Cruise Ports: New Terminals, Technology and More

For 2020 and beyond, major ports in the U.S. are tapping into building new terminals, making full use of technology, improving baggage handling, creating new public access spaces and enhancing the cruise guest experience. Here’s a look at what’s new for infrastructure improvements and major developments at five ports in Florida, three along the Gulf of Mexico coastline and four in California

Florida: PortMiami 

Billed as the “cruise capital of the world,” PortMiami posted a 22 percent increase in cruise passengers with an all-time high of 6.8 million passengers, a world record for any port, for its fiscal year ending September 30, 2019. Last year, Royal Caribbean International opened the high-technology Cruise Terminal A, capable of handling the world’s largest ships, including the 5,518-passenger Symphony of the Seas.

New terminals on the horizon include Norwegian Cruise Line’s $239 million PortMiami terminal. Opening this year, the 166,500-square-foot terminal is being constructed to accommodate ships of up to 5,000 passengers. It will feature new technology to allow guests to embark and disembark more smoothly and quickly. Plus, cruisers can expect expedited security screening and luggage check-in. 

Drawing inspiration from a nautilus (a mollusk that uses speedy propulsion to roam the ocean deep), the terminal’s design has a spiraled, multi-level façade that opens up to grand ocean views. Cruise guests will have indoor and outdoor waiting areas. Groups and charters will be comfortably served at a dedicated lounge and service area, plus drive-to-cruise guests can park their cars in a new parking garage, or use a valet parking area with direct access to the terminal and lounge.

MSC Cruises is also building an innovative, $300 million PortMiami structure that will include two cruise terminals (Terminal AA and Terminal AAA) as well as two berths, capable of hosting two mega-ships at once. That will allow two simultaneous turnaround operations, handling up to 28,000 passengers daily. 

Designed by global architectural firm Arquitectonica, the terminal’s linear design will provide the look of speed and movement, while inside, MSC promises an innovative, guest-centric experience. Guests will begin using the new facility in late 2022, when all of MSC’s PortMiami operations will transfer to the new facility. 

In addition, Virgin Voyages is partnering with PortMiami on a new dedicated cruise terminal for the new brand. The 2,770-passenger Scarlet Lady, the line’s first ship, just arrived at PortMiami in early March to begin sailings to the Caribbean in 2020 and 2021. The new terminal is being built on the northwest area of the port and is scheduled for a 2021 completion. 

Carnival Corporation too has unveiled planned designs for its $195 million renovation and expansion of Terminal F by 2022; it will be capable of accommodating Carnival Cruise Line’s new Excel-class ships. Cruise guests will enter a sleek terminal topped with a white canopy structure. Inside, they’ll see the outside world via floor-to-ceiling expanses of glass. LED lights will illuminate Carnival’s color scheme of red and blue. 

Port Canaveral

Along Florida’s Space Coast, Port Canaveral, the world’s second busiest cruise port in terms of cruise passenger counts, is entering the homestretch for its massive $163 million Cruise Terminal 3 project, the largest in port history. The new 188,000-square-foot cruise terminal is aptly named “The Launch Pad” given the port’s proximity to Cape Canaveral and its launch pads. It will be mostly complete in May with a July grand opening. The adjacent parking garage holds 1,800 vehicles. 

Initially, the new $75 million terminal will be home to Carnival Liberty, but it’s also going to be the home port terminal for the new, 5,282-passenger Mardi Gras, setting sail later this year as Carnival’s largest ship and the first LNG-powered ship based in North America. At 1,130 feet, Mardi Gras is much longer than the 952-foot-long Carnival Liberty, but Cruise Terminal 3 will easily accommodate this and other large ships; the berth is 1,309 feet long. 

Guests sailing Carnival should know that two other ships, Carnival Elation and Carnival Radiance, will use Port Canaveral’s existing Cruise Terminal 6. Carnival Radiance is the former Carnival Victory being renamed after a $200 million revitalization project. Carnival Radiance will replace Carnival Breeze at the port, starting in November.  

When Port Canaveral’s new Cruise Terminal 3 opens, guests will embark the ship on the second floor, which has seating for 1,700 passengers, pre-check kiosks, many check-in counters and high-technology scanning machines for security. The goal is to help speed and smooth passengers’ journey through the terminal. There are two loading bridges to provide access between the terminal and the ship. 

Port Canaveral is entering the homestretch for its $163 million Cruise Terminal 3 project, the largest in port history. The new 188,000-square-foot cruise terminal is named “The Launch Pad.”

Guests who are disembarking will arrive on the new terminal’s first level and clear U.S. Customs via facial recognition technology, thus avoiding the need to stop at a checkpoint. The new terminal can handle more than 10,000 passenger bags inside.  

As for the garage, cruisers can expect that the ground floor will be reserved for passenger drop-off and the other five floors will be long-term cruise guest parking. Cruise guests who’ve parked their car prior to the cruise can access the garage easily upon their return; an elevated walkway will extend from the garage’s third floor to the terminal. A new crew building and baggage scan area are also under construction near the new terminal.  

Port Everglades

In the Greater Fort Lauderdale area, Port Everglades holds the record for most cruise passengers sailing in or out of any port world-wide on a single day — 55,964 passengers on December 1, 2019. Infrastructure-wise, a project is currently underway to deepen Port Everglades’ navigational channels within the port, to widen (by 250 feet) the entrance channel and parts of the Intracoastal Waterway, and to build a new $39 million U.S. Coast Guard Station Fort Lauderdale. 

The rewidening will allow all ships including cruise ships to enter and exit the port more efficiently and quickly. A new 1,888-space parking garage is also under construction for use of passengers embarking / disembarking at Cruise Terminals 2 and 4. An air-conditioned bridge with moving walkways will assist guests in getting to Terminal 2. Port Everglades also plans to revitalize four cruise terminals and add a finger pier so it can accommodate the largest cruise ships of the future. 

Port Everglades has more home-ported ships than any other global port, and starting this November, Royal Caribbean International will home port the new 4,198-passenger Odyssey of the Seas, a Quantum Ultra-class vessel at the port. While Port Everglades welcomes many big cruise ships, it also attracts smaller, niche products. For example, the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s new 298-passenger Evrima will sail from Port Everglades to San Juan, Puerto Rico on November 6. 

Port Tampa Bay

Port Tampa Bay welcomed more than one million cruise ship passengers for fiscal year 2019, the second year in a row and up 10 percent from 2018. Development of Sparkman Wharf, Water Street, Armature Works and other hotel, dining, shopping and entertainment projects in Tampa are helping boost its attractiveness as a home port.  

Earlier this year, Celebrity Cruises announced its return to Tampa with the recently revitalized Celebrity Constellation, which will sail 10- and 11-night roundtrip winter season sailings. “Our guests and travel advisors have been asking us to return to Tampa since our last call there in 2007,” says Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, Celebrity’s president and CEO. 

Celebrity also cited Tampa’s downtown waterfront as a draw. It’s currently being transformed through the $3 billion Water Street project, a 50-acre district with retail stores, offices, homes, hotels, cultural draws and more. Transformation of Tampa’s urban core also has been enhanced by the completion of the Tampa Riverwalk, an area now seeing hundreds of millions of dollars in private investments. In addition, historic Ybor City’s revitalization further adds to Tampa’s uniqueness, Celebrity’s announcement said. 

Holland America Line is also returning to home port in Tampa for the 2020-2021 winter season and MSC Cruises’ MSC Armonia will begin sailing year-round, starting November 11, 2020, with short Caribbean cruises in winter and longer voyages in summer. 

For some time, the Port of Jacksonville has publicly said it would like to build a new cruise terminal. One reason is that the current terminal is west of Jacksonville’s Dames Point bridge, meaning a height restriction for cruise ships. So, most of the newest ships simply can’t access the terminal. Carnival Ecstasy is the only home-ported ship at Jacksonville.  

Port of Galveston 

The Port of Galveston, Texas’ largest cruise passenger port expects 20 more cruise ship calls this year compared with the 297 it received last year. As a result, it’s investing millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements and preparing Pier 10 for Royal Caribbean’s new $100 million, two-story cruise terminal construction project. 

“The new terminal will allow us to increase our guests to the region by 50 percent, generating a $100 million economic impact within the first year of operation,” said Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean International’s president and CEO, in announcing the terminal. It will also mean guests can book a vacation on a bigger, more amenity-laden cruise ship. 

Case in point? While the port is now home to Enchantment of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas, in November 2021, the newly completed terminal will welcome the 5,484-passenger Allure of the Seas, an Oasis-class ship that recently received Royal Caribbean’s Royal Amplified makeover to the tune of $165 million; new features include the 10-story Ultimate Abyss, the tallest water slide at sea. 

Also, the new Galveston terminal project will include improvements to the pier bulkhead and apron to safely accommodate the largest vessels. A new staging and loading area, bus and taxi staging areas and more parking are also planned. 

Beyond that terminal project, The Port of Galveston has completed engineering for a new $2.7 million walkover at 25th Street and Harborside in Galveston, which will allow pedestrians to move safely between downtown and the waterfront. Also, the port is studying ways to improve cruise-related traffic flow.

New Orleans and Mobile

Reporting another record-breaking year in cruising during 2019, the Port of New Orleans (Port NOLA) continues to add new cruise offerings — including new year-round service from Royal Caribbean International’s 2,350-passenger Majesty of the Seas in 2020. Royal Caribbean previously had offered seasonal cruises from New Orleans, but the year-round service began earlier this year. 

In addition, Port NOLA will have a second season of six winter sailings in early 2021 by Disney Cruise Line’s 2,400-passenger Disney Wonder. Arriving for river cruising this year in New Orleans are American Cruise Lines’ 190-passenger American Jazz, beginning service on September 12, as well as American Queen Steamboat Company’s 245-passenger American Countess, a former gaming boat totally rebuilt and revitalized; at press time, it was slated to begin cruising this month.

Port NOLA is on trend to surpass 1.4 million passengers in 2020. More than 90 percent of Port NOLA’s cruise guests travel from out of state, with 73 percent spending a day or two in New Orleans. Upon arrival, they’ll encounter a sparkling new Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. Cruisers will find all airline check-in counters in one terminal, one consolidated checkpoint for security and New Orleans shops and eateries. 

At the Alabama Cruise Terminal in Mobile, AL, the only home-ported cruise ship is the 2,056-passenger Carnival Fantasy, operating mostly four- and five-night cruises. Carnival had been a long-term home porting line at the port, but then left for five years, before returning in 2016 on a year-to-year basis. Just prior to the line’s return, the 66,000-square-foot cruise terminal received a $4 million refurbishment and update. 

Then late last year, the city inked a multi-year contract with Carnival Cruise Line to provide cruises from the Alabama Cruise Terminal through at least November 30, 2021. In February, Carnival then announced it would replace the Carnival Fantasy with the larger Carnival Fascination in January 2022, so it apparently plans to stay even longer. 

Cruising From California

Located along 43 miles of waterfront, 20 miles south of Los Angeles, the Port of Los Angeles (San Pedro) in San Pedro Bay, has broken ground on a $33 million LA Waterfront town project and additional segment of 30-foot-wide public promenade, connecting San Pedro’s downtown harbor to the future San Pedro Public Market development. At the market area, cruisers can expect public venues, entertainment, dining, and retail offerings; access to historical centers and museums; and a proposed 6,200-seat open-air Nederlander amphitheater. 

Overall, the LA Waterfront project consists of waterfront development and community enhancement projects that blanket 400-plus acres of existing Port of Los Angeles property in the harbor communities of San Pedro and Wilmington. When it’s completed in summer 2021, cruisers and local residents will gain new ways to enjoy the waterfront, dining and outdoor events, while having a front-row seat at the nation’s busiest commercial seaport. The promenade and four-acre town square will include harbor swings, public seating, handrails and public restrooms.  

The Port of Los Angeles also would like to develop a new state-of-the-art $100 million Outer Harbor Cruise Terminal at Berths 46 and 50, on the south end of the LA Waterfront development; it’s put out feelers for partners interested in sharing the investment. The new berths would be capable of handling larger ships — those longer than 1,100 feet and carrying more than 5,000 passengers.  

At the Port of San Diego, the Chula Vista Bayfront project is now under way. It will transform a largely vacant and underutilized industrial landscape into a thriving waterfront recreational, residential and resort destination. The crowning jewel of the port’s Chula Vista Bayfront project will be the $1.1 billion, 1,600-room Gaylord Pacific resort, operated by Gaylord Hotels, with a hotel and convention center; groundbreaking is expected sometime later this year. 

When Chula Vista Bayfront is completed, it will have more than 200 acres of parks and open space, a shoreline promenade, walking trails, shopping, dining and even an RV park. So, if cruisers own an RV and want to drive to the port and park it while they take a cruise, then they might like to know about the new Costa Vista RV Resort at E Street and Bay Boulevard. Also opening this year on port property is the Sweetwater Bicycle Path and Promenade, a pedestrian and bicycle pathway. 

At the Port of San Diego, the Chula Vista Bayfront project is now under way. 

Elsewhere in California, Carnival’s first new ship to be home ported on the West Coast in two decades, the 4,008-passenger Carnival Panorama, sailed into the Port of Long Beach in late 2019. To help accommodate the new ship’s guests, the Port of Long Beach’s planning commission has approved 657 new parking positions. 

With cruise ship calls increasing from 85 to 117 this year, the Port of San Francisco is welcoming Carnival to its growing roster of cruise lines calling or turning around in port. Many cruisers are maritime buffs interested in anything related to shipbuilding or maritime history. The Port of San Francisco is now working on a major project designed to create a Pier 70 National Register Historic District that will preserve historic resources and the ship repair industry, and create new waterfront open space accessible to the public that extends the San Francisco Bay Trail and the Blue Greenway to and through Pier 70.

Occupying 69 acres in the city’s central waterfront area, the site is on the National Register of Historic Places due to over 150 years of continuous operations in ship building and repair, plus the role played in the western U.S.’ industrialization, war efforts and more. Rehabilitation of many historic structures is nearly complete, as is the port’s work at Crane Cove Park on the site’s northwest corner. Residential and commercial development is under way too. The entire $1.8 billion project will be completed by 2028. It’s just another substantive example of how ports are creating new spaces to enhance the experience for residents and visitors alike. 

More Port Developments

So much is happening with infrastructure improvements or new projects in ports throughout the U.S. and Canada. So, check out for coverage of more developments in U.S. East Coast, Eastern Canada, Pacific Northwest, Alaska and Hawaii ports.

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