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Sea Cloud homeporting shows St. Maarten's increasing cruise diversity

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Sea Cloud Cruises VP Sales Kevin Smith, left, with Port St. Maarten CEO Alex Gumbs aboard Sea Cloud Spirit
Port St. Maarten CEO Alex Gumbs paid a visit to Sea Cloud Spirit during its turnaround Monday, highlighting efforts to diversify the ships calling and expand homeporting.

'It's good to have them back this season to homeport here,' Gumbs said. The 136-passenger tall ship was among a Monday lineup that included Celebrity Beyond, Azamara Onward, Marella Discovery and Fred. Olsen Cruise Line's Borealis, an inaugural call.

These ships aren't on a seven-day rotation, Gumbs pointed out. More lines have gone to eight- or 10-day cruises and 'We're happy they're expanding their voyages.'

Sea Cloud Spirit is on an eight-night cruise that calls at a host of yacht harbors such as Soufrière, St. Lucia; Chatham Bay, Union Island; Port Elizabeth, Bequia; and Cabrits, Dominica, plus two full sea days where the plan is to operate only under sail, using no engines.

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Sea Cloud Spirit is hand-sailed. Here, a crew member tidies the ropes

'A great fit'

St. Maarten as a homeport is 'a great fit for us,' said Kevin Smith, VP sales, Sea Cloud Cruises, who is escorting a group of US media aboard Sea Cloud Spirit this week. Airlift from the US is good, and for customers coming from Europe, not having to connect via the US is 'an easier process.'

Gumbs sees 'real opportunity here' to expand homeporting. He called St. Maarten a 'one-stop shop' where cruise ships have all services — good airlift into an improved airport that was damaged in 2017's Hurricane Irma but now has a new departure hall with a new arrivals hall to open in first quarter 2024, hotels and, close to the cruise berths, a duty-free cargo port (which he also oversees) with containers coming in from the US and Europe to serve an array of neighboring islands.

Sea Cloud Spirit provisions during its turnarounds.

Fresh water bunkering, fuel and services such as hull cleaning and painting are available, too.  

'We look at how best we can serve you in getting services in place,' Gumbs told Sea Cloud Cruises' Smith, who's going to be inspecting a hotel for possible inclusion as a pre-/post-cruise property for the line in 2025 and beyond.

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Sea Cloud Spirit Capt. Vukota Stojanovic, left, with Cruise Director Sabine Valdes

Plans for a second homeport terminal

Currently Port St. Maarten has a homeport terminal that began as a tent and now has walls and nicer furniture.

Gumbs said that in the next three to five years, there are plans to build a second homeport facility, 'anticipating the growth of the homeporting opportunities here, to cater to medium-size ships, probably up to 2,500 passengers and truly positioning St. Maarten as a key homeporting destination in the eastern Caribbean.'

New waterside walkway into town

Another port project In process is creating a new waterside walkway to downtown Philipsburg. Some 10% to 15% of passengers go on foot and Gumbs said the walkway will provide a 'beautiful experience,' passing the yacht marina and lined with palm trees. It should be ready by Christmas 2025.

Gumbs touted St. Maarten's other draws as a marquee destination and cruise hub: 'It's beautiful and safe. We have the best shopping experience. It's a very multicultural destination and has the mystique of the French side and Dutch side, and beautiful beaches.'

Plus, a 'plethora of tours,' from the world's steepest zip line to niche experiences like perfume-making on the French side. 

Connectivity to nearby islands

And, speaking to Sea Cloud's Smith, Gumbs touted St. Maarten's connectivity to nearby islands via short plane hops or ferries.

'You can have breakfast in a Dutch country then go to St. Barth's, eight miles away, and have lunch in a French country, then go have a sundown cocktail in Anguilla, a British country, and get back to Philipsburg by 6 p.m. to get on a ship ... You can even go to Saba and St. Eusatius for hiking and environmental tours ... or get as far as St. Kitts; it's a 20-minute flight away.'

1.4m cruisers in 2023

Year to date Port St. Maarten has handled about 1.35m cruisers and is expecting to close 2023 with about 1.4m, with Gumbs projecting a slightly higher number in 2024.

Sea Cloud's new '2024 Authentic Sailing Journeys' brochure

The Sea Cloud Spirit visit came as Sea Cloud Cruises released its '2024 Authentic Sailing Journeys' brochure showcasing the company's three luxurious tall ships' four- to 16-day voyages.

The 90-year-old, four-mast Sea Cloud and younger sisters Sea Cloud II and Sea Cloud Spirit will offer 80 voyages with more than 160 days under full sail. 'Special Occasion' voyages include the St. Barths Bucket Regatta, the Monaco Historic Grand Prix and America’s Cup.

Many sailings will be hosted by Michelin-star chefs, or feature bespoke musical experiences or renowned lecturers.

'The Sea Cloud Cruises fleet will ring in the New Year in Cartagena, Bequia and Virgin Gorda, with a special 2024 season in store, charting courses away from the crowds,' said Mirell Reyes, US-based president of Sea Cloud Cruises. 'We encourage North American travelers and advisors to download or request our "Authentic Sailing Journeys" brochure, and our crew looks forward to welcoming many on board in 2024.'

Sea Cloud Spirit

Sea Cloud Spirit, the line's largest and most modern tall ship, sails through Central America to Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, Honduras and Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. After making its way to Florida and The Bahamas in March, the vessel will head to a spring season in the Canary Islands, Morocco and Spain.

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Sea Cloud Cruises' US-based public relations consultant Mike Hicks gets a good angle on Sea Cloud Spirit's sails being raised as Chief Officer Eric Torrino Lismis narrates the operation

In summer 2024, Sea Cloud Spirit delivers Atlantic Coast and Northern Europe itineraries under sail. Destinations include Lisbon, Bilbao (with a VIP evening tour of the Guggenheim), Bordeaux, England, Ireland and Norway, then the Azores before returning to the Caribbean.

Sea Cloud II

Sea Cloud II sails the Caribbean January through April, homeporting in St. Maarten and Barbados. The vessel visits favorite sailor ports including Martinique, Isles de Santes and Sant Domingo before embarking on a European season beginning from Lisbon to Barcelona in April.

Travelers on the May 8 cruise will take in the Hollywood glamour of the Monaco Historic Grand Prix with VIP access. Sea Cloud II will then sail Capri, Sardina and Corsica, Sicily, Greece, the French and Italian rivieras during summer 2024 season. The ship will make a 17-day full sail crossing beginning Nov. 25 from the Canary Islands to Guadeloupe, where the Caribbean season begins.

Sea Cloud

Sea Cloud will sail the Caribbean homeporting in St. Maarten and Barbados for much of the winter season with calls at intimate ports including Anguilla, Nevis, Mayreau and Bequia.

Travelers sailing in the footsteps of original Sea Cloud owner Marjorie Merriweather Post will have a front row seat to the  St. Barths Bucket Regatta. Sea Cloud II will mirror this 'Special Occasion' sailing as the two tall ships sail side by side.

Sea Cloud's Caribbean season will conclude with a second rendezvous alongside Sea Cloud II sailing the British Virgin Islands, Lesser Antilles and returning to St. Maarten. 

Limited availability remains on Sea Cloud for its return to the Aegean and lesser-visited Greek Isles of the Cyclades and Dodecanese. Following this is an Athens to Venice voyage with a stunning conclusion sailing through the heart of Venice and the Grand Canal.

The historic vessel then will sail the coast of Croatia, circumnavigate Sicily then call at Corsica and Sardina before heading to the Canary Islands and then on its trans-Atlantic crossing.

On-board credit offer

Now through Dec. 31, Sea Cloud Cruises is offering North American travelers a $250 on-board credit per person for all bookings. Fares per person, double occupancy start at $3,655.