Last updated: 06:00 PM ET, Thu November 19 2015

Larger Ships Prompt Expanded Caribbean Cruise Ports

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Brian Major | November 19, 2015

Larger Ships Prompt Expanded Caribbean Cruise Ports

PHOTO: The British Virgin Islands completed a major cruise ship pier expansion this year. (Photo courtesy of the BVI Tourist Board)

As the leading cruise lines launch another generation of ever-larger ships, ports of call across the Caribbean — the industry’s largest deployment region — are launching new, expanded and revamped port facilities to accommodate the growing guest totals.

The most recent projects include the British Virgin Islands Port Authority (BVIPA)’s completion earlier this year of an enlarged pier, part of a $52 million expansion of the cruise ship facility in Tortola, the British Virgin Islands capital.

This week, Mark Vanterpool, the BVI’s minister of communication and works, said construction of Tortola Pier Park, a green space and outdoor facility planned as part of the port expansion, should be 90 percent complete by December.

The five-acre development will feature commercial, retail, entertainment and green spaces, said BVIPA officials, along with taxi staging areas. The newly lengthened, 754-foot long cruise ship pier has also been widened by 33 feet and is capable of simultaneously docking two modern, full-sized cruise ships.  

BVIP has reached berthing agreements with Norwegian Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line for around 425,000 visitors per year. The agency is predicting a 21 percent cruise ship visitor increase compared with current levels. “We are hoping to have an opening on Dec. 22, on the date when we expect to have the new Disney ship in,” Vanterpool said in a Virgin Islands daily report.

Like many Caribbean cruise port projects, the BVI development has at times been controversial. In 2013, a consortium of developers withdrew from the project in a disagreement over financing, according to an Associated Press report. The BVI government has since stepped in to complete the project.

Government officials have said the expanded pier is critical to the country’s tourism future. The British Virgin Islands hosted 378,083 cruise ship passengers in 2014, an increase over 2013 but a sharp decline from the 571,000 passengers hosted as recently as 2008. BVI tourism officials say this is due to the country’s inability to accommodate larger cruise ships.

Other Caribbean destinations are also building new facilities to keep pace with cruise ships’ growing scale.

Cayman Islands officials recently greenlit a plan to build a $150 million cruise ship pier and passenger terminal in the harbor of George Town, the country’s capital. Cruise industry giant Carnival Corp. is likely to play a key role in the new development.

“The decision to be made is not whether we want to build cruise berthing, it is whether we want to remain in the cruise business in any significant way,” said Alden McLaughlin, the Cayman Islands’ premier, in a Cayman Compass report.

Officials in St. Kitts are not only planning a new cruise ship pier, but unlike other Caribbean destinations, will not seek to partner with a cruise line to complete the project.

“We are not going the route of having a cruise line build a pier for us. We are learning from the mistake of others,” said Lindsay Grant, tourism minister for St. Kitts and Nevis, in a recent radio address. Nevertheless, Grant said the pier plan is “in advanced stages” with the government “awaiting a final proposal before going to tender.”

Scheduled for completion in 2017, the pier will be designed to accommodate Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class vessels, the cruise industry’s largest ships.

Carnival Corp. recently opened an $85 cruise port facility in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, in partnership with Grupo B&R, a Dominican port development firm. The facility will host more than 250,000 cruise passengers in its first year.

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