FLORIDA: It’s time for South Florida’s annual peak cruise season, and passengers are about to be greeted with “smart” ships that offer high-tech concierge services, a re-imagined cruise terminal with a movie theater, digital avatar sailing companions and ultra-luxury voyages with butler service.
Those and other perks await cruisers departing from Port Everglades and PortMiami aboard select ships, some from newly refurbished terminals. And yes, they will be travelling to the Caribbean, a region industry executives are eager to advertise as being open for business despite a hurricane season that knocked out a number of ports.
Some of the hardest hit destinations, they say, are starting to receive cruise ships again, or soon will.
Nearly 90 percent of the Caribbean’s ports are open for business, according to the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), which says that nearly 100 destinations have been fully operational since Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
“With many of these destinations relying on cruise tourism as a lifeblood of their economy, it is crucial to not only work together to relay the message that most of the Caribbean is ready to welcome passengers, but also to display all the work impacted destinations have done and are doing to rebound and rebuild better than ever,”
FCCA president Michele Paige said.
On Friday last week (Saturday in Manila), Carnival Corp. announced dates from November 1 through January 9 for ships operated by seven of its cruise lines to return to three destinations: Grand Turk, Saint Thomas and San Juan.
On Sunday last week (Monday in Manila), travelers departing from Port Everglades to the Bahamas aboard Princess Cruises’ Regal Princess will be among the first to see the multimillion-dollar transformation of Cruise Terminal 2 as part of next week’s soft launch of Carnival’s Ocean Medallion Vacations. Princess is a Carnival subsidiary.
The terminal boasts a new departures layout and foyer with more security equipment designed to minimize waits. Pre-boarding waiting areas have plush seating bordered by walls and carpeting bathed in soothing hues of blue and brown. Passengers can view travel programming in the 52-seat Ocean View Theater, and when Ocean Medallion goes live next week, they can personalize “tagalong” cruise avatars, play games or plan trip itineraries using interactive digital monitors
“The terminal has been completely transformed into a very comfortable, welcoming environment, where there are very few lines or hassles or frustrations,” said John Padgett, chief experience and innovation officer at Carnival during a preview tour on Friday last week.
Convenience for passengers
Prior to the makeover, outbound travelers had to wait outside the building until all arriving passengers from inbound ships had disembarked.
“That’s not an experience we wanted,” Padgett said.
In a limited rollout on November 13, the Ocean Medallion program will be activated aboard the 3,560-passenger Regal Princess on a Caribbean cruise from Port Everglades. It is designed to allow travellers to personalize their cruise vacations before, during and after they sail. Besides speeding up boardings at the port, a wearable 1.8-ounce coin-like device is expected to improve interactions between guests and crew, help passengers navigate around ships, keep tabs on family members and expedite purchases and itinerary planning.
Of the nearly 40 cruise ships sailing from Port Everglades this season, only one will be a newly built ship: Silver Muse from ultra-luxury cruise operator Silversea Cruises.
The 596-passenger ship is sailing itineraries to South America and the Caribbean as part of several new seasonal luxury cruise options.
“Every voyage since [Silver Muse] launched has been full, so demand has been good,” Silversea spokesman Brad Ball said.
South Florida is already one of Silversea’s strongest markets in the Americas because of its concentration of affluence and retirees, he said.
Silver Muse will next depart Port Everglades on December18 for a 16-day round-trip voyage calling on several ports in the Caribbean including Antigua, Saint Kitts, Grenada, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.
On January 3, the ship will operate a 69-day round-trip “Grand Voyage” from Fort Lauderdale, circumnavigating South America and visiting 34 ports in 14 countries.
Two other luxury ships—Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony—will operate a series of Caribbean sailings from Port Everglades between October and April adding to consumer choices.
Port of Palm Beach, a smaller player in the cruise market, will welcome back Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line’s Grand Celebration cruise ship for two-night cruises to Freeport, Bahamas starting December 23, following a three-month FEMA humanitarian relief mission in Saint Thomas. Next spring, the Riviera Beach seaport expects to welcome Bahamas Paradise’s second ship for similar sailings.
“We are still finalizing many of the details regarding the addition of a second ship to the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line fleet,” chief executive officer Oneil Khosa said.
At PortMiami, new cruise berths and terminals, including intermodal and parking facilities are in the works to accommodate additional cruise ships, spokeswoman Andria Muñiz-Amador said.
For example, the seaport’s Cruise Terminal F is nearing completion of renovations and an expansion in anticipation of MSC Cruises new ship, MSC Seaside’s arrival later this year for year-round cruises to the Caribbean.
“MSC Seaside will be our first ship coming straight from the shipyard to North America and specifically designed with North America in mind,” said Roberto Fusaro, president, MSC Cruises USA, based in Fort Lauderdale.
Fusaro said Seaside will be “the hottest new ship to sail the Caribbean” with its “unique beach condo” inspired architecture, designed with outdoor areas that bring cruisers closer to the sea.
Seaside will also offer the European line’s new “MSC for Me” digital concierge program, which aims to improve guest experiences.
Through tech-enabled interactive bracelets, digital way finders, virtual reality, vacation planning tools and a digital personal adviser, guests will have access to more than 130 smart features. The program also includes a dedicated app to help guests tailor their vacations at various points from booking to sailing to shore excursions.