'Choppy waters' ebb as Falmouth port officially opens

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FALMOUTH, Jamaica -- Hundreds of townspeople and throngs of dignitaries turned out last week for the grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Port of Falmouth, a project four years in the making that many believe is a game-changer for Jamaica tourism.

The creation of the port and the redevelopment of the neighborhood around it was a joint project between the government of Jamaica and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., the parent company of Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises.

The port enables Royal Caribbean to dock its two largest ships, the Oasis of the Seas and the Allure of the Seas, in Falmouth, although not simultaneously. The Oasis and Allure each carry 5,400 passengers.

The port unofficially opened in mid-February, with a call by Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas.

Richard Fain, RCCL's chairman and CEO, said Royal Caribbean will bring 8 million passengers to Falmouth over the next decade.

"We're proud of the role we played here, and other cruise lines will use the facility, too: Holland America Line, Princess, Norwegian Cruise Line and others," said Fain, adding that hundreds of local jobs were created.

"There were some choppy waters in the course of this achievement," he added.

The Falmouth port's opening came nearly a year after its anticipated debut, due to construction delays. Fain said the project is still a work in progress.

Jamaica Prime Minister Bruce Golding said the facility is a "fantastic example of what can be achieved through public-private partnerships."

"It hasn't been smooth sailing," he said. "We had to build a seawall, acquire land, relocate people and get support from the community. There were environmental issues, and many government agencies had to work together.

"If we had undertaken this project alone, without Royal Caribbean, it would not have happened."

John Tercek, Royal Caribbean's vice president of commercial development, said the Port Authority of Jamaica invested $125 million to create the port. Royal Caribbean, he said, is renting the wharf, and the line's investment is about $48 million.

The 11-acre wharf has several restored historical buildings; staging areas for excursions, shops and market kiosks; and walking paths for self-guided tours. A passenger terminal is still under construction.

Founded in 1790, Falmouth was a busy trading port until the mid-19th century.

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