This comes amid new homeporting business and as hopes that an Oasis ship is in the future to help push Antigua toward its million cruisers a year potential.
Meanwhile, regular calls by new brands including Emerald Cruises and Virgin Voyages are in store.
P&O Cruises' Arvia — the largest cruise ship ever to visit Antigua — made the first in a series of partial turnarounds Jan. 28. Some 765 passengers disembarked at St. John's while 714 embarked.
Three more of these turns, every other Saturday, are scheduled this season, then Arvia will be back from November 2023 to March 2024 with eight calls.
A permanent terminal by October
Arvia passengers are processed at a temporary facility, a marquee. Antigua Cruise Port plans to have a permanent terminal completed by October this year, ready for the 2023/24 season, GM Dona Regis-Prosper said.
This 11,000-square-foot facility will have security screening, customs and immigration, check-in stations, seating, luggage laydown, kiosks, retail, restrooms and offices. Preparation work is ongoing and construction will start when the marquee is removed.
Regis-Prosper described it as a 'simple' building, since major turnarounds are not planned. Transit calls will continue to be Antigua's focus. For homeporting. luxury and smaller ships, up to 1,500 passengers, are targeted.
Emerald Cruises' new yacht, Emerald Azzurra, will be operating a Caribbean season with 21 full turnarounds in St. John's from November 2023 to March 2024. Star Clippers' Royal Clipper and SeaDream yachts also make occasional turnarounds.
Oasis next year?
Antigua Cruise Port completed St. John's fifth berth in 2021 to handle Oasis-class ships. So far, none have called. Regis-Prosper said it is hoped that by next year, the government will have completed pandemic-delayed dredging to facilitate that.
Royal Caribbean did not respond to a question about its deployment plans or about the Royal Beach Club, announced in 2019, that had been scheduled at Fort James, not far from the cruise berths.
Regis-Prosper did not have information on the Royal Beach Club, a deal between Royal Caribbean and the government.
But she expressed enthusiasm for Chukka Caribbean Adventures' plan to develop Fort Barrington, not far from the port, into a historical eco-adventure attraction.
The Royal Caribbean Group remains Antigua's largest cruise customer, with significant growth expected from Celebrity Cruises.
New Virgin Voyages itinerary with extended port stays
Starting in January 2024, Regis-Prosper said, Virgin Voyages will be calling every other week with 11 visits and longer stays, until 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. to let sailors (passengers) taste some nightlife.
This will be a new itinerary; it's not on Virgin's site yet, though shore tours from St. John's are there.
Heritage Quay complex upgrade
After the terminal at the fifth berth is done, Antigua Cruise Port will focus on a $2m renovation of the Heritage Quay complex, adding a second tour dispatch area, new retail and food and beverage offerings, a casino, a crew center and a day club with pools.
The plan is to break ground in 2023, with build-out to come in phases stretching over eight to 21 months.
Regis-Prosper said health, safety and passenger flow improvements have already started. Easier access to the upper floors, more greenery and better signage are on the 'to do' list. Electricity, water and sewage disposal will be upgraded, too.
Training and community outreach
Besides infrastructure, Antigua Cruise Port is involved with people development including 'Summer Cool' training for employees and the port community.
And there's community outreach.
AIDA Cruises asked to invite schoolchildren to tour a ship as a way to forge closer ties with residents. Regis-Prosper said Antigua Cruise Port was happy to facilitate that.
Last week 17 students and their teacher from the T.N. Kimon School were welcomed aboard AIDAdiva. The fourth and fifth graders got to dip their hands into one of the hot tubs, play basketball, take in panoramic views of St. John's, meet Capt. Thomas Mey and have lunch.
Regis-Prosper said it made a huge impression, created goodwill and showed kids the level of service delivered onboard.
By the numbers
Antigua wrapped calendar year 2022 with 360 cruise calls, a solid rebound from 2021's 81 when operations were resuming from the pandemic shutdown.
The 2023 target is close to 700,000 passengers, and Regis-Prosper said January was a 'very good' month with close to pre-COVID numbers.
Antigua's peak season was in 2017/18 — almost 900,000 passengers — when it picked up ships from destinations impacted by Hurricane Irma.
'With the fifth berth, we have the potential to reach 1 million passengers within two years,' Regis-Prosper said, once the dredging is done and an Oasis vessel begins calling.