Naval Shipyard Leads Booming Cruise Business in Pa.
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (April 27, 2005) -- A record number of people who want a relaxing vacation without boarding another packed airplane will head south this year -- to South Philadelphia and the city's thriving cruise terminal at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
More than 92,000 travelers -- 50 percent more than last year -- are expected to board ships at the Cruise Terminal at Pier 1 this year, starting with the season's first departure today by the Norwegian Crown on a seven-day voyage to Bermuda.
"People love it," Arlene Blosch, owner of the Travel Wizards agency in Bensalem, said of Philadelphia's rising importance as a "home port" where cruise lines base ships for a season.
"They don't have to get on an airplane ... dealing with the crowds, the luggage hassles, where they're treated like cattle."
Philadelphia is cashing in on a post-9/11 move by cruise lines to base ships at ports outside Florida, so passengers don't have to fly to a distant city to start their vacations. The ships that will use Philadelphia as a home port this season will start cruises from other cities in the Northeast, including Baltimore, Boston and New York, when they are not here.
Cruising from Philadelphia has become so popular that there is concern the terminal at the former Navy Yard will soon run out of room to handle more passengers.
The companies that will base ships here for the season -- Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean International -- have scheduled a record 32 trips from the terminal through late October. Last year, 65,000 passengers embarked on 22 cruises. Ships operated by three other cruise lines are scheduled to make port calls at the terminal during the season.
Having ships within driving distance of a port "takes air travel out of the equation, which cuts the time and lowers the cost of the cruise," said Adam Goldstein, president of Royal Caribbean, which is based in Miami. "And the Philadelphia area is within four or five hours of a big percentage of the country's population."
Bensalem retiree John Ward sailed with his wife, Joanne, on Celebrity's Horizon last summer and plans to cruise to Canada from Philadelphia in August. "We were surprised at how fast we got down to the ship and how fast we got out when we got back. ... And we saved almost $500 on the airfare."
Last week, the Delaware River Port Authority said it would spend $145,000 studying ways to continue attracting cruise ships and determine whether the seven-year-old terminal should be expanded or moved elsewhere on the Delaware River to help the business grow.
"We want to stay in the cruise business, and our plan is to keep it here," port authority chief executive John Matheussen said last week during a walking tour of the $15 million terminal and cruise ship pier. The terminal is in a 130-year-old former Navy machine shop at the foot of tree-lined South Broad Street.
Matheussen said the facilities, at times, are at capacity, prompting the agency "to look at all the alternatives," including port facilities on the New Jersey side of the river.
This year's lineup of cruises includes the first regular sailings of one of the industry's larger ships, Royal Caribbean's 2,250-passenger Enchantment of the Seas.
The Norwegian Crown will go to Bermuda over the next four weeks and then return for four more cruises in September and October.
The Celebrity Horizon, which has been based in Philadelphia for much of the last two seasons, will make 17 seven-night voyages to Bermuda, departing Saturdays from July through October.
Prices for the cruises, which include meals aboard ships but not alcoholic drinks or shore excursions, range from $599 for an inside cabin on a five-night trip to more than $2,000 for a suite on a seven-night trip.
But each arrival of Enchantment of the Seas will create a logistical problem: how to efficiently move more than 2,000 passengers and their average of 2.8 pieces of luggage while another group of travelers moves through the terminal to depart later the same day.
To solve the problem, the Port of Philadelphia and Camden, the port authority division that runs the terminal, is building a 4,000-square-foot temporary facility half a mile away. Arriving passengers and their bags will be shuttled from the ship to the building, where they will clear U.S. Customs. The building is next to a parking lot where passengers leave their cars during the cruise.
"We have a limited facility here," port director Melissa Grimm said. "We need a 10-year master plan so we can accommodate larger ships."
The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., the agency that manages and markets the former Navy Yard, is working with the port authority to find additional space at the yard to expand, said John Grady, senior vice president of the development agency.
Although buildings surrounding the terminal are already leased to other tenants, "we have plenty of empty buildings at the Navy Yard," Grady said.
"Hundreds of thousands of people have been to the Navy Yard because of cruises, which is great marketing for us," he added. "We think it's great for tourism."
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