Cruise line upgrades to transform PortMiami

Norwegian Cruise Line will soon open a new Miami terminal.
Norwegian Cruise Line will soon open a new Miami terminal.

PortMiami has reached a series of long-term deals with cruise lines that will consolidate its position as the cruise capital of the world for the near future.

The agreements pave the way for $675 million in new terminal construction for Carnival Corp., Virgin Voyages and MSC Cruises, and they closely follow terminal pacts with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL), Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) and Disney Cruise Line

Together, the six cruise companies will have preferential berthing rights at all but one of the 11 terminals envisioned by the port. Each cruise company plans use the new terminals to bring bigger ships to Miami than they have previously operated there.

The latest agreement was announced by Carnival Corp., whose Carnival Cruise Line brand is the biggest tenant by passenger volume and is gearing up to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022.

“Over the last several months, we have had very constructive discussions with PortMiami and Miami-Dade County leaders about our plans for Miami and our goal to enhance and grow our capacity and operations in our hometown,” Carnival president Christine Duffy said.

Carnival’s agenda includes bringing the second ship in its 5,200-passenger Excel class to the new terminal in 2022, in time for its jubilee.

To do so, Carnival agreed to guarantee 2.25 million passenger movements a year through PortMiami for at least the next 20 years. The county, with partial reimbursement from Carnival, will commit to spending $195 million on a major makeover of Terminal F using $20 million earmarked for improvements at terminals D and E, also used by Carnival.

The agreement also commits the two parties to begin negotiations concerning the construction of a nearby 5,000-space parking garage, by far the largest at the port.

Image result for msc cruise terminal miami

The upgrade to Terminal F, which follows a $37 million upgrade in 2016 for current tenant MSC Cruises, will give Carnival a low-slung, glass-walled terminal facing Miami’s major automobile connection to Miami Beach, the six-lane Mac-Arthur Causeway, which averages 81,625 vehicle trips per day.

To take advantage of that exposure to the causeway, the expanded Terminal F will install a multimedia mesh on its north side that Carnival and the county can use to deliver electronic messages.

In keeping with its value-mindedness, Carnival is the only cruise company not building a PortMiami terminal from scratch.

Virgin Cruises, for example, won approval from the county for its new Terminal V at the far west end of the port, which will be built to remind visitors of a palm grove, according to the designers, Miami architecture firm Arquitectonica. 

The red and white Virgin terminal, budgeted at $179 million, would carry preferential berthing rights for 30 years.

MSC is also building from the ground up and is upping the ante by creating two terminals, also designed by Arquitectonica. Labelled terminals AA and AAA, they will open onto a 2,474-foot pier that enables simultaneous berthing of two megaships.

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“This design takes advantage of the length of the site to project a powerful shape and dimension like no other at the port,” Arquitectonica said. “The [parking] garage is thin, so it appears as a cloud over the glass spaces below.”

MSC Cruises USA will move its offices into the building from Fort Lauderdale, becoming the second cruise line headquartered at the port, after RCCL — which is finishing its new headquarters building, on the western end.

MSC’s terminals, to be finished by 2022, would join RCCL’s $247 million “Crown of Miami,” which opened in late 2018, and NCLH’s $239 million “Pearl of Miami,” which is set to open in November.

Plans for Disney’s Terminal K, on the port’s south side, were outlined in a 2018 memorandum of understanding, but details are on hold pending a dredging project to widen the channel on that side of the port.

Puerto Vallarta’s Changing the Cruise-port Game

Cruise ship docked in Puerto Vallarta
PHOTO: Cruise ship docked in Puerto Vallarta. (photo via Flickr/Brian Holsclaw)

Puerto Vallarta has long been known as the smiling face of Mexico’s friendly coast.

Nonetheless, increased tourism demand and destination competition have prompted this bastion of traditional, authentic Mexico to undergo a critical upgrade and modernization.

In 2015, the Mexican government announced an audacious three-part plan for Puerto Vallarta: A complete rebuild of the cruise terminal, increasing parking there by 400 spaces and adding a notable attraction—since announced as the largest aquarium in Latin America.

“When the President [Enrique Pena Nieto] was in campaign, he came to Puerto Vallarta and promised to develop the port in order to be more competitive in the world,” said Carlos Gerard, the port director, local tour operator, former Puerto Vallarta Minister of Tourism and owner of the construction company now completing the first two projects.

While the footprint and ship-service mechanics of the three-berth port will not expand, the passenger space is modernizing substantially.

What’s New

Puerto Magico (or “Magic Port”) is the new 15,500 square meter terminal that will be designed like an airport terminal, look like a traditional Mexican hacienda and include numerous public spaces and shops, making it both an authentic welcome point for arrivals and a commercial destination throughout the city.

A study and bidding began in 2013, with construction starting February 2016 and a scheduled completion for August, 2018 on a price tag around $19 million US.

“Puerto Vallarta is in the state of Jalisco, the birthplace of tequila, mariachi and charrereia,” said Gerard, “so we need to make that part of the identity of the port itself. We don’t want to make just another cruise terminal. We want an experience so that when anyone visits the port—whether by cruise ship, car or airplane—they will feel like they’re in a real, authentic hacienda.

“The cruise lines have told us that many of the cruise ports in Mexico look all the same, so we have to make that different from the older ports. Mazatlan has its own look, so they have to show it. Cabo San Lucas is desert, so they have to show it. We will be the first to make things different and very authentic and original.

“It will be very light Mexican architecture, with arches and the green roof, as well as open spaces and vegetation.”

Puerto Vallarta Hacienda Cruise Terminal
PHOTO: Puerto Vallarta Hacienda Cruise Terminal

The two-level parking garage replaces an open-air lot and will be approximately 9,500 square meters at a cost of nearly $6.4 million US. The first level will include bus and public transportation facilities, both to be completed with the terminal phase.

Meanwhile, the aquarium will be 8,500 square meters and is currently undergoing internal operations development. Its completion date is open-ended and estimated at easily costing more than $8 million US.

Visitors to the aquarium will enter through the parking complex and then walk past the terminal’s shops and public seating areas—the actual arrival and departure areas will be closed to the public and contain typical security.

Puerto Vallarta entryway
PHOTO: Puerto Vallarta cruiseport entryway.

“We will have 300 different species and some 15,000 different animals from all over the world, including Mexico, the Gulf, the Pacific and the Caribbean,” said Julio Nasta Icaza, Director of Blau Life and the overseer of the current aquarium project. (Blau Life also operate Mexico City’s famous Acuario Ibursa aquarium and a coral farm there that helps repopulate coral in their own exhibits as well as the sea.)

“We will have some 59 different exhibits, and there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes with animal husbandry, fish farms and training before we can open, even as construction is yet to begin. We have state-of-the-art equipment and will touch all the senses and be highly themed.

“We have agreements with turtle conservation groups and support their efforts. When you have a crab crawl on your arm or touch a starfish in one of our educational exhibits, it brings the sea to life and helps people want to save it.”

Meeting Multiple Needs

While the number of cruise ships being built continues to rise, it is not meeting the increased demand from passengers. What’s more, the competition is fiercer than ever among destinations.

2008 was the high point for Puerto Vallarta, with about 290 ships making a call. That number plummeted to 81 arrivals in 2013 due to the recession and other factors, but has since risen to 108 during 2014, 130 in 2015 and 145 in 2017.

Gerard estimated 10-15% annual growth in cruise ship arrivals following the completion of this project.

Still, there is much work to be done, even as Puerto Vallarta maintains its reputation as one of Mexico’s safest cities and neighboring Riviera Nayarit continues to draw international interest.

“There are actually more ports being developed and re-developed right now than cruise ships being built,” said Gerard. “We are making the port more competitive and attractive for the cruise lines, passengers and crew. This will create 400 different new jobs just at the cruise terminal. Once all the construction is finished, it will be over a thousand.”

Puerto Vallarta Parking and entrance
PHOTO: Puerto Vallarta Parking and entrance.

That said, the project was never going to get off the ground at the scale Puerto Vallarta tourism officials wanted unless they began thinking bigger.

“2017 will see approximately 145 cruise ships in Puerto Vallarta, but you’re only talking about 100 days out of 365 that see cruise ship visitors,” said Gerard. “That’s not going to be worth it to investors and developers, so we needed to open it to the public itself so it is attractive.”

Thus was born the idea for making the cruise terminal a multi-use site that caters to tourists and locals alike as a commercial and cultural hub within the city.

“We annually have 4.2 million visitors to Puerto Vallarta who fly in or drive. 50% are Mexican, while almost the other 50% are Americans and Canadians. We have 22,000 hotel rooms in Puerto Vallarta and another 12,000 in Riviera Nayarit.”

Gerard estimated 2.9 million visitors will check out the new cruise terminal and its attractions during its first year based on conservative projections. This includes around 400,000 cruise passengers and 120,000 crew, plus another 600,000 land- and air-based visitors simply using the terminal as the jumping off point for their harbor and water-based tours.

“We also expect about ten percent of the 4.2 million visitors to visit here for commercial reasons,” noted Gerard. “We have 320,000 people living in Puerto Vallarta—including about 45,000 American and Canadian expats partial- or full-time—plus another 120,000 in the surrounding area. We are expecting the average of those folks to visit us once during the year. That is extremely conservative.

“The crew also are buyers and have needs, similar to the passengers. Tourists will spend around $98 US apiece here, which is second-place in Mexico. Crew members will spend $65 US on average.

“We are the No. 2 destination in Mexico for gastronomy and No. 1 in tourist preference. We also need for Mazatlan and Cabo to do something similar. The most popular route from San Diego or Los Angeles is the 7-day cruise that comes through our three cities.”


—Forty percent of cruise ship passengers take a water or land excursion of about 4.5 hours during their 12-hour stay in Puerto Vallarta, and these will all originate from the terminal after the revamp. (The rest get off the ship and visit the downtown for shopping and exploring along the seaside Malecon and Zona Romantica.)

—Shuttles and small trains will link Berths 2 & 3 (which are across the waterway) on multi-ship arrival days with the cruise terminal and Berth 1 (used for primary arrivals).

—Carnival Cruise Line arrives weekly to Puerto Vallarta year-round. Princess, Norwegian, Holland and Royal Caribbean are also frequent customers, in that order.

—The port will oversee all the cruise ship maintenance and re-provisioning services, as well as all shop dues and transportation services through this new centralized hub.

—Cruise ship sizes continue to expand, but Puerto Vallarta’s berths remain the same for now. Thus, expanding the mechanical and service infrastructure to meet the coming megaships is not part of this project but is next on the horizon.

San Juan cruise port sees record daily arrivals

The cruise port of San Juan reached a record high of 17,847 passenger arrivals on Feb. 25, who arrived on six cruise ships.

The new figure topped the previous records of 15,776 passengers set on Dec. 31; 16,712 on Jan. 8; and 16,395 on Feb. 4.

“The arrival of more than 17,000 passengers in a single day represents an economic impact of approximately $2 million to the economy of Puerto Rico,” said Luis Munez Martinez, deputy director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC).

Recent improvements at the cruise port aided in the passenger and cruise call increase, including Pier 1, which made possible the arrival of the Disney cruises, and the expansion of Pier 3, which favored the arrival of Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas, according to Colberg Ingrid Rodriguez, executive director of the Port Authority.

The ships that called on Feb. 25 included the Quantum of the Seas, Disney Fantasy, MSC Divina, Carnival Glory and Holland America’s Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam.

Cruise ships calling on Feb. 26 and Feb. 27 include the Oceania Riviera, Carnival Liberty and Silversea’s Silver Cloud, making a total of 21 cruise ships that have called in San Juan since Feb. 21, including 11 ships that called between Feb. 21 and Feb. 25.