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
“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. 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,”
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. 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. 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.”