When Explorer of the Seas makes its inaugural call to Victoria Tuesday morning, it won’t just be the largest cruise ship ever to dock at Ogden Point.
The arrival of Royal Caribbean International’s huge, resort-style cruise ship also brings Victoria, Canada’s busiest port-of-call for cruise ships, another step closer to becoming a world-class home port. “It’s a big day for Victoria, having the largest ship that sails [to Alaska] in the Alaskan theatre,” said Ian Robertson, CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority.
During the six-month cruise ship season that began April 3, 227 visits by ships carrying 533,000 passengers were scheduled.
The Voyager-class cruise ship is 1,020 feet long, with 15 decks, 1,557 staterooms, 10 pools and whirlpools and 15 bars, clubs and lounges. It can accommodate 3,840 guests.
Features include its Royal Promenade, FlowRider surf simulator, seaview rock wall, 3-D movie theatre, basketball courts, ice-skating rink, miniature golf course and a spa.
The ship will make 21 stops in Victoria this season and represents a trend that sees some of the world’s largest cruise ships being positioned on the Alaska itinerary, Robertson said.
“Typically, ships that come into Victoria have finished their cruises up to Alaska and are making that one stop before they head back to Seattle,” said Robertson, who this year unveiled some ideas for what Ogden Point might look like in 30 years. A hotel, shops, walkways, parks, museum and First Nations cultural showcases were among ideas floated for a development project anchored by cruise ships.
Tourism Victoria president and CEO Paul Nursey said having regular visits by a cruise ship as substantial as the Royal Caribbean flagship bodes well for Victoria’s reputation.
“We’re working with the GVHA to try and position Victoria as a home port as part of its strategic plan,” he said, adding the city stands to gain from other impediments to cruise ship traffic.
“This ship physically can’t fit under the Lion’s Gate Bridge,” he noted. As well, Port Vancouver’s secondary cruise terminal, Ballantyne Pier, is now devoted to shipping container business.
The medium-term strategy, Nursey said, is to continue to welcome large cruise ships “to show clients who want to do business with us that we’re a strong and reliable port.”
Explorer of the Seas, home-ported out of Seattle, is also scheduled to stop in Nanaimo on Wednesday at 8 a.m., leaving at 5 p.m. for its return to Seattle.
Each cruise ship call brings $40,000 in direct spending to the region, according to GVHA figures. Cruise ship traffic in the capital region yields an estimated $100 million or more in economic impact each season, said Robertson. “Fortunately, people before me had the foresight to plan for this,” he said, explaining why Victoria can safely accommodate cruise ships of such magnitude.
“The people of Victoria will notice that she is quite a bit taller and wider than what we’ve seen.”
Robertson said he believes Royal Caribbean has also been looking at potential for “shorter, Pacific Northwest cruises,” which could benefit Nanaimo.
Bernie Dumas, president and CEO of the Nanaimo Port Authority, anticipated the ship would also get “a warm Island” welcome when it calls on the Harbour City Wednesday.
“Economically, each cruise visit has an immediate impact of over $250,000 to the region,” he said. “Also, passengers seriously consider our destination for a future multi-day visit.”
It’s one of six visits by large cruise ships to Nanaimo’s state-of-the-art cruise terminal expected this year, said spokesman David Mailloux. There are also two “pocket cruises” scheduled. That will bring to eight the number of cruise ships visiting Nanaimo’s cruise terminal, built in 2011.
Celebrity Infinity pulls in for the first of two visits a couple of days after Explorer of the Seas departs, followed by visits by Crystal Serenity, Coral Princess, Celebrity Infinity and Star Princess.
Port Alberni and Cowichan Valley are among sidetrips travellers to Nanaimo have often expressed interest in, said Mailloux.
“The Central Island has so much to offer, and part of the purpose of building this state-of-the-art terminal was to attract the cruise industry,” he said.
Cruise ship visitors also now have the opportunity to see the Harbour City’s growing appeal as a place to live as real-estate prices skyrocket in Vancouver, he said. “Twenty-five to 40 per cent of visitors consider coming back,. There is also that visitor who says [they] would like to live here.”