The redesign of Boston's Black Falcon Cruise Terminal maintained the historical aspects of its location in an early-1900s warehouse complex.
Twenty-five years ago, 13 cruise ships visited the port of Boston, bringing less than 12,000 passengers into the terminal, a dingy complex of former military warehouses.
This year, following an $11 million restoration completed in fall 2010, the port will welcome 100 ships and some 300,000 passengers.
It's just the beginning, said port director Mike Leone, who is estimating that 2012 will bring upward of a 20% increase in cruise ship passengers.
"I think next year we could see as many as 375,000," he said.
That's mostly thanks to Carnival Cruise Lines' decision to homeport the 1,200-passenger Carnival Glory in Boston next June and July. Known as a fall foliage destination with sailings farther into New England and along the Canadian Maritimes, the Boston port convinced Carnival that there's a summer season market, too.
"The Glory will be here next summer doing Canada/New England cruises, and we're hoping that if it goes well, the line will homeport the ship seasonally in 2013," Leone said.
Seasonally in Boston typically refers to April through October.
The Canada/New England itineraries are good for the city, Leone noted, because two-thirds of the passengers travel to Boston from outside the region, and that means a more robust economic impact.
Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Dawn is homeported in Boston all season, operating seven-day roundtrips to Bermuda.
"Eighty-five percent of those passengers are local people. I guess the local population around here mostly wants to go south," quipped Leone, referring to New England's chilly temperatures through a good chunk of the year.
The Carnival Glory, he added, will offer four- and five-day cruises, and he thinks those sailings will attract a younger demographic.
In an interview with Leone and deputy port director Nicholas Billows in mid-October, the potential of the drive market came into focus.
"Eleven million people live within two hours of the port," Billows said. Tack on another two hours and the number jumps to more than 50 million.
"We get a lot of Canadians coming here," Billows said. "They drive down from Montreal."
Those who do select Boston as an embarkation point will experience a transformed Black Falcon Terminal. The renovation turned several warehouses that had functioned for many years as a makeshift terminal into a sleek, modern facility.
"Back before the renovation, we used one warehouse for embarkation and disembarkation," Billows said. "So everybody had to come off a ship and exit the building before the new passengers could go and get checked in and have a place to sit down. It was inconvenient for people."
The renovation involved combining several adjacent warehouses, making for an especially spacious facility, with large windows providing natural light. It still looks like a warehouse -- the architects wanted to preserve the vintage appearance and the historical character of the original terminal -- but a vibrant color scheme and vintage poster art add a touch of sophisticated whimsy.
The check-in and security counters are new, and a people-mover system helps to keep the flow of disembarking passengers at a leisurely yet effective pace.
In addition to Norwegian and Carnival Cruise Lines, others that have committed to the port include Holland America Line, which this year operated the Maasdam on seven- and 14-day cruises between Boston and Montreal, seasonally through October. Many lines call at Boston, such as Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Seabourn and Cunard.
Leone said he's hoping that more cruise lines will look seriously at visiting Boston or homeporting there.
"We have over 3,000 feet of berth space," he said. "We can handle three large ships at a time. We can do two turnarounds and a port call every day."
Leone and Billows emphasized the proximity of the port to Boston Logan Airport, the seaport commercial district and the city's historical neighborhoods.
"The city's big attractions and the airport are literally within 10 minutes of the port, and public transportation is right down the street for passengers who want to explore on their own, rather than take a group excursion," he said.
In fact, terminal operator Massport, in partnership with the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, recently created a Cruiseport Boston map that shows the walking routes to popular destinations.
For cruise news and updates, follow Donna Tunney on Twitter @dttravelweekly.