By Orville Williams
The hundreds of residents who benefit economically from cruise tourism in Antigua and Barbuda will no doubt be welcoming tomorrow’s arrival of the first passenger-laden ship to dock in St John’s in more than a year.
Windstar Cruises’ 312-guest capacity Star Breeze vessel is scheduled to dock at Heritage Quay with nearly 250 passengers, at around 9 am, before moving on to dock in Falmouth Harbour around the same time on Friday.
General Manager of the Antigua Cruise Port, Dona Regis-Prosper, told state media yesterday that while the initial numbers may seem low – in comparison to those St John’s has grown accustomed to seeing – “this modest start is the best way to restart after being closed for such a long time”.
Having keenly monitored the global industry since the temporary shutdown back in 2020, she insisted that they are adequately prepared to begin receiving the cruise vessels.
“We’re certainly ready. We’ve been planning from last year…[and] preparation is not only physically getting the port ready, but also understating the industry – understanding what the expectations are of both the cruise line and the cruise passengers.”
She explained that Windstar has decided that only passengers taking organized tours will be allowed to disembark for the first few calls, in order to “allow both the cruise lines and us, as destination managers, to review the protocols [and] measure the impact of the cruise return.”
She disclosed that her team is also working with the cruise lines, including Windstar and the Seabourn Odyssey – which is scheduled to call on St John’s next Tuesday – to organize escorted shopping tours, to ensure the local business operators within the cruise tourism sector can benefit financially from the initial rebound.
As part of these tours, a local guide or someone assigned by the ship would lead groups of visiting passengers around the various shops and stalls, while ensuring adherence to the protocols.
As far as safety amid the ongoing pandemic is concerned, the GM assured that they continue to encourage vaccinations within the local sector as a means of protecting all involved, while Covid-19 testing is also being encouraged for those who remain reluctant to take a vaccine.
She also noted that discussions will be held after receiving this first vessel, to determine the effectiveness of the protocols and whether any adjustments need to be made, ahead of what they are anticipating to be a fruitful fall period, when arrival numbers leading up to December are expected to be close to those recorded in 2019.