(5:00 p.m. EST) -- Carnival Cruise Line lifted the veil on its refurbished Long Beach Cruise Terminal at an event for media and local travel partners. Coinciding with the redeployment of Carnival Splendor to Long Beach, the terminal completed a multi-million-dollar facelift that was years in the planning. Long Beach is Carnival's main West Coast base for cruises to Mexico.
Carnival previously used only about half of the port's iconic dome structure, but the improvements allow the company to use 100 percent of the facility. Post-refurb, the terminal has seating for 1,584 passengers, providing for smoother embarkation and debarkation.
"We've only been here two weeks but we've been able to get the guests on and off the ship so much faster," said MarQ Anthony, Carnival Splendor's cruise director.
The dome's redesigned interior now features a backdrop of California's Sierra Nevada mountains; a model of the Spruce Goose hangs overhead. (The facility was built in 1982 to house Howard Hughes’ one-of-a-kind Spruce Goose airplane.) The port has also expanded the shore power facilities, allowing larger ships to access the local electrical grid and lessening their exhaust emissions while docked.
Long Beach has been home to Carnival Cruise Line since 2003; the line operates five cruises a week from the terminal -- 3- and 4-night cruises on Carnival Inspiration and Carnival Imagination, and seven-night cruises aboard Carnival Splendor, currently the largest ship home-ported in southern California. The three ships will carry a projected 670,000 passengers in 2018, up from 630,000 in 2017 (when Carnival Miracle was based in Long Beach).
"We've been sailing from southern California for quite a long time," said Christine Duffy, Carnival Cruise Line president. "But we believe there is untapped potential for this market. There's a significant population that can drive to this port in a half-day or less."
Almost all of Carnival’s Long Beach departures head south to Mexico, and Duffy also announced the start of a port development project in Ensenada. Although additional details were not released, Duffy said the project is expected to include indoor and outdoor features and will be completed by 2020.
But it was the last announcement that generated the biggest excitement.
The 3,960-passenger Carnival Panorama, Carnival's third Vista-class ship now under construction at Fincantieri’s Marghera shipyard, will be based out of Long Beach when it launches in December, 2019. The 3,960-passenger ship will go straight to its homeport from the shipyard.
While Carnival Splendor will relocate to Australia in late 2019, with the addition of Carnival Panorama, the line is projecting that Long Beach will host 730,000 passengers annually by 2020.
--By David Swanson, Cruise Critic Contributor