February 4, 2005
Jacksonville may be front and center this weekend because of Super Bowl XXXIX -- and the fight to the finish between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots -- but for cruise aficionados, the city has put itself on the map for another reason: Five major cruise ships will serve as floating hotels there. These include Carnival Miracle, RSSC's Seven Seas Navigator, and Holland America's Volendam, Zuiderdam and Zaandam.
Admittedly, cruise ships serving as "floating hotels" for sporting events is nothing new -- last summer, eight different vessels were holed up in Piraeus (the port for Athens) to provide accommodations throughout the 2004 Olympic Games. What's neat about this particular arrangement, though, is that bringing the cruise ships to town played a crucial role in landing Jacksonville the bid for the big game.
That's because Jacksonville, the smallest city (at least in terms of population and accommodation options) ever to host a Super Bowl, very nearly didn't qualify. In order to land the coveted pigskin championship, the NFL requires cities to set aside a minimum of 17,500 "quality" hotel rooms (generally full-service properties) for NFL-related groups. Technically speaking, Jacksonville was 3,500 rooms short -- until it came up with the idea of adding 3,617 rooms, er, cabins to their former total of 14,000.
Who's staying onboard? The vessels are accommodating NFL guests and sponsors, and other VIP's (players are staying elsewhere). Tom Petway, co-chairman of the Jacksonville Super Bowl Host Committee, was reportedly one of the first overnight guests to board Seven Seas Navigator this week. However, the general public has been allowed access to cruise ships through the purchase of dining and entertainment packages. Folks who've booked an "evening of entertainment" onboard Carnival Miracle, for example, will pay $249 or $299 for dinner in The Bacchus Restaurant or Nick & Nora's supper club respectively, which also includes pre-dinner cocktails, a Vegas-style production, live music, dancing and open bar. There are also lunch and breakfast packages available.
While security is always an important issue to the cruise industry, it's at just about unprecedented levels in Jacksonville as a result of the Super Bowl game. In fact, earlier this week, concerns about a security breach onboard Holland America's Zaandam resulted in a slight delay in departure from Port Canaveral; the ship was cleared, however, and arrived to Jacksonville on time.