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More cruise ships departing from NJ and NYC, even in winter

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More cruise ships departing from NJ and NYC, even in winter

Postby Anthony » Thu May 03, 2007 6:20 am

From the AP:

BAYONNE, N.J. (AP) _ One December day about two years ago, Bill Miller stepped onto a cruise ship in New York City with snow on the deck, and sailed away for vacation.

"New York was blanketed in white; it was crystal clear," said Miller, 59, a retired school teacher who lives in Secaucus. "What a great feeling to be leaving that cold winter weather and to be heading to the warmth of the Caribbean."

New York hasn't been the capital of ocean liner or cruise departures for decades. But the post-Sept. 11 world of increased security and hassle at airports has helped make the New York area a prime departure point for cruises again, even in the winter months.

Following the success of NCL Corp.'s year-round departures from New York, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. next week begins offering its own year-round cruises from the terminal it is developing in Bayonne, just across the Hudson River from New York.

Royal Caribbean, the world's second-largest cruise line, will begin sailing Explorer of the Seas from Cape Liberty in New Jersey on May 11 for a nine-night Bermuda and Caribbean itinerary. The seven-year-old ship can hold more than 3,100 passengers and provides amenities including an ice rink and rock climbing walls.

Part of the appeal for passengers is not having to spend money to fly to Florida, said Lisa Bauer, senior vice president of sales for Royal Caribbean.

"They can get the ship in their backyard," she said. "That's very attractive."

About 20 percent of Royal Caribbean's North America customers are within a five-hour drive from Bayonne, and they are bused in from as far away as Ohio, she said.

Passengers like Herb Meisen of Long Island, N.Y., say they'll be happy to drive to the port instead of worrying about missing flights to Florida because of the weather.

"I'd still rather be on a ship sailing out of New York in a snowstorm than sitting in an airport knowing that my flight is canceled and wondering when I'm going to get the next one," said Meisen, who sailed on NCL's Norwegian Spirit from New York to the Caribbean this February.

Colin Veitch, NCL's president and chief executive, said his company began experimenting from departures from New York in 2001.

"People were not wanting to travel by air," he said. "We had already began putting ships closer to population centers."

NCL expanded into the winter months in 2003 and by 2005 it added another year-round ship.

Sidney Meyer, a Brooklyn resident who has taken two NCL cruises from New York in winter, said he doesn't mind the initial cold.

"If you leave at 4 p.m. on Sunday, by Tuesday morning you're in a place where it's warm enough to go outside," he said.

The trend of cruising from winter ports in happening in Europe, too, said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of CruiseCritic.com, a popular Web site. She said some ships are now being designed to be used in the winter months with retractable glass roofs over swimming pools for a solarium atmosphere.

During the 1950s, before flying to Florida was an option, most ocean liners and cruise ships left from New York, said Miller, a historian and author of 70 books of ocean liners and cruise ships.

"But little by little, New York lost its foothold as the ocean liner capital of the world and by the 1970s it was down to just a few ships because Florida had taken it all," he said. "I'm amazed that it's revived in such numbers. I never anticipated this."

About 940,000 passengers are expected to pass through the Manhattan Cruise Terminal in 2007. Another 225,000 passengers are expected in Red Hook, Brooklyn, which opened its own passenger terminal in 2006.

Royal Caribbean began offering departures from Bayonne in 2004, after moving operations from the West Side of Manhattan, Bauer said. About 303,000 passengers passed through Bayonne last year.

The company signed a 35-year lease with the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority and already has spent about $12 million in improvements to convert the port from handling military vessels to cruise ships, said Nancy Kist, the authority's executive director.

Royal Caribbean is also putting in another $10 to $15 million to winterize, expand the passenger terminal building and help pay for a slot so two ships can be in port at the same time, Kist said.

The authority, which oversees the redevelopment of the 430-acre former military base, has also spent about $9 million in infrastructure improvements for the second berth, she said. That's in addition to $2 million for upgrades to the parking lot and surrounding roads.

"When Royal Caribbean first came here, people said will be a temporary arrangement," Kist said. "This is another visible sign that this is just not the case."
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