Cruise lines are taking a greater interest in the design and condition of terminals where passengers start and end their cruises, in some cases plotting upgrades that will make the experience of boarding a ship more vacationlike.
Until now, most terminals have been functional halls run by the ports as an adjunct to their cargo business. Pedestrian materials, minimal design and a serviceable ambiance have encouraged passengers to rush onto the ships.
But as the industry grows, lines are beginning to justify the expense of a more refined terminal, at least at the busiest ports.
Upgrades are in the works at ports in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Seattle, Long Beach, Calif., and in others where cruise lines are involved in leasing and in some cases operating their own terminals.
"In recent years, the trend seems to be that the cruise lines are taking a more active role in terminal design," said John Murray, CEO of Port Canaveral in central Florida.
Perhaps the most notable example of a terminal that breaks decisively with the past is Royal Caribbean International's plan for a $100 million terminal at PortMiami.
A rendering of Royal Caribbean’s planned $100 million, 170,000-square-foot PortMiami terminal. It’s scheduled to open in 2018 and can host Oasis-class vessels.
Scheduled to open in late 2018, the 170,000-square-foot terminal is meant to be a signature statement for Royal, which has its global headquarters located at the port. Passengers will come and go through two sleek, glass-walled halls designed by the international architectural firm Broadway Malyan.
The groundbreaking is set for early March. It is Broadway Malyan's first project in the U.S.
The plan is for Royal Caribbean to vacate the current Terminal G opposite its headquarters for a new Terminal A at the entry position to Government Cut. At night, Terminal A will be illuminated in pale blue.
Royal is styling the building as the "Crown of Miami," and it was designed to discretely suggest the crown in Royal's crown-and-anchor logo. The idea is to remind guests through architecture about the brand they're sailing on.
"The driving force was to integrate Royal Caribbean's brand within the building's concept in a subtle yet effective way," said Jon Geaney, a director at Singapore-based Broadway Malyan. It will be the first time a cruise line has tried to make such a statement with a terminal building.
Adding to the impact, the terminal will be big enough to accommodate one of Royal's 5,400-passenger Oasis class ships, which until now have only sailed regularly from Port Everglades and Port Canaveral.
In fact, the increasing size of cruise ships is one of the factors dictating terminal design today.
Over the last 15 years, the average capacity of cruise ships has grown by 138%, to 3,100 passengers, according to a study released last year by the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure.
"Ships with a capacity for over 5,000 passengers are becoming more and more common," the study found.
To attract such economically significant ships, many ports are having to upgrade their existing terminals.
That was the case at Port Everglades in 2009 when the port was able to attract the first two Oasis-class ships, the Oasis of the Seas and the Allure of the Seas, by rebuilding Terminal 18 to meet Royal's needs.
While not as symbolic as the Crown of Miami, the design was still a collaboration between the cruise line and port that would not have been undertaken or needed on a more generic project.
"They were involved in everything from the parking lot all the way to boarding the ship," said Ellen Kennedy, a spokeswoman for Port Everglades.
Kennedy said the development agreement called for Broward County to retain ownership of the building and the land, while Royal Caribbean would finance renovations.
"I believe it started at $35 million," she said. "It wound up at $79 million in the end. They just kept upgrading."
The expanded Terminal 5 at Port Canaveral, which is primarily used by Carnival Cruise Line.
Another port where bigger ships are dictating new terminal arrangements is in Long Beach, where since 2003 Carnival Cruise Line has operated from one of the most unusual terminals anywhere.
Sailing from a berth near the Queen Mary floating hotel, Carnival boards passengers in a geodesic dome built to house the Spruce Goose, a 218-foot "flying boat" built out of birch wood by aviator/industrialist Howard Hughes.
The plane, which only made one flight, was moved out of the hanger in 1993. A decade later, Carnival began using a third of the 142,000-square-foot space to embark its cruises to the Mexican Riviera and elsewhere.
Starting later this year, Carnival will take over all of the space in the dome under an agreement with Urban Commons, a Los Angeles company that leases the Queen Mary complex, including the dome.
That will enable the cruise line for the first time to embark and disembark passengers at the same time, so that arriving guests can enter the terminal prior to the complete disembarkation of the previous cruise.
With the additional elbow room, Carnival plans to bring the 3,006-passenger Carnival Splendor to Long Beach for seven-day Mexican Riviera cruises, replacing the 2,124-passenger Carnival Miracle. The Splendor will join the Carnival Inspiration and Carnival Imagination, both of which offer three- and four-day Baja peninsula cruises from Long Beach.
Between the three ships, Carnival will carry upward of 700,000 guests annually from Southern California, making Long Beach one of its busiest turnaround ports.
"For years, we have been working toward reaching an agreement to expand the Long Beach Cruise Terminal to accommodate larger ships on the West Coast, and we're thrilled to finally be able to move forward with our plans," Carnival president Christine Duffy said.
Another initiative driven by the need for more space is Norwegian Cruise Line's plan to expand the Bell Street Pier Cruise Terminal in downtown Seattle to accommodate its 4,000-passenger Norwegian Bliss starting in 2018.
Colin Murphy, senior vice president of destination and strategic development at Norwegian, said the plan is to take over all the space in the terminal and rebuild the interior to make it more functional.
"What we're doing there is expanding the interior of the terminal," Murphy said. "We're incorporating space that was previously used as a museum, and we are extending a floor that was once a mezzanine floor to make that a full floor. We're almost doubling the interior square footage without actually breaking any walls."
As it is, Norwegian was challenged to operate in the terminal with its 2,500-passenger Norwegian Pearl, Murphy said.
To get the work done in time for the Bliss' arrival in May 2018, the cruise line and the Port of Seattle came up with an innovative setup in which Norwegian will lease the terminal and become its operator during the cruise season.
"It's certainly very new for us, and I think it's new for the Port of Seattle," Murphy said.
The pact provided for a 50/50 split of the $30 million cost over the course of the 15-year lease and put Norwegian in charge of the construction.
"Most public entities or quasi-governmental entities have a rigorous procurement process that they have to go through, where as a private entity, we can go through that process much faster," Murphy said. "It's a lot easier for private entities to go out to bid because we don't have to work with all the rules and regulations that a port would often have to comply with."
To justify the cost of a new terminal at many ports is tough. Some have a limited season, while others have size restrictions that limit the number of calls.
At the Port of Montreal, cruises are only feasible during the summer and fall, and only ships of about 2,000 passengers or less are short enough to fit the just over 160-foot clearance of the Quebec Bridge on the St. Lawrence River.
To finance the $78 million rebuilding of its terminal, the Montreal port had to make it stylish enough to attract events when cruise ships weren't docked, said Yves Gilson, director of marketing and cruises for the port.
"A cruise terminal [here] by itself doesn't bring in enough revenue to be sustainable," Gilson said.
The rebuilt, two-story terminal will afford scenic views of the St. Lawrence River from a landscaped roof terrace. The end of the pier is being redone as a grassy park that slants toward the water, and the public will be given access to the pier when ships are not in port. The city of Montreal contributed about $11.4 million to the project, and the government of Quebec added about $15 million.
Another terminal that was built with event revenue in mind was Pier 27 in San Francisco, which opened in 2014 after a $100 million reconstruction project. Its ticket counters are mobile, so the entire 60,000 square feet can be used for events, such as the San Francisco Giants World Series Gala, which was held there after the Giants won the championship in 2014. In February, Pier 27 has four cruise ship calls scheduled, including three by the Grand Princess and one by Cunard Line's Queen Elizabeth. In between, it will play host to a three-day conference for 3,000 delegates, another conference for 900, an expo with 350 attendees expected and a wine tasting for 1,200.
The pier sits along San Francisco's Embarcadero, adjacent to the Fisherman's Wharf tourist area. "You have the view of the skyline, the view of the Bay Bridge, Coit Tower. It's just spectacular," said Rofia Larsson, vice president of sales and marketing for Metro Shore Services, which leases the terminal from the port.
The port used $10 million of a $54 million bond issue to help pay for the terminal, which has fixed costs of $4.8 million to cover every year.
Increasingly, ports are turning to cruise lines to fund part or all of their terminals. Royal Caribbean will build and operate its Crown of Miami terminal, leasing only the land, because PortMiami is already $1.1 billion in debt and can't realistically borrow any more money to build the facility.
"It's a win-win for both sides," said Roger Blum, principal of Cruise & Port Advisors, a Miami consulting firm. "For the port it saves them the issue of raising the funds to construct the terminal and puts good use to their port area and gives them a guaranteed customer. For the cruise lines they're really getting a facility that meets their needs and specifications, and they can design something that really fits their brands and their way of doing business."
Royal Caribbean borrowed $247 million from Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. to fund the project.
On a smaller scale, Norwegian is investing $15 million in the Bell Street terminal improvement to ensure it is completed by the time the Norwegian Bliss arrives.
"Our preference would be not to invest anything in ports," Murphy said. But he also added that in some locales that's just not possible because of various limits on the government's ability to raise funds.
In Seattle, Norwegian can dock downtown while other cruise lines operate at a more suburban pier. "We love that location, and we wanted to secure a position for ourselves there for years to come," Murphy said.
The remodeled Terminal F at PortMiami will be occupied by MSC Cruises and have a VIP lounge.
Norwegian will be adding a VIP lounge to the Bell Street terminal, as will MSC Cruises when it moves into a remodeled Terminal F at PortMiami later this year. But most of Norwegian's changes are designed to speed people, vehicles and baggage in and out of the terminal as smoothly as possible.
"When a cruise line is looking to design a terminal, the first thing that they want is for people to move through there so fast that they'll barely remember the terminal," Blum said. "It's nice to have a nice terminal, but it's not at the top of the list. The top of the list is to get the building to flow very well, as well as using technology to speed up the process."
One exception to that general rule has been Disney Cruise Line, whose terminal at Port Canaveral is efficient but also includes familiar Disney branding that link it, aesthetically, to its theme park about an hour away in Orlando.
"If you go to their terminal, once you turn into the drive for their facility, it's sort of like the Magic Kingdom," said Murray of Port Canaveral. "You've got the Mickey Mouse clock. Everything is Disneyesque. It's just very much their brand, and they want to maintain that brand recognition right down to the cruise line."
Other cruise lines, Murray said, can be indifferent to aesthetics. "Some of them put it right out there: 'We don't care what [facility] you have to get on the ship. It can be a box, and as long as we get the passenger on the ship, we're happy.'"
But that attitude appears to be evolving, in part because of technology. When Princess Cruises debuts Carnival Corp.'s first cruise to use its Ocean Medallion technology in November, part of the package may be a more deluxe design at Terminal 2 in Port Everglades.
In a preview of Ocean Medallion for journalists in December, John Padgett, Carnival's chief innovation and experience officer, said that at Carnival's signature ports he would like to make the terminal experience more tranquil and inviting, citing airport lounges in Singapore as one model.
"The goal is to calm it and make it a place people want to stay and remove the imperative at the start environment that I just want to get out of here and get on the ship," Padgett said.
Kennedy said Carnival teams have been through Terminal 2 on assessment tours and have met with Port Everglades staff several times recently.
Asked about progress on the terminal redesign, Padgett said details would be shared later.
"There's no doubt we'll have some action in that space," he said, "but we're not quite ready to talk about it yet."