This year, the Norwegian Bliss will make a June debut in Seattle, the first time a new Norwegian Cruise Line ship has been stationed in the West since the Norwegian Star began sailing in Hawaii in 2001.
Next year, Carnival Cruise Line will launch its latest ship, the Carnival Panorama, in Long Beach, Calif., while Royal Caribbean International will move the Ovation of the Seas, just 2 years old, to Seattle.
Together, the three ships will add more than 12,000 new or nearly new lower berths, at least seasonally, to the West Coast market.
“It’s very exciting. There’s been a big need out here for a long time,” said Betsy Geiser, vice president at Uniglobe Travel in Irvine, Calif. “Historically, it’s been older ships and smaller ships. Carnival’s making a big improvement by bringing [the Panorama] here.”
With their proximity to the Caribbean, East Coast ports, particularly Miami and Fort Lauderdale, have long been the default homeports when a new vessel emerges from the shipyard.
In recent years, ports such as New York have also benefitted as fleets grew and lines cultivated new markets.
But in a sense, the West Coast is the cradle of the industry, said John Mast, vice president of marketing for Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Vancouver.
“It’s important to remember that Princess, with that run down to Mexico, sort of kicked off the U.S. cruise industry in many ways,” Mast said.
The California-Mexico itinerary, immortalized in “The Love Boat” television show, is still a mainstay of the market. Carnival plans to enrich Ensenada with new port activities in a bid to make Long Beach one of its biggest hubs.
“I think there’s been a renaissance going on for the West Coast, and I think that Carnival’s investment is a very strong indicator of that,” Mast said.
There are several reasons why the region is enjoying a rebirth, Mast said. One is the recent expansion of the Panama Canal. Before 2016, the cruise industry’s newest and largest ships couldn’t fit through the locks. Now that a wider channel has been opened, it is easier to move most large ships back and forth.
Also, after several years in which European cruise seasons were marred by terrorist activity, domestic ports have become more attractive long-term investments, especially in excursion-rich Alaska.
Mast said the new ships, with their go-kart tracks and Imax theatres, can help attract a younger demographic to Alaska.
“It seems kind of gimmicky to have a racetrack on the roof,” he said, “but the reality is that Alaska is a wonderful summer vacation for families. Families are a huge market. If I know kids, that will immediately get them excited, and we know that kids play a role in forming the vacation choice.”
For agents, the practical impact of having news ships on the West Coast is that they are easier and more profitable to sell.
Anita Pagliasso, president of Ticket to Travel in San Jose, Calif., said, “Cruisers are very excited about something new. It becomes lucrative because the pricing’s always higher when a brand new ship comes out, so the higher the pricing, the higher the commission. It goes hand in hand, I think.”
Pagliasso said the opportunities extended beyond West Coast agents.
“I think some of the feedback I got, even some of the agents in the Midwest, was that [clients] have gone to Florida enough, and they want something different,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for not only West Coast agents to promote these ships but other agents who have clients who have done all the cruising out of Florida and are looking for something new and exciting.”