Alternate places to dock becoming more familiar

Ports of Call World ports

September 30, 2007|By Jay Clarke | Jay Clarke,McClatchy-Tribune

Four years ago, Icy Strait Point was just a dot on a map of Alaska's Chichagof Island. Today, thousands of cruise passengers visit there to get acquainted with the native Huna Tlingit population, observe a one-time salmon-canning operation and ride the world's longest zip line.

Icy Strait Point is one of many emerging ports in today's cruising world. It's a brand new port, built from scratch, as are several others. But most emerging ports are existing ones just now becoming popular ports of call as cruise lines widen their itineraries.

The reason? Veteran passengers are looking for destinations they haven't visited, said Giora Israel, vice president of strategic planning for Carnival Corp.

"A second aspect is the sheer number of new ships," which are overwhelming some existing ports, he said. "St. Thomas can only handle five ships at one time."

Those pressures are pushing cruise lines to look for alternate ports of call. The result is that passengers now can visit many ports that in the past rarely saw a major passenger ship.

Kotor, for instance, is the gateway to Slovenia and its lovely alpine country; Zadar to the unspoiled beauty of the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Puerto Chacabuco gives access to Chile's stunning fjord country, Savona to the charms of the Italian Riviera, Vigo to historic Santiago di Campostela in northern Spain. Tampico and Vera Cruz on Mexico's Gulf Coast expose leisure passengers to the charms of two historic port cities.

In Australia, some ships now stop at Hobart in Tasmania, home of the Tasmanian devil and of ecological preserves. And in neighboring New Zealand, cruisers now may call at Wellington, the country's capital.

Still other less-frequented ports will be making their way onto cruise itineraries in the next five years.

China, looking ahead to hosting the Summer Olympics in 2008, is ratcheting up its maritime facilities. Tianjin is the main port serving inland Beijing, site of the Games, but two other northern China ports, Dalian and Qingdao, are building new cruise terminals.

Another emerging Chinese port is Xiamen, situated between Shanghai and Hong Kong. Among its attractions: Gulangyu Island, where no motor vehicles are allowed.

In the Caribbean, demand is so strong that entirely new ports are being created.

Seven years ago, Costa Maya was a quiet little fishing village on the Yucatan's southern Caribbean coast. Cruise ships passed it by to get to Cozumel and Cancun, farther north on Mexico's coast. But in early 2001, a pier large enough to hold three cruise ships was opened.

Today, it is the second largest cruise port in Mexico, hosting more than a half-million passengers a year. However, extensive damage from a hurricane last month has forced both Carnival and Royal Caribbean International cruises to divert ships from the port.

Costa Maya sustained extensive damage when Hurricane Dean swept over the Yucatan as a Category 5 hurricane on Aug. 21, demolishing houses, crumpling steel girders and washing away parts of concrete dock at the port.

Luckily, Costa Maya isn't the Caribbean's only new port.

Carnival not only built an entirely new port on Grand Turk, but made it a destination in itself with its own swimming pool, beach, shops and the region's biggest Margaritaville restaurant.

With Grand Turk now attracting ships from several lines, Carnival is building a new port on the island of Roatan, Honduras, due to open in 12 to 18 months, and is taking a look at Santo Tomas de Castilla in Guatemala and at expanding the port at busy St. Martin.

Established ports also are seeing more leisure passengers.

In Europe, which is experiencing a boom in cruising, sophisticated Stockholm, Sweden, is building the city's first dedicated cruise terminal, slated to open in May 2008. Liverpool, England, where the Beatles got their start, expects to open a new cruise berth in September. Genoa, Italy, where Christopher Columbus was born, is expanding its cruise terminal. Estonia's Tallinn, emerging from years of obscurity, will open a new dock for cruise ships by 2008. Two German ports, Rostock and Kiel, are new points of embarkation on the Baltic Sea.

South America, too, is becoming more familiar with cruisers. Santos in Brazil has long been an important cargo port, but recently more cruise ships have begun to call there, opening the temperate south of Brazil to visitors.

Many ports have emerged from cruise obscurity in the United States, but usually for a different reason: to provide more convenient embarkation and disembarkation points for passengers.

Miami and Port Everglades are still the world's biggest cruise ports. In fact, Miami is opening two new terminals this year. But passengers also can board cruise ships in Mobile, Ala.; Charleston, S.C.; Baltimore and Jacksonville, cities that rarely saw cruise ships in the past but now are becoming hubs for passengers.

Even New York City, which cruise lines at one point abandoned as a home port, is resurgent. Both Royal Caribbean and Carnival have built new terminals there, enabling easy access for the surrounding huge population base.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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