Amber Cove to bring more variety to Carnival's Caribbean cruises

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A building recalling a Spanish Caribbean fortress greets visitors as they enter the shopping village at Amber Cove.
A building recalling a Spanish Caribbean fortress greets visitors as they enter the shopping village at Amber Cove. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

PUERTO PLATA, Dominican Republic — Carnival Corp. is a month away from opening its $85 million private port here on the country’s northern coast, which hasn’t seen regular cruise calls in 30 years.

In the works since 2010, the facility, known as Amber Cove, has the biggest development budget of any private port in the Caribbean. It’s first arrival, the Carnival Victory, is scheduled for Oct. 6. 

To be ready in time, development teams are working seven days a week to install landscaping, finish building interiors and put other final touches on the 25-acre property.

Carnival and Dominican officials are counting on Amber Cove to appeal not just to first-time cruisers but to repeat passengers looking for some variety.

“Initially, it’s a refresher for us in the Caribbean,” said Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald. “It creates more interest because it’s a different place to go.”

Amber Cove revives cruise tourism in an area that last saw regular calls in the mid-1980s, when a nearby Puerto Plata cargo port hosted ships such as the 460-passenger Boheme.

In contrast, Amber Cove’s quarter-mile pier will be able to dock two 3,690-passenger vessels at the same time.

Carnival is touting the port’s shore excursion possibilities as more varied than at ports on smaller private islands, like those in the Bahamas. Puerto Plata has about 300,000 residents and offers urban and historic sights, as well as a three-mile Malecon jetty along the beach.

A bar and restaurant complex recalls a structure in Plaza Independencia.
A bar and restaurant complex recalls a structure in Plaza Independencia. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

The 2,357-foot Mount Isabel de Torres outside the city anchors the Caribbean’s only cable car. Brugal operates a sizable rum factory in the city, which also features a small, 16th century fort.

In all, Carnival has developed 42 excursions in a wide variety of formats.

Sailing time from Miami is a day and a half, making it an easy reach for five- to eight-day itineraries from south Florida.

Just as important, Carnival officials say, it can be incorporated into seven-day itineraries from East Coast drive ports such as Baltimore and Charleston. That will give those cruises somewhere to go besides Florida, the Bahamas and Grand Turk.

The picturesque cove offers an attractive contrast to the flat landscape in those other port areas, said Jeffrey Rannik, president of Grupo B&R, Carnival’s local development partner in Amber Cove.

“Coming from Grand Turk or the Bahamas, it’s night and day,” Rannik said.

One thing that Amber Cove lacks, however, is its own beach. There is a public beach next door, and several beach excursions will be offered, including one to the neighboring Riu resort.

Like the Carnival-developed ports at Grand Turk and Roatan in Honduras, Amber Cove will host multiple Carnival brands, including Europe-based lines such as Aida and P&O Cruises.

In all, eight brands are expected to deliver about 350,000 passengers in the first year of operation, about half of them from Carnival Cruise Line, which will operate there year-round.

Private cabanas perched on a hilltop are available for rent.
Private cabanas perched on a hilltop are available for rent. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

“The destination has to appeal across all of the brands that come,” said David Candib, vice president of development and operations for Carnival’s Global Port and Destination Development Group.

Upon arrival, guests will disembark to a broad concrete pier and walk through an entrance built to resemble the gates of a Caribbean fortress. The security post leads to the duty-free concession operated by Dufry, which will include a unique focus on Caribbean rums.

A shopping, entertainment and food plaza is arranged in a long oval of buildings that echo various architectural styles found in the Dominican Republic, including Victorian, Colonial and Fortaleza.

The retail will be a mix of familiar cruise port names and local vendors, such as the Puerto Plata franchisee for Harley-Davidson, which will be an apparel-oriented shop. There will be at least one jeweler with items fashioned from namesake amber, which is mined in the Dominican interior nearby.

Food and beverage has been contracted to Santo Domingo-based Caribbean Catering Services, Rannik said. The main two-story bar/restaurant complex near the pool will be called Coco Cana.

The pool features a large water slide and a zipline overhead. In that same section are seven over-the-water cabanas available for private rental, along with a “quiet” pier bar.

The $250-a-day cabanas are also featured on a large granite dome that is a prominent landscape feature. The rock is topped by Bar 360, which features panoramic views of the port and cove from a 75-foot elevation.

Yet to be installed is a large art piece fashioned from amber-like resin that will have a caiman, a smaller cousin of the crocodile, embedded in it. Also planned are a series of 20 storyboards expounding on Dominican themes, such as baseball, amber and cacao.

Nearly half of the 25-acre port is devoted to transportation. On the shore, there is a small dock that can be used for excursion boats. A large bus and taxi-staging area will serve as the gateway for most excursions.

A footbridge over part of the pool at Amber Cove.
A footbridge over part of the pool at Amber Cove. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

Amilcar Cascais, vice president for tour operations at Carnival, said he expected tour participation to increase upwards of 60% initially because guests will be curious about the new destination. Participation is typically in the 30% to 50% range.

Tours run the range from ATV-like terracross buggy expeditions to zipline adventures. One of the top marine attractions in the Caribbean, Ocean World, is in Puerto Plata. A Carnival Cruise Line excursion that includes a swim with dolphins costs $139 per person.

Both Carnival and the Dominican Republic have a lot riding on the success of Amber Cove.

While other lines are increasingly global, Carnival Cruise Line has doubled down on the Caribbean region. Thirty-seven calls by eight different Carnival ships are planned through April.

The Dominican government sees the project as an economic boon for the impoverished country. Underscoring its importance, Dominican President Danilo Medina visited the construction site about two months ago, according to Julio Almonte, a vice minister of tourism.

“This is a presidential project,” Almonte said. “The future of Puerto Plata is this project.”

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