Philadelphia possesses a long and proud maritime history. From William Penn sailing up the Delaware River, all the way up to the Philadelphia Navy Yard playing a pivotal role in this country’s shipbuilding and naval defense, local waterways have helped the city stay afloat.
Given that heritage, it only makes sense that Philadelphia establishes itself as one of the cruise industry’s premier ports of call.
On Monday, officials from the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) and the Port of Philadelphia and Camden announced the 2002-03 Philadelphia cruise season.
The news was launched at the Philadelphia Cruise Terminal at Pier I inside the Philadelphia Naval Business Center. In the background, a Swedish construction crew applied the finishing touches to a hydraulic elevated passenger-boarding platform. The walkway, manufactured in Sweden, will accommodate ships of nearly every size.
Since the late ’80s, cruise ships have drifted in and out of the Port of Philadelphia and Camden. But an effort to secure home-ported cruise vessels has always run aground.
In 1998, the DRPA and the City of Philadelphia took over a Navy Yard building that had been an old machine shop and made it into a dedicated cruise terminal.
Later that year, the Philadelphia Cruise Terminal at Pier I opened as the area’s only dedicated cruise facility. My Linh Nguyen, public information officer for the DRPA, explained that a dedicated cruise facility is one specifically designed for cruise ships, as opposed to cargo and other vessels.
"It’s a great amenity for a city to have a cruise-ship terminal. It’s a great area for potential growth," said city Commerce Director Jim Cuorato. "It gives us the opportunity to bring people into the city. They may spend a night in a hotel, spend time shopping in the city.
"It’s an industry that has a very positive impact on the hospitality industry and the local economy."
During the last four years, the DRPA and the City of Philadelphia spent $11 million in capital improvements to upgrade the capabilities of the terminal.
By 2000, the DRPA and city had an agreement with Apple Vacations, which chartered the 800-passenger ship Crown Dynasty. The cruise line provided weekly service to Bermuda from May to September. "We had a great 2000 season. Cruising out of Philly was a big hit," said Nguyen.
Then, Crown Dynasty’s parent company, Commodore Holdings, Ltd., went bankrupt in December 2000, leaving Philadelphia docked for 2001, added Nguyen.
The next two years marked a time of development for Philadelphia’s cruise business.
The DRPA and the city shifted their focus toward improving the existing terminal’s infrastructure to accommodate the cruise industry’s trend toward building larger and faster ships, said Nguyen. In May 2001, the DRPA completed work on the dock’s covered passenger-boarding ramp.
In September 2001, the Port of New York closed for eight weeks in the aftermath of 9-11.
"Many ships bound for New York were diverted to our port. It was sad, but in a way, we were happy to accommodate everything, and we were able to show the cruise lines what our facility is like and how our operation works," said Nguyen.
Earlier this year, the Port of Philadelphia and Camden teamed up with the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation (GPTMC) in an aggressive marketing campaign to attract cruise lines to the region. The result was CruisePhilly, a marketing brand designed to distinguish the city as a premier stop to both customers and cruise-line executives. GPTMC is also enhancing landside tour options for passengers who may want to visit Philadelphia before or after their cruise.
According to Nguyen, the goal is to entice would-be cruisers to fly into Philly, spend time sightseeing and shopping, and then board their cruise ship here instead of in New York or Miami. "There has to be this incentive to make Philly be a home port," said Nguyen.
In addition to the many local and regional tourist attractions, one of the terminal’s top selling points is its proximity to Philadelphia International Airport and major roadways, said Cuorato.
Philadelphia’s 2002-03 cruise season officially started Tuesday with the arrival of the Aurora to the Packer Marine Terminal. The 886-foot-long Aurora, which caters mostly to British passengers, docked in Philadelphia for the day, discharging tourists and their dollars into the streets to eat, drink, be merry and go shopping.
"The arrival of the Aurora marks the start of an exciting 2002-2003 season. We already have 12 cruises booked for next year," said Melissa Grimm, director of the Port of Philadelphia and Camden.
Some of the cruise industry’s biggest players, including Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Lines, have signed on for the 2003-04 season.
The season sets sail May 6 with a six-day cruise to Bermuda on the Carnival Legend, a ship that can accommodate 2,800 passengers.
According to Grimm, in 2003, the Philadelphia Cruise Terminal at Pier I will generate 87 jobs, $5.5 million in business revenue and $2.9 million in employment income. By 2005, the projections more than double.
"This is an exciting time for the Port of Philadelphia and Camden because we’ve spent the last two years investing in our facility and intensifying our marketing, and now those investments are paying off," said Grimm.
For more information on the 2002-03 cruise schedule, visit www.cruisephilly.com or call the Port of Philadelphia and Camden at 856-968-2048.