Hands-On Approach for Record Season in Seattle

The Port of Seattle is projecting more than a million passengers this year, following an all-time record last year with 203 calls and 983,539 passengers, Michael McLaughlin, director of cruise and maritime operations, told Cruise Industry News.

He attributed the increase to some schedule changes as well as having the Explorer of the Seas and the Celebrity Solstice, two of the largest ships the respective brands deploy in the market. Both brands did well last year and are expected to do well again this year, he said.

Another increase may come in 2018, with the introduction of the Norwegian Bliss, assuming the other brands maintain their market share.

Norwegian Agreement

When the Bliss arrives, she will be the first brand new ship, coming directly from the shipyard to homeport in Seattle.

She is part of a 15-year agreement between the Port of Seattle and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which also includes the $30 million improvement to the Bell Street Cruise Terminal. That work started as soon the 2016 cruise season finished, working double shifts, six days a week, according to McLaughlin, who said it is slated to be completed by April, in time for the 2017 season.

“We are going from a 44,000-square-foot passenger terminal to a 151,000-square-foot terminal within the existing building structure,” he explained. “We are able to do that by repurposing space that has been used for offices, retail, a museum and a deli. It will be a cruise terminal primarily with a conference and event facility on the third floor for off-season use.”

Bell Street and Smith Cove

The Bell Street (Pier 66) facility normally accommodates one big ship at a time, but the pier is long enough to accommodate two medium-sized ships, and McLaughlin would not preclude that they could have a big ship and a smaller ship at the same with the rising interest in expedition-style cruising.

Seattle’s other facility is Smith Cove (Pier 91), which has two berths, offering cold ironing at both. Last year, both the Explorer and the Solstice docked there on Fridays, taking the facility to its full potential, according to McLaughlin, meaning around 14,000 passengers being processed in one day.

Pilot Program

Last year, the port launched a pilot program with Delta from the end of July, using a temporary facility at Smith Cove where passengers could get their boarding passes, check in their luggage and then spend the day in Seattle before catching a late flight home.

McLaughlin said it turned out to be successful in terms of increasing passenger satisfaction and that other airlines were considering it for this year.

About 70 percent of the passengers fly in, and he said that the city is seeing more pre- and post-stays.

Planning Ahead

“In the time frame the cruise lines have laid for the delivery of the LNG-fueled ships, I would like to think the port will be prepared to offer bunkering services,” McLaughlin noted. “We are seeing other LNG-fueled oceangoing ships in the Northwest. Tote Shipping in Tacoma, for example, recently got the green light for a LNG distribution facility.

“Having the supply from Tacoma or British Columbia, the inter-harbor barging can work similar to the way it works today.

“Also locally is Harley Marine, which is gearing up its fleet of tugs to do distribution of LNG. While some tugs may be retrofitted to run LNG, barges are being designed for distribution.

“We will be ready once these cruise ships come to this part of the world.”

He attributed the port’s success to taking a more hands-on approach working with the terminal operator and not just being a landlord with tenants. “We engage with the terminal operators on a weekly basis; we also engage with the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection and the City of Seattle. It takes that collective effort to build the reputation we have earned.” he said.

Get an in-depth, behind the scenes look at the North America cruise market and the ports that make it happen in the 2016-2017 Winter edition Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine. Subscribe today.



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