The possibility of a major cruise ship line calling regularly on Wilmington is not completely sunk, but the idea appears to be dead in the water.
The downtown waterfront is not configured to accommodate large ocean-going cruise ships that would stop in Wilmington and take on passengers, says Kim Hufham, president and CEO of the Wilmington/Cape Fear Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau. That leaves the nearby Port of Wilmington as the likely spot for cruise ships to dock.
“Right now our port is a cargo port. They have an occasional passenger ship that comes in, but the port is currently not set up for a passenger ship,” Hufham says. Back during the 1990′s mayoral tenure of Hamilton Hicks, a proposal was floated to bring cruise ship lines to town. It had some success. But the initiative faded after a new administration with different priorities took office, port spokeswoman Karen Fox says. Fox says a community-wide effort must be mounted in order to attract cruise ship lines, which lost a significant amount of business after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “The Port of Wilmington did enjoy some cruise ship calls, especially prior to Sept. 11,” Fox says.
The primary time cruise ships stop in Wilmington is during the months of May and October, known as the “shoulder season” when the cruise lines are repositioning their ships. Vessels carrying between 500 and 900 passengers would call on Wilmington on a fairly frequent basis. “Wilmington was actually a port of embarkation,” Fox says. “We can work with the cruise line to provide the appropriate security and other federal agencies if needed,” Fox says. “The biggest economic benefit from the cruise ships coming to a port is from people coming to the local community.”
The ports authority is somewhat “remotely located” from the downtown waterfront, Fox adds. “We are a freight handling facility and we’ll certainly be happy to work with cruise lines, but we don’t really have the facilities to handle that,” she says.
Wilmington-based casino cruise ships might be able to sail up the Cape Fear River and operate gaming activities three miles off the coast, where international waters begin. But the logistics of docking a casino ship along the Wilmington waterfront present the same problems as cruise ships, Fox says. “One thing they have to take into consideration in getting vessels into Wilmington is getting vessels under the (Cape Fear) Memorial Bridge,” Fox says.
No legislation is pending in the N.C. General Assembly to allow casino boats to permanently dock in Wilmington.
One German cruise ship made a stop in Wilmington last October and will call again this fall. The AIDAaura, a luxury cruise ship operated by the German cruise line AIDA Cruises, brought about 1,300 passengers and 418 crew members to town who disembarked and spent the day patronizing area attractions, shops and restaurants. The ship docked at the Port of Wilmington. According to a 2007 Cruise Lines International Association study, each cruise ship passenger spends an average of $123 per U.S. port-of-call visit. It is estimated that each crew member spends an average of $49 per visit.
Hufham said at the time of the 2008 cruise ship visit that when average daily expenditures of the ship’s passengers and crew are calculated, “We estimate a raw economic impact of $180,382. Using a conservative 2.5 multiplier, this equates to more than $450,000 in total economic impact as they explore the area in a single day. The economic impact rises when you add other local expenditures such as fuel, ground transportation, tour services and docking fees associated with large ships such as AIDAaura.”
Date posted: August 19, 2009
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