Think you’ve seen all there is to see in the Caribbean? Cruise lines don’t think so, and together with some of the island governments, they’re doing something about it.
As cruise ships become larger, and as repeat passengers yearn for different ports of call, cruise lines and seafront destinations in the Caribbean are expanding existing ports and building new ones.
The idea is to give passengers new destinations to explore, create more diverse itineraries, and in the case of port expansions, to provide more docking space that can accommodate today’s increasingly larger ships.
“For the 60 percent [of Caribbean passengers] who are repeat passengers, it will offer new destinations to complement new ships,” said Stewart Chiron, CEO of www.cruiseguy.com. “And it’s a way for cruise lines to spice up itineraries of older ships.”
For passengers, any new destination is intriguing. “A major part of vacation planning is dreaming about where you wish to go,” said Bob Levenstein, CEO of Cruise Compete, a major travel agency. New ports and new itineraries fuel those dreams.
Seeking out new ports is a trend that has been growing over the past few years. Today there are eight major port projects planned or under construction — three brand new ports, one port that will replace an adjacent older port, and four ports getting major expansions that will accommodate larger vessels or will allow ships to dock rather than tendering passengers to land.
“The Caribbean needs to reinvent itself. It needs new attractions, new ports,” said Giora Israel, senior vice president of port and destination development for Carnival Corp.
Carolyn Brown, editor in chief of Cruise Critic, agrees. “The Caribbean is one of the most popular [cruising regions]. It’s critical to develop new places to see there,” she said.
To that end, Carnival has been in the forefront of developing new ports. It created new ports on Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos and at Mahogany Bay on Roatan. It built a new cruise pier in Cozumel, and is currently constructing a new port at Amber Cove on the north coast of the Dominican Republic.
Royal Caribbean, too, has been active in seeking and building new ports. It built a new port at Falmouth in Jamaica that opened in 2011 and currently is working with the Barbadian government to construct a brand new port there.
“At Falmouth we worked with the government not just to create a new port, but a new destination,” said John Tercek, Royal Caribbean’s vice president of commercial and new business development. The line plans similar features in Barbados.
Norwegian Cruise Line also has entered the quest for new ports, having announced plans to create a new port in Belize.
Are other new ports in the offing?
“We continue to look at a number of places,” Tercek said.
“There’s always a need for new ports,” said Carnival’s Israel. “With 50 to 60 percent repeat passengers, we need diversity of ports. We are looking at a lot of places and [are in] discussions with governments.”
Of course, no new ports or port expansions are built without the consent and participation of the Caribbean governments. Private developers also may be involved. On the north coast of mainland Honduras near the colonial city of Trujillo, for instance, a private developer has teamed with the government of Honduras and the city of Trujillo to create a new port called Banana Coast that will open later this year.
“Governments should do more building. That is our preference, not us doing the building,” said Carnival’s Israel. While a port built by a cruise line may give docking preference to that line’s ships, most of them accept and even welcome ships of other lines.
Port expansions serve other purposes than opening destinations not previously accessible on ship itineraries. A number of ports are lengthening piers to accommodate today’s larger ships, or dredging and building docking facilities to put an end to tendering (anchoring in a harbor and ferrying passengers to shore in small boats), which neither passengers nor cruise companies like.
“With ships getting bigger — longer and wider — ports need upgrades, and not just Royal Caribbean ships,” Tercek said. His company’s Oasis-class ships are the world’s biggest, and several ports are lengthening their docks or building new ones to accommodate them as well as very large ships of other cruise lines.
Below are details of new ports and port expansions under construction or in the last stages of planning. Many other locales, among them Aruba, Antigua, St. Lucia and Grenada, have been in discussions about port expansions as well.
• Banana Coast, Honduras: Slated to host its first ship this year in November, this new port is located on the north coast of mainland Honduras. Built by a private investment group with the cooperation of the Honduran government and the city of Trujillo, it will service ships of all cruise lines. Holland America will be the first to call there, on Nov. 19; other lines committed to call there so far are Silversea, Oceania and P&O Cruises
Cruise lines will send passengers to and from shore by tenders for about two years until a pier capable of berthing two Panamax ships is constructed. Shore facilities will include 10 acres of beachfront and 50,000 square feet of retail shopping.
Area attractions include a rainforest, ruins, beaches and the colonial city of Trujillo, where Christopher Columbus landed on his final voyage in 1502. The city was established in 1525. Planned excursions include cultural, soft adventure and eco-tours, ATV rides, tours of ruins, waterfall exploration and water sports.
• Amber Cove, Dominican Republic: It has nearly 30 years since cruise ships called on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, but come 2015, they will once again bring passengers to this resort area, 15 minutes from Puerto Plata. Built by Carnival Cruise Lines, the new $65 million port will accommodate two 4,000-passenger vessels. Carnival ships have preference, but the port will be open to all cruise ships, as is true of all Carnival-developed ports.
Thirty acres of shore facilities include a craft market, restaurants and bars, a water attraction and transportation center. Many attractions are found along this coasts, among them beaches, golf courses, casinos, resorts, Damajagua Cascades (27 waterfalls), Ocean World Adventure Park (water park, aquarium, casino, disco lounge), and Teleferico (cable car).
• Harvest Caye, Belize: Norwegian Cruise Line plans to build a $50 million eco-friendly port on 75 acres in southern Belize. The property consists of two adjoining islands.
The design has not been finalized, but Norwegian envisions two destinations at the port — docking/tendering facilities on the island and a mainland connection point for inland tours. Facilities would include a floating pier, island village with open-air structures, a marina and transportation hub for tours to the mainland, a lagoon for water sports and a beach area.
• Sugar Point, Barbados: Royal Caribbean is finalizing plans to build a new port in phases at Sugar Point that will eventually accommodate up to six cruise ships or four Oasis-class vessels. In Phase 1 two cruise piers will be built; a third will be added later. The new port, located within walking distance of Bridgetown, Barbados’ capital, will cost an estimated $250 million. Upon completion of the new port, scheduled for 2017, the existing port will be used for cargo vessels.
Shore facilities will include the cruise terminal and 215,000 square feet of retail, food, beverage, entertainment and office space. These facilities will be open to residents and resort visitors as well as passengers; residential quarters and a hotel also may be built on the property.
• Port Zante, St. Kitts: A second pier is being constructed at the existing port on this island. The $31 million dock, scheduled for completion in November, will be able to accommodate two Oasis-size ships. The newest big ship, Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas, will call at St. Kitts in December on one of its first voyages. The port also has installed a structure at the cargo pier to accommodate ships more than 850 feet long, providing St. Kitts the ability to berth another large ship.
St. Kitts has diverse attractions including beaches, golf courses, shopping, resorts and a casino as well as such less common attractions as a rainforest, ziplining and skydiving, a scenic railway and the Brimstone Hill Fortress, one of the largest and best preserved in the Caribbean.
• St. Thomas: The West Indian Co. dock at Charlotte Amalie is being extended to 3,025 feet, enabling it to accommodate three mega ships. The project was scheduled to be completed this month. The company also has been considering a project to add two more berths at a cost of $50 million to $60 million.
St. Thomas is one of the Caribbean’s most heavily visited locales and sometimes ships have to anchor in the harbor and tender their passengers to and from shore.
In addition to the West Indian Co. dock, Crown Bay, immediately west of Charlotte Amalie, can accommodate two ships, including Oasis-size vessels, and the inner and outer harbors each have one dock.
• Tortola, British Virgin Islands: A major port expansion at Road Town will enable the port to accommodate ships carrying 4,000-plus passengers. Both Norwegian Cruise Lines and Disney have been given berthing preference. Other ships will be able to dock there as well, however.
Work is expected to start during this quarter to lengthen the existing cruise pier to 1,200 feet and extend its width to 45 feet, build an excursion/ferry dock, a visitor center, a boardwalk and four acres of shore facilities, including a shopping mall village, recreation elements and staging/transfer area.
Completion is projected for early 2015.
• Grand Cayman: Several proposals to build cruise-ship piers in several locations have been advanced for Grand Cayman, where cruise ships have to tender passengers to and from shore. But now the government has approved plans to construct two piers at the capital city of George Town, where most cruise ships anchor. able to accommodate four ships at an estimated cost of between $100 million and $200 million. The new piers will be able to accommodate four ships at an estimated cost of between $100 million and $200 million.
Also approved are plans to enhance shore facilities at Spotts Landing, another existing anchorage about 4.5 miles from George Town. Proposed enhancements at Spotts Landing include shops, a restaurant and parking/transfer facilities. Cost is estimated at $8 million to $10 million.
Work on the projects is expected to begin this year, depending on further studies and refinement of plans. No completion date has yet been set.