Cruise ship terminal opens in Locust Point

State officials unveil $13 million embarkation point that gets passengers away from Dundalk cargo docks

May 11, 2006|By ANDREA K. WALKER | ANDREA K. WALKER,SUN REPORTER

Passengers boarding cruise ships in Baltimore used to have to make their way past tractors and boxes of cargo and had to use makeshift bathrooms in trailers.

But that's now a shabby memory: State officials unveiled a new $13 million cruise ship terminal along the South Locust Point shoreline yesterday.

"Our customers will no longer have to drive around Dundalk Marine Terminal dodging trucks and loading materials," Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony that included onlookers wearing Hawaiian leis and a steel drum band playing Bob Marley and other Caribbean-inspired tunes.

Unlike the former terminal in Dundalk, the new location doesn't have to share port space with cargo operations. An old lumber facility has been converted to a 60,000-square-foot cruise terminal with ticketing counters, security screeners, snack bar and real bathrooms. Parking is available for 500 vehicles, with drop-off and pickup areas at the entrance.

State officials hope the new terminal will help Maryland become a larger player in the cruise business. Baltimore wasn't seen as a departure point for sea cruises until after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when people were flying less and didn't want to take a cruise from New York. Many of the cruise lines saw growth opportunities in second-tier cities. The number of cruises peaked at more than 70 in 2003.

About 30 cruises to Bermuda and the Caribbean are scheduled to depart Baltimore this year. The first, Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas, leaves tomorrow for a trip to the Caribbean. "This might very well be the beginning of a new era for cruising in Maryland," said F. Brooks Royster III, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration.

"We believe this will continue the renaissance of cruising in Maryland," Royster said.

The opening of the new terminal ends a years-long search for a more appealing location.

The state had considered building a $30 million to $50 million facility in Baltimore's Canton neighborhood, where banker and businessman Edwin F. Hale Sr. has begun a development that includes condominiums, office and retail facilities.

The state commissioned several studies examining everything from traffic, dredging needs and cost to economic impact of the cruise industry on Maryland before choosing a location. Officials decided a new facility in Canton or other neighborhoods would be too expensive and could be reconsidered later.

The cost of the eventual location totaled about $13 million, including dredging and construction.

State officials also liked the site because it's visible from Interstate 95 and not far from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and the city's Inner Harbor.

The choice also aligns with a 2002 study that concluded Baltimore could attract drive-up cruises, but would never grow into a major cruising destination like Miami.

Passengers never complained about the old terminal in Dundalk, officials said. But port officials wanted to devote that part of the port to more cargo usage. Tourism groups thought a new terminal would give cruise lines another reason to look at Baltimore.

"It improves the possibilities of Baltimore as a cruising destination," said Mahlon G. "Lon" Anderson, director of public and government relations for AAA of the Mid-Atlantic, which books cruises. "It helps in getting the cruise lines to come here. They don't want to come if we don't have a nice terminal."

Mary Brennan, owner of Fort Washington-based Ambassador Cruises in Prince George's County, also said the terminal will help attract cruise business.

Brennan said she would also like to see Baltimore tourism officials work with the cruise lines to create packages for vacationers to tour the city and region a couple of days before or after their cruise.

"It won't be the reason why ships come here, but it will be a positive factor in considering ship placement," Brennan said of the new terminal.

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

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