Aug 2, 2005 The perception that the Caribbean is a safe destination coupled with the strong value of the euro against the dollar means St. Thomas should have a good winter cruise ship season.
"We expect a 3 percent growth in the number of passengers," West Indian Co. chief executive officer Edward Thomas said Tuesday.
The cruise ship lines have already reported strong bookings, Thomas said, adding that he expects the growth to reach 7 percent the following year.
While the number of ships calling isn't on the upswing, Thomas said ships are growing in size. He said that when he took over the WICO helm 11 years ago, the average ship held 400 people. Today, on a day when three ships are in port, the number of passengers visiting St. Thomas could reach 10,000.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, some cruise ship lines stopped using Puerto Rico as a home port because passengers didn't want to fly, he said. Instead, ships are leaving from places like Bayonne, N.J., which passengers can reach by car.
Those ships spend two days at sea, stop in Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, the British Virgin Islands and possibly St. Maarten before turning around.
He said ships leave places like New Orleans for the Western Caribbean.
Thomas said mainland home porting has hurt Puerto Rico because passengers often stayed additional days. And it has hurt the southern Caribbean because the islands are too far away for cruise ships from the mainland to reach during their cruises.
Additionally, Thomas said that high airfares encourage people to drive a day to reach mainland cruise ship ports.
Cruise lines didn't order any new ships in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but by December 2002, they were again placing orders, Thomas said. It takes three years to build a cruise ship, he added.
New ships will come on line in the summer of 2006, which Thomas said will benefit St. Thomas.
Ships are expected to call on St. Thomas 564 times between Oct. 1 and April 30. Thomas said none of the larger ships will anchor off St. John, but the island will see visits by smaller vessels. And numerous passengers take tours to St. John.
Several new vessels will call. The Carnival Liberty will start monthly calls on Nov. 15. The Norwegian Jewel will start bi-weekly calls on Nov. 10. The Costa Magica will call bi-weekly starting Dec. 29, and the Noordam will begin calls every 10 days on Feb. 28, 2006.
WICO released its schedule for Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. Most days see one, two, three and occasionally four or five ships in port. Six ships will call Nov. 22, Dec. 11 and Dec. 27. Seven ships will be in port Dec. 21.
Christmas will see one ship, the Star Princess, which will remain in port from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Cruise ship arrival information is available at www.wico-vi.com
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