Norfolk: High Hopes for New Terminal

March 9, 2006
Norfolk's snazzy new cruise terminal, currently being constructed to the tune of $36 million, launches next March -- but which ships will call this expensive piece of real estate "home" is still up in the air.

Like so many other coastal cities, Norfolk experienced a boom in cruise traffic after September 11, 2001 as the concept of home port cruising gained in popularity. But though yearly passenger counts have increased since then from a mere 8,000 to a pretty sizeable 105,000, the number of cruise lines positioning ships in Norfolk is actually on the decline. Last year, Holland America, Carnival, Celebrity and Regent Seven Seas Cruises had a presence in Norfolk. This year, Holland America and Carnival are homeporting ships in Norfolk. And at this point, only one line -- Carnival -- has a spot on the roster for next year; Holland America won't be returning.

Why has Holland America decided to pull out after two years? In a statement, the cruise line chalks it up to wanting to offer more off-the-beaten-path itineraries. "Since September 11, 2001 we have significantly increased what we call 'close-to-home cruise offerings.' Our guests are now looking for more diverse cruise destinations and we are adding several exotic itineraries including Australia/New Zealand and Asia/Pacific. We're also offering more European and Grand Voyage options than ever before. As a result, we have redeployed our vessels to accommodate these itineraries.

"Some have asked why we are leaving such a warm and welcoming community. As we evaluate upcoming cruise itineraries, we often face very difficult decisions. Leaving Norfolk was one of these."

Norfolk's focus on and investment in improving the port's facilities could reverse that trend -- and we're sure that's the whole point. In courting new cruise lines, spokesman Stephen Kirkland tells us Norfolk is also using its location as an advantage itinerary-wise, playing up the fact that they're technically the closest port to Bermuda -- only 680 miles away -- and have also been a turnaround in the past for voyages to Canada/New England (currently, only Bahamas and Caribbean itineraries are available from Norfolk).

Will we see Bermuda cruises out of Norfolk in 2007? Well, that remains to be seen -- but as a burgeoning cruise port, Norfolk is definitely concentrating on building up its status as a port of embarkation and debarkation rather than a port of call.

The new one-pier facility will be adjacent to the current cruise pier, behind the National Maritime Center; exhibits from the museum will add flair to the 80,000-square-ft., two-level terminal.