Cruising: What's Not to Like in the City of Brotherly Love?

February 4, 2010
Philadelphia (2:52 p.m. EST) -- Ports along the Eastern Seaboard -- including New York, Cape Liberty, Boston and Baltimore -- have seen increased homeporting by cruisers seeking to save money by cutting out airline costs. If you live in the Philadelphia area, however, you might be a bit disappointed in 2010.

According to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Delaware River Port Authority -- which signed a 20-year lease in 1998 to operate the Philadelphia cruise terminal -- is fighting feverishly to bring cruise ships back to the declining Philadelphia port, where only two ships are scheduled to call this year.

As recently as 2006, the port had 35 sailings scheduled. In 2009, that number fell to just eight sailings. DRPA spokesperson Danelle Hunter says Hapag-Lloyd's MV Hanseatic and Crystal Cruises' Crystal Symphony will call later this year. That's a considerable drop -- and so far, no ships are scheduled to call there in 2011 -- which raises the question of why Philadelphia cruising has declined so sharply, while other East Coast homeports steam onward.

Hunter offers a few explanations, one being ship size. As vessels become increasingly larger, they simply can't navigate to the port. "They are unable to reach our pier because they cannot fit under the Delaware Memorial Bridge," Hunter says.

Because of the port's location -- on the Delaware River, about 100 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, between the more popular cruise ports of New York and Baltimore -- Philadelphia sailings require more time for ships to reach international waters, which means ships must also wait longer to open casinos and duty-free shops onboard when leaving port. That also means passengers have less time to spend money in those venues on debarkation day, which affects cruise lines' bottom lines.

Also, although Philadelphia is a 6.5-hour drive or less for about 55 million people, Hunter says many ships -- particularly those in the Philly-friendly midsize category -- have left for the greener pastures of Europe, due to the increased value of the euro.

Last year, Hunter says the port of Philadelphia saw nearly 24,000 passengers. Assuming both ships scheduled to visit this year sail at full capacity, that number will decline to just 1,144.

One cruise line that infused some life into the now-lackluster port was Norwegian Cruise Line, whose Norwegian Majesty -- which has since been sold -- was responsible for all eight sailings that left from Philadelphia in 2009. Currently, NCL has no plans to base another ship in the port, according to spokeswoman Courtney Recht, who says the line's itineraries have already been solidified through 2012.

Still, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel. Hunter says DRPA is aggressively marketing the cruise terminal to cruise lines and has been sending representatives to trade shows and other industry events. After meeting with several lines in Florida, talks are underway to add more calls in 2011.

We'll keep you posted.

--by Ashley Kosciolek, Copy Editor