Norwegian Cruise Line returns Saturday to Port Canaveral

Norwegian-SpiritWhen the Norwegian Spirit enters Port Canaveral today, it will mark the first Norwegian Cruise Line ship based there since 2012.

The Spirit will operate weeklong cruises from Port Canaveral from now through mid-April, alternating between Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries.

“Having Norwegian Spirit home-port in Port Canaveral represents a big opportunity for the Norwegian brand,” said Andy Stuart, Norwegian’s president and chief operating officer.  “We know that there is pent-up demand from our loyal guests to cruise from Port Canaveral, and we are excited to bring this spectacular ship to the Greater Orlando area.”

In another cruise development, Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Walsh said Port Canaveral has overtaken Port Everglades near Fort Lauderdale as the world’s second-busiest cruise port, behind Miami.

“There’s no more slippery slope there,” Walsh said, referring to the tight battle between Canaveral and Everglades a year ago for the runner-up position. Now, he said, Port Canaveral is “a solid second.”

Walsh said Port Canaveral now will take aim at Miami for the top position, and it could challenge that port by 2017. Walsh said he is projecting a 9 percent increase in cruise passenger volume in 2016 at Port Canaveral, then a 20 percent to 25 percent increase in 2017.

“It will stay a competition for some time, which keeps it fun,” Walsh said in his report to port commissioners. “Being No. 1, you only have a target on your back. No. 2 can be a lot more fun in the process.”

Stewart Chiron, founder and chief executive officer of CruiseGuy.com, who closely follows the cruise industry, said Port Canaveral’s cruise passenger numbers were helped by a growth spurt in port-of-call visits. Port Everglades was hurt by a reduction in the number of ships there during the summer, including the move to Europe of Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas.

“It’s nice to see Florida ports continue to lead the way as being home to the three busiest cruise ports in the world,” Chiron said.  “These three ports alone had 12.38 million passengers visit, bringing billions of dollars to local economies and generating thousands of jobs.”

“The Caribbean remains very strong” as a cruise market, Walsh said.

Walsh said the booking figures on the Norwegian Spirit for its first sailing from Port Canaveral are strong as well. The ship will have about 2,200 passengers on its first cruise out of Port Canaveral, which is higher than the Spirit’s double-occupancy capacity of 2,018. Some of the cabins will have three or more passengers.

The ship, which has a crew of 962, is scheduled to arrive at 6 a.m. today  at Port Canaveral’s Cruise Terminal 1 after a 16-day trans-Atlantic cruise that originated in Barcelona, Spain. Walsh said there are about 1,890 passengers on that cruise. The ship is scheduled to leave Port Canaveral at 4:30 p.m. for an Eastern Caribbean cruise.

Norwegian joins Carnival, Disney and Royal Caribbean as cruise lines with ships now based at Port Canaveral.

But Norwegian isn’t a total stranger to the Space Coast. In the last year, three Norwegian ships based elsewhere on the U.S. East Coast — the Breakaway, the Gem and the Jewel — made a total of 43 port-of-call stops at Port Canaveral. A year earlier, Norwegian had 45 port-of-call stops there.

The Spirit entered cruise service in 1998 as the SuperStar Leo. It was renamed when it joined the Norwegian fleet in 2004, and was refurbished in 2008.

Norwegian announced in August that it would base the much-larger Norwegian Epic at Port Canaveral, starting in November 2016. The Epic, built in 2010, has a double-occupancy capacity of 4,100 and a crew of 1,753. The Epic will offer seven-day Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises, as well as three- and four-day cruises to the Bahamas, from Port Canaveral.

Chiron said it is nice to see Norwegian returning a ship to Port Canaveral, albeit initially with an older and smaller ship. He said it was a good sign that Norwegian in 2016 will replace the Spirit with one of its newest and largest ships.

Contact Berman at 321-242-3649 and dberman@floridatoday.com. Follow him on Twitter @ByDaveBerman and on Facebook at facebook.com/dave.berman.54

Posted from Crystal Edgerly

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