Five ships in one day to celebrate launch of Antigua and Barbuda’s cruise season

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Industry leaders gathered to mark the launch of a new cruise season (Photo contributed)
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Antigua and Barbuda yesterday celebrated the official opening of the 2022/2023 cruise season at the fifth berth at St John’s Harbour.

Five ships were in port on this special occasion, which also served as the formal opening ceremony of the fifth berth, which was completed in December 2020.

Seabourn Ovation and Marella Explorer were berthed at the Nevis Pier, while Norwegian Dawn and AIDA Perla were moored at the Heritage Pier. Celebrity Millennium was docked alongside the fifth berth. Together, these luxurious vessels brought an estimated 6,700 passengers to the port.

The twin island nation’s top dignitaries were amongst the invited guests including Governor General Sir Rodney Williams; Prime Minister Gaston Browne; Tourism Minister Charles Fernandez; Housing and Urban Renewal Minister Maria Browne; and Senator Mary-Claire Hurst, Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism.

Several speakers reflected on the progress of the port and the resilience of the industry post-Covid-19. They also expressed excitement and optimism about the nation’s cruise tourism outlook and the growth of the partnership between local stakeholders and the cruise industry.

“Thirty-three months ago, on March 14 2020, we received the dreadful news of the closure of the cruise industry after only four months of operations in Antigua,” Dona Regis-Prosper, General Manager of Antigua Cruise Port, shared.

“The weeks that followed were amongst the most challenging that I had experienced in my long career in this industry – cancellation after cancellation of cruise calls, passengers stuck at sea and crew desperate to get home to their families.

“Locally, my team wondered about their jobs and tenants about their businesses and livelihoods.  The prospects of a restart looked daunting. However, I knew that this industry was down and not out. After all, it had survived 9/11, financial crises, the impact of hurricanes, storms, and many other setbacks.

 “And 28 months ago, on July 15 2021, we reopened the cruise industry with a call from the Windsurf welcoming a modest 85 passengers. The rest of the year would continue to be challenging with variants, changing protocols and of course cancelled calls.

“However, it was those months where I personally experienced excellence in leadership and teamwork, and must take the opportunity to thank the Honourable Charles Fernandez, and Team Tourism.

“This cruise season, we are expecting not only transit calls, but for the first time, scheduled homeporting calls for one of the world’s largest cruise vessels, Arvia, beginning in January 2023.

“By the end of the peak season, October 2022 – April 2023, Antigua Cruise Port will have welcomed over 600,000 passengers and during the 2023 summer months over 30,000 passengers.”

Minister Fernandez noted that the combined construction of the fifth berth and the dredging of the harbour basin were completed in December 2020. He added that St John’s Port had increased in capacity to not only accommodate five vessels in port simultaneously, but also the largest cruise vessels in the world.

The pre-pandemic numbers totalled approximately 800,000 passengers annually, but thanks to the agreement with Global Ports Holding, the destination will be able to serve as many as one million passengers per year due to the completion of the fifth berth.

Minister Fernandez also commented that Arvia, one of the largest ships ever constructed for the UK market, would deliver a projected 1,000 passengers to port per turn from January to March 2023.

After this period, homeporting operations will resume in November 2023. Emerald Cruises and SeaDream are also scheduled to commence homeporting in November 2023.

He said the terminal building will be completed by November 2023 and will adequately facilitate transit and homeporting operations.

Its unique design will feature over 10,000 square feet of space and comfortably accommodate areas for Customs, Immigration, Port Health, security screening, luggage handling, restrooms, and convenient shopping.

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