PORT CANAVERAL — Emmanouil Kasselas, captain of Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas, called the ship his “little puppy” hours after docking at Port Canaveral on Monday.
“Big dog” is more appropriate.
And more dogs are coming.
Freedom of the Seas is the world’s largest cruise ship, running more than 1,100 feet long and holding up to 4,375 passengers. It’s the first of four huge cruise ships that will begin sailing from Port Canaveral between now and 2012, and tourism and port officials said their presence here will generate millions in additional tourism spending and solidify the area’s reputation as a major player in the cruise business.
They’re banking on cruise passengers coming to Brevard County a day or two prior to their cruise to stay in local hotels, eat at restaurants and visit some of the area’s tourist attractions.
“Today is a defining moment in the history of the port,” J. Stanley Payne, chief executive officer of Port Canaveral, said Monday following a brief tour and ceremony on board the Freedom of the Seas, noting the heated competition from ports worldwide to secure deals with the massive ships.
Payne added: “We feel this is the right size, and certainly the right size for the market we have.”
The 154,000-ton Freedom of the Seas, which looked capable of gobbling Royal Caribbean’s smaller Monarch of the Seas, docked nearby, soon will have some big company.
This fall, Carnival Cruise Lines bring its largest ship to date at Port Canaveral, the 130,000-ton Carnival Dream. The Dream accommodates 3,652 passengers.
Then Disney Cruise Line plans to base its two new big ships, the Dream and the Fantasy, at Port Canaveral in 2011 and 2012. The new Disney ships will weigh 122,000 tons each with a double-occupancy capacity of 2,500 passengers.
While there has been growth lately in the popularity of shorter, three- tofour-day cruise excursions, industry experts generally agree the big ships and the longer cruise offerings should mix nicely with what’s already being offered at Port Canaveral.
“They are very popular with cruise enthusiasts, who don’t want to take shorter cruises,” Paul Motter, president of CruiseMates, an Internet cruise guidebook, said of the longer outings.
“I think you should think of them as an additive cruise product that actually will not compete with the three- and four-day product. Royal Caribbean’s Freedom-class ships are immensely popular with a large number of regular cruisers, and Port Canaveral is very lucky to have them,” Motter said.
Oivind Mathisen, editor of Cruise Industry News, said during tough economic times, shorter cruises tend to pick up but that during the past few years, the trend has been more seven-day trips.
“I think the cruise industry has been very flexible — adjusting to market needs and conditions, offering different lengths of cruises, moving ships to different ports, enhancing the onboard product, in addition to pricing strategies to fill the ships,” Mathisen said.
The Freedom of the Seas left Monday afternoon with 3,900 passengers for a six-day cruise to the western Caribbean. Upon its return, the ship will be offering seven-day cruises from Port Canaveral to both the eastern and western Caribbean.
Passengers began boarding Monday morning, just a few hours after the ship’s 6 a.m. docking at Port Canaveral’s Terminal 10. Guests were greeted with glasses of champagne, and many of them wasted little time before checking out the ship’s amenities.
“I thought it was a city,” said Issie Bell-Yovich, a West Melbourne resident who was taking a honeymoon cruise with her husband, George.
Bell-Yovich said she has been on short cruises but prefers the longer ones because you can unpack and become more thoroughly adjusted to your living quarters.
“It allows you to unwind,” she said.
Local Brevard officials who toured the ship and met with the crew during a special noon ceremony said the out-of-town visitors should charge up the local tourism base and bring in millions in additional revenues.
“We’ll have 7,000 to 8,000 new visitors to the city,” said Rocky Randels, mayor of Cape Canaveral. “Many of them will be staying at our hotels. They’ll be asking: ‘Where do I eat? Where do I go to the drug store?’ ”