July 23, 2013

Portland's cruise industry growing

The city expects fewer ships this year but more visitors, mirroring a trend in the industry.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – The city is expected to see an increase in cruise passengers in 2013, but there won't be as many ships bringing them in.

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In this September 2012 file photo, a Segway tour passes in front of the Carnival Glory cruise ship in Portland. The city is seeing an increase in cruise-ship visitors in 2013.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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The Carnival Glory towers over the Portland waterfront Monday in this view from the corner of Franklin and Congress streets. The ship has a capacity of 2,984 passengers and a crew of 1,150, according to Carnival Cruise Lines.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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The Port of Portland, which opened a longer, deeper-water pier in 2011 to accommodate larger cruise ships, is expecting 71,255 passengers on 58 ships this year, a 3.5 percent increase. By contrast, 68,861 cruise ship passengers visited Portland on 59 ships in 2012.

The increase in passengers coupled with fewer ships mirrors a trend in the industry toward both ends of the scale: bigger ships that carry thousands and come with family-friendly amenities such as water parks, and smaller, more luxurious ships that carry only a couple of hundred passengers.

The cruise industry launched 12 new ships and one refurbished ship last year, despite recent problems on several cruise ships, including illnesses, power failures and fires. Seven of the new ships carry fewer than 170 passengers each, while five ships have capacity for more than 3,000 passengers each. Only one ship was launched in the midsized range of 1,260 passengers, according to the Cruise Line Industry Association, an industry trade group.

The bigger ships command the bulk of the industry's profits because of the high volume of customers and the growing number of such ships, said Jaime Katz, a leisure and entertainment industries analyst for Morningstar, an investment research firm. In 2016, for example, Royal Caribbean International plans to build a 5,400-passenger ship.

"The target market for the ultra-luxury segment is much smaller. The lion's share of industry profits come from the broadest segment of the population," said Katz.

Some of the luxurious, small ships are foreign-owned or privately held and do not release financial information publicly, Katz said, so it is difficult to gauge how profitable they may be compared with mass-appeal ships.

The influx of larger ships to Portland is also attributable in part to the opening of the so-called megaberth, a longer pier built to handle cruise liners as long as 1,200 feet. The megaberth opened in September 2011 and additional dredging was done later, after a ship had to leave port early during an unusually low tide.

The biggest ship to visit Portland this year will be Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas, with 3,114 passengers, which is scheduled to visit three times in September.

For 2014, 37 ships have tentatively booked to stop in Portland, with an estimated 71,880 passengers.

Although most of Portland's cruise traffic takes place in September and October as tourists come for foliage season, the city already has seen 13 ships this summer.

Despite news stories earlier this year reporting problems on cruise ships, passengers on the Carnival Glory, which docked Monday in Portland, said they had no fears on board the ship, which began its cruise in Boston and was bound for Canada.

"As many Carnival cruises that there are every year, the percentage of problems is very small," said Bobby Payne of Pensacola, Fla. "We've been on four or five Carnival ships and never had a problem."

"It's not really a consideration for us. I'm not worried about safety," said Denice Smith, from New York state, who was on the cruise for her honeymoon. "It was an easy drive for us to Boston. Just five hours. We didn't have to worry about the cost of a flight."

The industry has seen some highly public black eyes this year, including a fire in May on Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas, a power loss in March on Carnival's Dream, and a fire in February in the engine room of Carnival's Triumph that stranded the ship in the Gulf of Mexico for several days. The power loss crippled not only the ship's propulsion, but also support systems such as plumbing and cooling systems.

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Additional Photos

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Carnival Glory passenger Bobby Payne, of Florida, says he’s taken four or five cruises and never had a problem.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer


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