Hoping to bring luxury liner home

Goal: Tourism and transportation officials hope Galaxy's visit leads to more cruise business.

March 26, 2002|By Paul Adams | Paul Adams,SUN STAFF

Hoping to stake a bigger claim in the multibillion dollar cruise industry, Maryland transportation and tourism officials welcomed the Celebrity cruise ship Galaxy to Baltimore yesterday for the first of what will be about two dozen voyages the ship will make to the port this year.

Though cruise ships have routinely called over the years, the 78,000-ton Galaxy's arrival marked the first time in years that a cruise line has dedicated such a large ship to serving Baltimore for a substantial part of the season. Celebrity Cruise officials said the trips have sold well, spurring speculation that the luxury liner will be here again next year and beyond.

"This being successful already has proved to us that it was time to start exploring new locations for a home berth," said Simon Weir, Galaxy's cruise director.

In the port's cruise terminal at Dundalk Marine Terminal, the first of more than 2,000 passengers snaked their way through check-in lines and metal detectors yesterday morning as a steel drum band played under faux palm trees and a snack bar served an eclectic mix of espresso, hot dogs and jerk chicken. Twelve decks above in the Stratosphere lounge, local dignitaries exchanged commemorative plaques and toasted Celebrity's high-stakes gamble on a port more accustomed to welcoming freighters loaded with cargo.

"Not only does it do very good things in terms of the economy and creating jobs, ... it also suggests from an image standpoint that Baltimore is stepping up to the major leagues," said Carroll R. Armstrong, president and chief executive of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.

The association estimates that the 13 cruise ships that visited Baltimore in 1999 pumped $105 million into the region's economy. With about 40 cruise ships expected this year, Armstrong said the economic impact could more than double.

The Galaxy will account for much of the increase. The ship has 935 staterooms, a pool that can be covered in cool weather, a full-service spa, theaters, bars and a 1,088-seat restaurant featuring a menu designed by master French chef Michel Roux, best known for his London-area restaurant, the Waterside Inn. The ship has the look and feel of a luxury hotel.

Whether Baltimore can hold the cruise line's attention may depend on passengers like Don and Pat Christiansen of Pennington, N.J., who have been on more than 30 cruises. Unenthusiastic about flying after the attacks of Sept. 11, they decided to drive 2 1/2 hours to Baltimore for this cruise rather than face long security lines and other hassles of air travel.

"That was big, very big," Pat Christiansen said while waiting to check in. "We went on a cruise out of Fort Lauderdale in December, but when we saw that we wouldn't have to fly and it's much less hassle, we decided to come here this time."

Betty and Al Sullivan of Cobb Island said the chance to drive up to the cruise terminal made the difference in their decision.

"I will fly," Betty Sullivan said. "But I would much rather not. This is just perfect."

Celebrity makes no secret of the fact that Sept. 11 played a major role in its decision to send the Galaxy to Baltimore rather than to the Baltic Sea, where it would normally migrate at this time of year. With the war on terrorism being waged overseas, passengers are looking to stay closer to home.

"Most ships are not now migrating," Weir said. "When it's unsettled as it is now, to be in closer proximity to the United States is definitely favorable."

Whether passengers will keep coming after the memory of Sept. 11 fades remains to be seen, but Celebrity officials remain bullish.

The cruise line said it will make a decision soon on whether to bring the Galaxy back next year.

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