Carnival and Royal Caribbean. In April 2009, Carnival began homeporting the 88,500-ton, 2,124-passsenger Carnival Pride in Baltimore to sail seven-night Eastern Caribbean and Bahamas itineraries. Not to be outdone, Royal Caribbean announced that it would upgrade its ship in Baltimore from the 74,140-ton, 1,950-passenger Grandeur of the Seas to the 80,700-ton, 2,252-passenger Enchantment of the Seas, which will offer cruises to the Bahamas, Eastern Caribbean and Canada & New England starting in 2010. Sister line Celebrity will also start its seasonal Baltimore cruises on Celebrity Mercury in October 2010, a month earlier than originally planned. Baltimore can now claim to berth the largest ships sailing out of mid-Atlantic ports (Philadelphia and Norfolk pale in comparison) with plenty of options for the drive-to market on the Eastern Seaboard.
Fort Lauderdale: Florida is the king of cruising, and Miami used to be the premier port. But Fort Lauderdale has been gaining on its nearby rival for years now (14 cruise lines use the port, offering nearly 2,000 cruises each year) and will secure its title as the Cruise Ship Capital of the World when Royal Caribbean's behemoth Oasis and Allure of the Seas homeport there in November 2009 and 2010, respectively. Fort Lauderdale has been attracting many of the newest and most innovative ships, including Celebrity Solstice, Holland America's Eurodam, Ruby Princess and Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas. But when Oasis of the Seas debuts, Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades will unveil the gleaming, newly expanded 240,000-square-foot Terminal 18 -- the largest cruise terminal ever built to serve a single ship.
Los Angeles: Despite a slowdown in Mexico cruising this year, the Los Angeles cruise port is not only holding steady, it's expanding. In 2009, Royal Caribbean and Carnival repositioned some of their biggest, amenity-laden cruise ships -- Mariner of the Seas and Carnival Splendor, respectively -- to Los Angeles' two ports at San Pedro and Long Beach. Both ships offer year-round cruises to the Mexican Riviera. And in 2011, Disney Cruise Line will homeport Disney Wonder in L.A. to offer seasonal cruises to Mexico. To keep those ships coming, the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners voted this week to approve a $1.2 billion plan to redevelop the San Pedro waterfront, which includes construction of a promenade to downtown, development of parks and bike paths, and an extension of the area's streetcar line. A new cruise terminal is also part of the plan.
Seattle: Seattle is in an interesting position -- Alaska cruising is on the decline, but in 2010, Seattle will actually gain a new ship. While lines like Holland America are taking ships out of Vancouver, they are keeping the same number of ships in Seattle. And Carnival has chosen to reposition Carnival Spirit to Seattle in 2010, whereas previously that ship sailed between Vancouver and Whittier. Seattle is currently the hottest port in the Alaska -- whether it can maintain that advantage into 2011 and beyond remains to be seen.
Brrr, It's Cold in Here
San Diego: San Diego not only can't seem to attract new cruise ships, but it will also lose its one year-round cruise ship at the end of April. Carnival Elation is repositioning to Mobile after an April 30 Panama Canal cruise; it will offer year-round cruises from its new gulf homeport beginning May 15, 2010. And while the port tried to persuade Disney to bring Disney Wonder to San Diego, the line ultimately chose Los Angeles for that honor. On the bright side, Royal Caribbean began short cruises out of San Diego this fall on the eight-year-old, 2,500-passenger Radiance of the Seas. But come May that ship will head to Alaska, only stopping briefly again in San Diego next fall as it repositions to its 2010-2011 winter homeport in Tampa. Hopefully, a new $28 million cruise ship terminal construction project will give San Diego the break it's looking for.
Vancouver: The homeport situation isn't looking so hot for our cruising friends across the border. Vancouver is feeling the blow from all the 2010 cuts in Alaska cruise capacity. Next year, Holland America will decrease the number of ships sailing Gulf of Alaska cruises between Vancouver and Seward from three ships to two, Carnival Spirit is bidding farewell to Canada and transitioning to roundtrip Seattle itineraries, and Princess will homeport only three ships (Diamond Princess, Coral Princess and Island Princess) in Vancouver in 2010, compared to four in 2009. But hope is on the way in the form of Disney Cruise Line, which will offer its first ever Alaska cruises out of Vancouver during summer 2011.
--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor
Photo courtesy of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau
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What's Hot and What's Not: North American Homeport Trends for 2010
October 2, 2009