Wildfires Don't Impact S. California Cruises

October 26, 2007

Editor's Note (updated Friday, October 26): The first spate of cruise ship calls to Southern California ports since the wildfires exploded at the beginning of the week occurred today. The Port of San Diego is embarking and disembarking on schedule; no ships turn around today at The Port of Los Angeles at San Pedro or the Port of Long Beach.

The Vista, California-based America's Vacation Center, one of the country's largest travel agencies, has resumed business as normal as well -- and reports that the wildfires, though challenging, did not affect operations.

The wildfires plaguing Southern California have so far had little impact on cruise travel, though the Port of San Diego is closed again today (no ships were scheduled to call, embark or disembark passengers on either Monday or Tuesday). The fires, which now extend from Santa Barbara to the north to Mexico to the south, have increased in severity and quantity as a result of increasing Santa Ana winds; these winds continue to unpredictably spread fire-starting embers .

As noted, the Port of San Diego is actually closed -- but it does not expect another cruise ship arrival until Thursday, October 25; Carnival Elation is due in then (with Celebrity Summit and Holland America's Zaandam expected on Friday, October 26).

The Port of Long Beach reports no impact as yet.

Nearby, the Port of Los Angeles at San Pedro has one cruise call on the schedule today: NCL's Norwegian Star. John Prins, a Cruise Critic reader who lives in southern California, dropped us a note to let us know that he "drove down to the port (of L.A./San Pedro). Norwegian Star is there looking good and embarking passengers. Besides a steady haze in the air and a bunch of ashes from the fires on our cars, nothing stands in the way of her leaving L.A. on time today. The ports of L.A. and Long Beach are not affected by the wildfires!"

At least one major cruise travel agency is impacted by the wildfires. America's Vacation Center, located in Vista, a town that's about 30 miles north of San Diego, has closed its headquarters, not because it itself is in danger, but because company staffers need to stay close to home, just in case.

However, Jeff Anderson, AVC's vice president of marketing, tells Cruise Critic that "the Santa Ana winds are supposed to be going through at least until tomorrow, and because of the magnitude of the winds, there's no way firefighters can control this thing. It's gotten to the point where we're just too uncertain about it. Rather than keeping everything going full throttle we're pulling back on what's not totally essential."

Anderson notes that slowing down is just a precaution and that a "jazzy new phone system" the company recently installed means that its satellite staffers -- based in some 45 different states -- are handling customer inquiries about cruise questions and cruise sales. Indeed, he says, "The good news is we are handling all the calls in a timely manner at this point. So far we're surprisingly having a great sales day."

Princess Cruises, based in Santa Clarita, is another cruise-related business whose operations could possibly be impacted as fires have sprung up in that area, north of Los Angeles. "Actually we were open for business as usual yesterday," reports Princess Cruises' Carol Maglione. "Our buildings are located at the center of the valley and well out of harm's way of the fires -- most of which are now under containment save for a relatively new one in the Castaic area. Hopefully the winds will cooperate today. It was a strange feeling to see smoke and flames in the mountains and hillsides on several sides of us.
"Fire fighters and city officials were amazing," she adds. "Princess kept everyone updated with local reports as well."
We'll keep you posted.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor