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Tampa gains a cruise ship

Hurricane Katrina damage means the Royal Caribbean ship will sail from here instead of New Orleans.

By STEVE HUETTEL
Published September 28, 2005


TAMPA - In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines will sail the cruise ship Grandeur of the Seas from Tampa instead of its usual winter home in New Orleans.

The shift gives Tampa a sixth cruise ship for the winter season and will likely mean a record annual number of passengers - more than 430,000 - for the port's fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

Grandeur of the Seas will make four- and five-day cruises to the Western Caribbean from Dec. 3 to April 22, carrying nearly 70,000 tourists, a Royal Caribbean spokesman.

"With the shorter cruises, it will mean a lot more money spent in Tampa," said port director Richard Wainio.

"More baggage handlers, more taxi cabs, additional (ship) provisioning. It's a major event for the port and the community."

The port could land one more cruise ship displaced from New Orleans this year, said Wainio, who declined to identify the ship or cruise line.

The Tampa Port Authority, which counts each passenger twice for revenue purposes, has a goal of handling 1-million cruise customers in a year and could hit that number if the second ship comes in.

Cruise ships chartered by the federal government are docked in New Orleans as housing for relief workers.

But cruise lines have decided the city won't have hotel rooms and other amenities to handle large numbers of tourists until well into next year.

"We've been patiently watching the recovery and came to the realization that the infrastructure won't be there to support (the ship's) 2,000 guests a week," said Michael Sheehan, a spokesman at Royal Caribbean's Miami headquarters.

Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines say they hope to return ships to New Orleans by the end of 2006.

Grandeur of the Seas, 916 feet long and with a maximum capacity of 2,446 passengers, will be the second-largest cruise ship in Tampa. The Carnival Miracle, at 963 feet long, is bigger.

The Miracle's size has posed problems for the port. Under certain conditions, local pilots won't sail the ship through a narrow stretch of channel leading to the ship's regular terminal, forcing passengers to unload and board at a cargo dock.

Pilots also are reviewing the Grandeur of the Seas. But a sister ship previously sailed from Tampa, so there shouldn't be any hang ups, said Allen Thompson, executive director of the Tampa Bay Pilots Association.

Tampa's port has seen explosive cruise growth since the late '90s and hit an annual peak of 405,000 passengers in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2003. But the numbers edged down slightly in the past two years. Port officials projected the current year would end Friday with 372,000 cruise passengers.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or 813 226-3384.

[Last modified September 28, 2005, 02:30:38]


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