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No cookie-cutter solutions when cruise lines choose a homeport

PHOTO: RICHARD TRIBOU CRUISE_STCGlobal_homeports.jpg
From left, panelists Dale Wade with Alaska Railroad, Sander Groothuis with Cunard Line, Port Canaveral CEO Capt. John Murray, MSC Cruises' Gianluca Suprani, Norwegian Cruise Lines Holdings's Juan Kuryla and moderator Thomas Spina
It seems simple enough. A cruise ship wants to call a port home, get some people off and get some others on board. The choreography of those movements, though, changes with each location so the cruise lines and the ports that host them juggle a wide variety of dance cards.

That was the message from the panel "Homeport Considerations: Do you have what it takes?" on the opening day of Seatrade Cruise Global. 

One of the key messages from panel moderator Thomas Spina, owner and president of Tom Spina Consulting Company LLC, was the idea that you never know what you're going to get.

'Stuff happens'

"Everybody always wants to be the homeport, right? Why? Because most of the time you get paid twice, right? You get the guys in and you get the guys out and you think it's great. But honestly, a lot of stuff happens," Spina said while showing videos of some of the stranger things that occurred during his time as director of cruise operations for the New York City Economic Development Corp.

These included employees trapped in elevators, bodies found during dredging operations and the time Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River.

Those may be extremes with a particular New York City feel, but the panel of cruise line and port executives elaborated on the variety of challenges each face.

Unique approach for each line

For the busiest cruise port in the world for 2022, Port Canaveral CEO Capt. John Murray said that includes treating each cruise line with a unique approach.

"Every cruise line is different. They all have their own personality," he said. "The guest experience begins when you arrive at the port. One of our biggest challenges is to meet each cruise line's unique personality" and "make sure that the cruise guests don't have a bad experience on arrival and departure."

He also revealed the logistical hurdles of homeporting more ships with larger capacity, but in the same timeframe without missing a beat. And he touched on the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, but pointed out that it ended up bringing some benefit.

"Prior to COVID everybody would just show up whenever they wanted, and we tried to instill some discipline post-COVID where you get a dedicated arrival time," he said. "That helps everybody, not just the cruise line. It helps the traffic flow, the whole guest experience."

Shore power and LNG

Another aspect of homeport operations addressed by the panel was shore power and LNG. 

"We got the opportunity to work with New York on the Brooklyn terminal," said Cunard Line's Sander Groothuis, VP port & shore operations. "We jointly decided to create shore power so when we're in Brooklyn, we connect to shore power and now also we're able to connect to shore power in Southampton."

He said it's also possible to bunker LNG in both Southampton and Barbados, illustrating the variety of needs each port may have to go through to support cruise lines.

Coping with aging infrastructure and building new

That mishmash of needs was further illustrated by Gianluca Suprani, MSC Cruises’ SVP port development and shore activities. He pointed out the European challenges such as coordinating time-docked limitations by local governments, aging infrastructure in some cities and the added layer of interporting, when ships have embarking and disembarking passengers at more than one port on a sailing.

Suprani, though, took some time to highlight the line's foray into North America, with its new terminal at PortMiami that aims to support three ships at once with capacity for 36,000 passenger movements daily plus parking for nearly 3,000.

MSC's next masterpiece

"This is our next masterpiece," said Suprani. "We are in the middle of construction. We have a lot of challenges related to the supply chain but it's moving faster."

It joins new terminals from Virgin Voyages, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line that have opened in Miami in the last few years. 

Juan Kuryla, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings' SVP port development and construction management, likes them all.

"It's a treat to go up and down the causeway and look to the right and look at all those terminals," he said.

But NCL's newest work falls up north with a new homeport featuring a dual-sided pier in Whittier, Alaska on the western edge of Prince William Sound that is expected to open in spring 2024.

"We're going to look at putting as many ships as we can there," he said.

Alaska's cruise trains

Whittier and Seward, Alaska are two ports without an airport nearby, but panelist Dale Wade, VP marketing and customer services for the Alaska Railroad, detailed how his 100-year-old company offers a unique homeport solution with its cruise trains.

"It goes off road into the wilderness next to the glaciers along the great crevasses. It's just absolutely spectacular," Wade said. "It provides a fabulous high-scoring beginning and end to their sea journey, as well as an inbound shore excursion of sorts."

Each of the panelists revealed different layers of complexity among homeport options, but all echoed a similar approach on how to ensure success.

"Everybody has got to be on the same page," said Spina.