Cruise lines turn eye to sprucing up port terminals

Trends

April 23, 2006|By JANE ENGLE | JANE ENGLE,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Cruise ships may be glamorous, but many cruise terminals aren't. Stashed next to freight docks and container vessels, they have all the ambience of warehouses, which, in fact, some once were.

"Cold and sterile" is how Douglas Ward, author of the Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships, describes a typical passenger terminal.

That may be changing.

Cruise terminals, one-time stepsisters of industrial ports, are turning into Cinderellas. Their benefactors, the cruise lines, are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to rejuvenate old facilities and build new ones as the lines ride a wave of growth.

That's good news for passengers, who are enjoying more ports with more perks, such as shops, cafes, lounges and even private beaches and pools.

Among recent projects:

* Brooklyn, N.Y. / / A $52 million terminal opened last weekend at Pier 12 in the borough's up-and-coming Red Hook section.

"It really is gorgeous," said Mike Driscoll, editor of Cruise Week, an industry newsletter, who toured the unfinished facilities in February.

The setting may still be gritty, but the postcard view of the Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty and Governors Island is "spectacular," he said. More-tangible luxuries include frosted-glass walls, a VIP room for suite passengers and canopied areas over passageways to the parking.

Cunard's Queen Mary 2 is among dozens of ships expected to use the new terminal, which is part of a $200-million project to improve New York City's cruise facilities. The city plans to recover its investment by 2017 from port fees paid by NCL Corp. and Carnival Corp. 1 / 3 West Indies / / "Terminal" may be too modest a word to describe the $45-million Grand Turk Cruise Center, which opened in February in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The 13-acre center, financed by Carnival Corp., has dozens of shops, a 14,000-square-foot swimming pool and an outpost of Jimmy Buffett's chain of Margaritaville restaurants.

The pier can accommodate two super-sized ships. By summer, several cruise lines are expected to have used it. 1 / 3 Naples, Italy / / Three cruise companies are spending about $20 million to renovate a terminal, built in the 1930s, that is "an elegant old building but really run-down," said John Tercek, vice president of commercial development for Royal Caribbean International.

The other partners, he said, are Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises, both based in Italy.

In a recent phone interview from Naples, where he was working on the project, Tercek said the Naples facility would offer restaurants, shops and entertainment.

The industry's investment in terminals is driven largely by the growth of cruise travel.

Nearly 10 million North Americans are expected to board cruise ships this year, more than double the number a decade ago, according to Cruise Lines International Association, an industry trade group based in New York. Most of that growth has been since 2000.

But many ports can't afford to modernize terminals to keep pace with this growth, said Giora Israel, vice president of strategic planning and port development for Carnival Corp.

Determined to push the projects along, Israel said, captains of the cruise industry are taking the helm.

In complex arrangements that may involve direct financing, loans and prepaid or guaranteed port fees, companies provide financial help to local authorities, he said.

The port typically owns the terminal and leases the space to the cruise company, which usually gets some say in the design, plus preferential, but not exclusive, berthing for its ships.

The new generation of mega-ships poses another challenge for older cruise facilities.

Royal Caribbean spent five years, Tercek said, trying to persuade the New York City Economic Development Corp. to expand its Manhattan terminal to accommodate the line's biggest vessels, which carry more than 3,000 passengers.

When that effort failed, Tercek said, Royal Caribbean went to Bayonne, N.J., where it opened a terminal in 2004. Industry insiders say that helped prod New York officials to expedite the Brooklyn project.

Carnival opened a $40-million cruise terminal in 2003 in Long Beach, Calif., after failing to persuade the Port of Los Angeles to renovate its San Pedro facility.

Along with Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Line have been pioneers in financing passenger facilities.

In 1998-99, Royal Caribbean helped the Port of Miami convert what Tercek called "funky warehouses" into a modern terminal. It also helped rebuild the port in San Juan, Puerto Rico, he said.

Disney has taken the concept a step beyond.

"We believe the cruise experience starts the minute you arrive at the terminal," said spokeswoman Rena Langley.

To that end, Disney opened a theme-park-style terminal when it launched its family-oriented line in 1998. In the Port Canaveral, Fla., facility, Mickey Mouse and other characters greet arriving children, and a lounge shows Disney cartoons.

Jane Engle writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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