The purpose-built AU$57 million (US$58 million) terminal, in the inner-west suburb of Rozelle, replaces the temporary Wharf 5 Darling Harbour, a site known as Barangaroo. From this week, White Bay becomes the city's main passenger facility for ships that can fit under the Harbour Bridge -- approximately half of the vessels that visit Sydney. Taller ships will continue to have priority at the Overseas Passenger Terminal, in prime position opposite the Sydney Opera House.
Described as a “trial” by Sydney Ports Corporation, the first day was widely applauded for the ease and efficiency of passenger processing. However, some passengers slammed its out-of-city location and lack of public transport and long-term parking.
P&O and Princess Cruises will be the main users of the terminal for the next six months, with more lines to follow when the local summer cruise season starts in October. Tammy Marshall, P&O Australia's Senior Vice President, said it was “a promising start” for the new base of the company's fleet.
“Passengers commented on how smooth the disembarkation and embarkation process was for Pacific Pearl's inaugural turnaround. We think it was a good first day for the new facility,” she said.
Marshall played down concerns about the location, which the company had previously described as “suboptimal” when the development was approved in 2011.
“At 17 kilometres (10 miles) from Sydney Airport, the distance to White Bay is roughly equivalent to the temporary facility at Barangaroo, Darling Harbour and, if at all, would involve only a few minutes more travelling time,” Marshall added.
For guests arriving at the airport, cruise lines offer transfers by coach to the new terminal. P&O charges AU$22 per person each way, as well as post-cruise transfers from the ship to Central Railway Station for AU$12 per person.
The nearest train station to White Bay, Central, is not walking distance, which has angered many Australians, who used to walk 10 minutes from Wynyard station to Barangaroo. Buses are also tricky, without a bus stop at the site -- the closest is at Roberts Street, Rozelle. Taxis are also available -- but at a price.
There are positives: the modern building is a vast improvement on the marquee at Barangaroo; a newly built road provides good access for cars, with clear signage from all directions; and the facilities at White Bay are better.
“Greater space is the big improvement,” said Marshall. “There are more short-term parking spots than at Barangaroo. There is a viewing area at ground level and there's an excellent coffee shop/snack bar. Toilets are also superior to Barangaroo in most respects.”
Cruise Critic members welcomed the new terminal. On the Message Boards thied said: "Looks great and well done Sydney, Hope Brisbanes new cruise terminal is not to far away."
And on our Facebook page Wendy London said: "If it's as efficient and friendly as the temporary marquis terminal, it will be a huge success. But -- as you point out, it's half-a-white-elephant, given that tall ships can't sail under the bridge, and as ships get bigger -- and with the widening of the Panama Canal ensuring that mega-ships will increasingly come to this part of the world, it becomes a bit obsolete already. The further problem is forcing more/bigger ships back into Circular Quay which is a huge traffic and congestion problem. Securing berths at Garden Island was a great move by Carnival, but there needs to be far more access. Sydney is already an almighty bottleneck -- just remember the day back in March 2009 when there were 4 ships in port!!"
On P&O Australia's Facebook page, many people were less complimentary. A passenger booked on an upcoming cruise criticised the line for accepting an under-serviced facility. “If it was a new airport, I bet you wouldn't use it until every thing was in place. I would suggest you put a bit more pressure on the State Government to address these issues as soon as possible.”
Anthony Scott criticised the port authority. “How silly. A major transport hub and no direct access to public transport or long-term parking. Great planning Sydney Ports Corp.”
It was the disembarking passengers from the Pacific Pearl who were happiest. “Not one problem today at White Bay,” Rachel Mawer reported on Monday. “Went very well for being the first passengers to use it.”
Suzanne Reynolds said: “All was great including the new drop-off point. The city was at its finest.” Louise Collison added: “Nice facility. Easy exit.”
The next ship scheduled to arrive is P&O's Pacific Jewel on Friday (19 April).
--by Louise Goldsbury, Cruise Critic Contributor