The Port of Baltimore will gain its first year-round cruise tenant when Carnival Cruise Lines drops anchor there in September 2009, officials said Thursday, bringing an economic boost to the state.
The “Carnival Pride” will embark on seven-day cruises from Baltimore every week through August 2011, significantly increasing the number of trips out of the port. Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line operate out of the port from April through October.
Jim White, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, said there are 27 cruises scheduled to leave Baltimore this year. In 2009, White said the number will double with the addition of Carnival and some extra trips planned by Royal Caribbean and Norwegian.
The cruise industry had an economic impact of $56 million in 2006, he said.
“We’re talking about doubling the volume, so I can say easily we’ll be doubling the economic benefit to the state,” White said. “We’ll start to see that in 2009. In 2010 we hope it will be even stronger.”
Gov. Martin O’Malley called Carnival’s decision to launch from Baltimore, “a tremendous win for the state of Maryland.”
Carnival hopes to entice the 40 million people within a six-hour drive to skip the cross-country road trip or flight to the tropics and cruise out of Baltimore instead.
“A lot of people are struggling with the hassles of flying and the cost of flying,” said Carnival spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz.
Although Baltimore might be considered an unusual choice for a year-round cruise departure point because of its relatively cold winters, de la Cruz said the company expects to do well.
“We [will be] operating from 17 different home ports; this has been has been very successful for us expanding beyond traditional cruise ports,” she said.
The company will offer two itineraries from Baltimore, both dipping not too far into the Caribbean. One trip will stop in Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos and Freeport in the Bahamas. The other trip will stop in Port Canaveral, Fla., and Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas.
Carnival is often called the family-friendly cruise option, so de la Cruz said the company should have no trouble competing with Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, which cater to different kinds of travelers.
“Every cruise line is different,” she said. “When you are a year-round operator from a port you have a distinct advantage…when people think Baltimore, they’re going to tend to think Carnival because we are the year-round player there.”
Although Carnival does not expect to do a lot of hiring in the area, the addition of its ships will stimulate business for the stevedores, cab drivers and hotels.
“Any time we home port a ship in a location there is a definite economic impact,” de la Cruz said. “Home port is where the crew does most of their personal shopping, and they love to shop. They tend to stream off the ship when we port and hit all the local shops.”
Sara Perkins, owner of CruiseOne, a travel agency in Abingdon, said given her experiences, she expects Carnival to be very successful in Baltimore.
“Carnival came here a few years ago and they were flooded because it was a new ship, something different, price was inexpensive,” Perkins said.
Adding a different ship to the fold will definitely stimulate business for Perkins, who said even with the slow economy, people are still cruising.
“Cruising is a good value for your dollar because everything is there for you,” she said. “I know the people that have been going out of Baltimore are dying for another ship.”
Although Perkins said she is excited by the news of another cruise coming to town, she does have some reservations.
“I’m a little concerned about the year-round program,” she said. “When you’re leaving here in January, February and March, it’s not warm outside.”