A new passenger port under development in the Dominican Republic by Carnival Corp. is a reminder that future Caribbean cruise itineraries will continue the trend away from traditional port stops.
Older cruise ports are crowded — and can be disappointing to repeat passengers — so cruise companies are developing their own ports and pouring money into improvements at private islands.
Cruise line goals for new ports are: Build docks where big new ships can tie up (with no tendering, which passengers strongly dislike); stay close to South Florida and Texas to save fuel costs; gain control over the quality of the environment, shore excursions, and goods and food for sale; and increase revenue that flows from shops and restaurants ashore back to the cruise lines.
For years, Caribbean cruises from South Florida were sold primarily as opportunities for vacationers to visit historical sites, experience island cultures and shop for unique art and crafts. That experience has been on the wane for more than a decade.
Some traditional island ports have lost their allure. Others are ill-equipped to entertain the thousands of additional travelers dumped ashore by growing fleets of bigger ships. The success of traditional cruise ports has been largely in the hands of local operators and government officials, whose performance has been uneven from island to island. Even at one of the most successful Caribbean ports — St. Maarten — the island government needed to borrow money from Carnival to build a second pier.
As cruise lines looked unsuccessfully for alternative ports that were accessible, clean, attractive, safe, and fun, they decided to build their own — or at least to invest in developments where they have a say about docks, as well as shops, diversions and excursions.
Cruise passengers have changed, too. Today, most prefer their vacations casual, and many passengers, especially repeat customers, are happy with port days at beaches and bars with live entertainment, water parks and zip lines. On a week’s voyage, some veteran cruisers never even get off the ship.
Carnival has been a leader in designing Caribbean cruise ports, including Puerta Maya at Cozumel; Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos, south of the Bahamas; Mahogany Bay on the island of Roatan in Honduras; and now, at $65 million, Amber Cove Cruise Center on the Bay of Maimon near Puerto Plata on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The last cruise ship to call at Puerto Plata, says Carnival, was nearly 30 years ago.
As is typical for Carnival’s port developments (this one being done with the Rannik family of Grupo B&R), Amber Cove, scheduled to open in 2014, will have room to dock two big ships, mostly from among Carnival’s 10 cruise brands, with an estimated daily flow of up to 8,000 passengers and 2,000 crew members.
The 30-acre site will also house a marketplace for Dominican crafts and souvenirs, themed restaurants and bars, and a water attraction, as well as a transportation center for land and sea excursions. Many passengers never stray outside these expanded port facilities, unless they go on a ship-sponsored shore excursion.
“These projects have a huge impact on local employment, especially in areas where hotels have closed,” said David Candib, Carnival’s vice president of port development. “Local governments understand what our investment allows them to do.