With 2018 set to be a record year for B.C.’s West Coast cruise season, the buzz of anticipation is already underway. The big news for this season is the inaugural visit of the Norwegian Bliss. With over 4,000 passengers, it is the largest vessel by far to ever sail in the Alaska cruise theatre.
And while technically not an update for 2018, we’re excited to hear news of Port Alberni’s return to the cruise market with visits from Holland America Line in 2019.
Here’s how the season is shaping up for B.C.’s ports:
Port of Vancouver will see another year of strong growth in cruise traffic in 2018
The Port of Vancouver is expecting to welcome nearly 900,000 passengers through Canada Place on more than 240 vessel calls from 14 different cruise lines in 2018. This represents eight per cent growth over 2017, which brought 842,928 passengers on 237 vessel calls to Vancouver.
Highlights of the 2018 season include several calls from new vessels, such as seven homeported calls from Windstar Cruises’ Star Legend and a repositioning call from the Norwegian Bliss. The Norwegian Bliss will be the biggest vessel to berth in Vancouver, and one of the largest ships deployed in the Alaska market. The port will also reach an important milestone as it welcomes its 25 millionth cruise passenger at its iconic Canada Place cruise terminal early in the season.
Canada Place has been a leading homeport for Alaska cruises for more than 30 years. Ships of various sizes call at Canada Place, offering passengers the full-spectrum of choice from mass market to luxury options.
Boasting an award-winning and full-service cruise terminal, Vancouver is the only homeport offering one-way and round-trip cruises through the scenic Inside Passage, a stunning coastal route that runs along the West Coast of British Columbia. Flying to or from Anchorage, passengers can enjoy the “full Alaska experience” on ships sailing one-way Alaska itineraries.
A number of initiatives continue to enhance the flow and overall guest experience at Canada Place. These include a new wayfinding and signage program, reconfiguration of terminal space designed to expand passenger processing, and a reconfiguration of the ground transportation area designed to improve vehicle and pedestrian flows.
In addition, gangways, camels and fendering systems will be upgraded for every berth in the next two years. Additional space will continue to be leased from the nearby Convention Centre during the cruise season to increase passenger embarkation space.
Welcoming hundreds of thousands of passengers each season, Vancouver is a very popular destination for cruise travel and cruise continues to be an important and growing sector at the port. The Vancouver cruise industry stimulates on average nearly $3 million in direct economic activity for each vessel that visits Canada Place, and the 2016 cruise season directly generated nearly 7,000 jobs across Canada, $300 million in wages, and contributed $840 million to the national GDP.
Upward trend for Victoria’s cruise business continues
Following a seven-per cent increase in ship calls in 2017 over 2016, Jill Sawyer, Communications Manager, Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, advised that yet another increase is on the books for 2018. “Ogden Point will welcome 247 cruise ship calls to Ogden Point this year,” she said. “That is another three per cent increase, and 2019 will continue the upward trend.” She also noted that passenger numbers would surpass 600,000 (another record) with crew numbers adding another 261,000.
The big news for Victoria in 2018 is the inaugural call of the Norwegian Bliss on June 1. She will be the largest cruise ship to call at Victoria and the West Coast of Canada and will be a regular caller through the rest of the season.
Sawyer described improvements to infrastructure at the Ogden Point Cruise Terminal over the past year, including improved signage and way finding, improved exits and traffic flow through customs, and upgraded data lines between the two locations for Canada Customs (Pier A and Pier B).
“We are also undertaking construction of a longer mooring dolphin at Ogden Point to prepare for the arrival of the Ovation of the Seas in 2019, a Quantum Class vessel, and we’re very excited to be welcoming Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth in 2019 as well,” she said.
Returning vessels for the 2018 include the Explorer of the Seas, the Ruby Princess as well as the Emerald Princess — each carrying over 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew. Smaller, boutique and “pocket” cruise lines, including Oceania Cruises’ Regatta, have been making more frequent visits to Victoria over the past few years, a trend that’s expected to continue as Pacific Northwest and Alaska itineraries grow in popularity.
“The cruise lines we work with love Victoria as a destination,” says Ian Robertson, CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority. “This higher number of ship calls reflects a growing interest in our city not just during the peak summer season, but in the shoulder months of late spring and early fall as well.”
During the 2017 season, GVHA greeted the seven millionth cruise ship passenger to visit the city since the Ogden Point cruise terminal began as a cruise destination in 1978. The passenger arrived on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas in June. Under GVHA’s stewardship, cruise tourism at Ogden Point has grown from 110 ship calls carrying 161,000 passengers in 2002 to the record number of 247 cruise ships and 600,776 passengers expected during the 2018 season. “This growth in cruise tourism has become an important economic driver for the capital region,” Sawyer said.
Last year, GVHA introduced a new tool for cruise industry partners to give them real-time updates for arrival and departure schedules on victoriacruise.ca. The innovation resulted in smoother operations and, as more suppliers become aware of its capabilities, expectations are high for 2018. Another initiative that was established at the end of the 2017 season was the formation of Pacific Northwest Transportation Services, a joint venture between ground transportation providers CVS Tours and The Wilson’s Group. The new company will be working with GVHA to make the Ogden Point bus fleet greener, cleaner and quieter.
Sawyer further noted that she was looking forward to working with port agent West Coast Agencies in what will be their second year at Ogden Point. WCA represents Holland America, Princess Cruises and Seabourn when they call on Victoria.
Nothing but the best for cruise visitors to Nanaimo
Nanaimo Port Authority is looking forward to two visits from Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas in 2018, one of the biggest cruise ships scheduled to visit North America’s West Coast this season. She will be in port twice — once on May 16 and again on September 19. Along with the Star Princess on April 9, Nanaimo’s numbers for 2018 will be very similar to 2017 (10,366 passengers and 4,450 crew members).
Looking back over the last few seasons, Communications Director David Mailloux noted that Nanaimo has had great success in terms of passenger response to shore excursions. “We continue to prove that we can handle large ships and passenger reaction is exceptional. Passengers always tell us that if more people knew more about this area, there would be a variety of choices for passengers to book a cruise to Central Vancouver Island.”
Indeed, Nanaimo has a reputation for going out of their way to accommodate passengers. “We have been told by people in the cruise industry that our hospitality is “White Glove Service” from the moment the ship arrives, for passengers and for our overall operations including security,” Mailloux said, citing examples like transporting challenged-walkers from the ship to the terminal in golf carts where they can clear customs, or having local tourism counsellors on hand to make recommendations based on a passenger’s description of their ideal day, and volunteer ambassadors are set up in tents and with identifiable t-shirts along shuttle routes to answer questions for passengers looking for something specific or requiring directions or suggestions.
And always mindful of the needs of the crew, free Wi-Fi is available while in port. Crew can also hop on the continuously looping shuttle at no-charge to enjoy their visit to the community.
When asked about the kinds of shore excursions available, Mailloux was pleased to point out that professional tour operators have developed a buffet of interesting and diverse activities for all ages ranging from wine tours, urban historical walks, waterfall nature treks, craft brewery tours, old-growth forest tours, a steam train ride, plus much more. “New tours are in development to showcase the iconic elements one would find in Central Vancouver Island,” said Mailloux, “including some that are upscale and representative of the area as a preferred travel destination.”
With over 15 years of consistently exceptional service to cruise lines, Mailloux pointed out that the City of Nanaimo looks forward to the cruise season each year and is a great partner in providing a memorable experience for each passenger. “Our cruise community is professionally trained in customer service, composed of hard-working volunteers who are knowledgeable and genuinely concerned that passengers are impressed, experience what they want and seriously consider coming back.” He went on to say that: “Our hospitality standard is “White Glove” at minimum with well-trained local people who are bursting with pride for their community and region.”
Prince Rupert proving popular with luxury liners
“We are looking forward to building upon the overwhelming success of the 2017 season,” said Brian Friesen, Director of Trade Development and Communications. 2018 is shaping up to be another successful season for the Port of Prince Rupert. With 25 calls and 12,600 passengers, 2018 is just slightly below the activity seen last year — which was double from the year before. “This year we are seeing the vessel calls hold at the same, with a slight decrease in passenger numbers due to the reduced number of larger vessels that we saw in 2017.”
The Port of Prince Rupert is currently undergoing construction on a promenade project which will connect the Northland Cruise Terminal to the Atlin Terminal, located in the popular Cow Bay district. “The Atlin promenade project is yet another great example of the Port of Prince Rupert’s continued efforts to enhance the community’s year-round waterfront access, while also addressing the traffic flows of passengers during the cruise season,” said Friesen. Construction will be complete in time for the first vessel call of the 2018, giving passengers more opportunities to take in the beautiful harbour vistas.
Friesen also gave insight into Prince Rupert’s rising popularity with “luxury liners.” In providing insights into trends, he noted that Prince Rupert has positioned itself in the market as a full service port focusing on luxury cruise lines. Prince Rupert has experienced success in becoming a desirable port of call for luxury lines, which tend to operate vessels in the 200-to-900 passenger range. “This year, like last year, we will see vessels from lines like Oceania, Regent, Seabourn, Crystal, Silversea, Ponant, and Windstar,” he said. “These are all very high-end, niche expedition cruises that have come to appreciate the unique offerings available in Prince Rupert and the surrounding area.”
Indeed, Windstar Cruises is bringing the Star Legend to Prince Rupert five times this year. “They are returning to Alaska for the first time in 20 years,” Friesen said. “We’re very pleased to be included in the itinerary and promise passengers an experience they will never forget.”
Port Alberni to host cruise ships again in 2019
The Port Alberni Port Authority (PAPA) and West Coast Agencies are pleased to announce the return of cruise ships to Port Alberni in 2019.
Currently, Holland America Line (HAL) is scheduled to return to Port Alberni May 25, June 15 and July 6 in 2019. Port Alberni last hosted a cruise ship in May 2013, also a HAL vessel. While feedback from passengers, crew and the company itself was extremely positive about their experience with Port Alberni, market conditions did not allow for a return until now. However, the Port, in partnership with the City of Port Alberni, remained connected to the company and within the industry to ensure the community was known as a welcoming and great cruise destination.
Steve Hnatko, General Manager of Cruise Operations for West Coast Agencies sees great growth opportunity for the cruise business in Port Alberni. “Port Alberni’s experience hosting cruise ships and cruise passengers from other destinations, such as Nanaimo, is very well-known and highly regarded in the industry. Passengers are once again seeking new destinations that offer a warm welcome and an authentic experience. Port Alberni stands out as this type of destination.”
The Port and City have partnered in the past to work with the community to show off its heritage and culture to cruise passengers. “We believe that, as a community, we continue to grow and evolve and we are looking at working with First Nations, Chamber of Commerce, local industry and marine enhancement groups and the Heritage Network, to name but a few, to develop potential new shore excursions that can educate and entertain cruise passengers about what our community does very well,” said PAPA Director of Public Relations and Business Development, Dave McCormick.
The City’s Economic Development Manager, Pat Deakin, emphasized that, “as partnering organizations and as a community, we have steadfastly believed in the potential of the cruise ship industry in the Alberni Valley. We remained confident that we have a unique offer that is attractive to visitors. We continue to rise to the top of different desirable destination lists, such as the recent Best Places For Millennials To Visit. We look forward to working with the many different groups in the community to do what we do best – be the warm, welcoming hosts who create lasting, positive memories!”