Troubled waters at alternative ports


eenly aware of success stories at the cruise ports in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral, Fla., a handful of North American cities are courting cruise suppliers, hoping to establish their cities as new cruise home ports.

But in the past few months, those campaigns have produced mixed results, in part because of financial problems at two cruise suppliers.

Most recently, Philadelphia lost summer Bermuda service when Commodore Holdings Ltd. filed for bankruptcy in December.

Following a successful trial run in 2000, Commodore had signed an agreement with leisure travel retailer Apple Vacations to offer a series of Bermuda cruises from Philadelphia this spring. But those plans were scuttled when Commodore filed for bankruptcy.

Recently, Apple officials tried to salvage the program by forging an agreement with creditors to operate Crown Dynasty but last month announced they were unable to strike a deal.

Crown Dynasty began sailing from Philadelphia last year, becoming the first cruise ship to use the Philadelphia Naval Business Center as a base of operations.

Regional tourism officials considered the deployment a key step in the development of the city's cruise business.

Now, Philadelphia is without a ship, but Doug Brown, director of cruise marketing for Apple Vacations, said the city's cruise business would rebound. Apple has chartered Philadelphia-Bermuda cruises since 1984, said Brown. "We believe that you will see cruise ships flying the Apple Vacations banner sailing up the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware River again," he said.

Meanwhile, Houston, which put its port on the cruise map by attracting two ships last year, is now facing the premature end of its year-round cruise business. The last regular sailing from Houston, on Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Sea, departed in December. After pioneering year-round cruising from Houston in 1998 with its "Texaribbean" series, NCL repositioned Norwegian Sea to Miami last month.

Houston lost Premier Cruise Lines' Big Red Boat III, which offered seven-day cruises to Cozumel and Playa del Carmen, Mexico, in September when Premier ceased operations after five of its ships were seized by creditors. The NCL and Premier vessels were the anchors for Houston's cruise operation, launched in 1997 when the city built a $3 million terminal to accommodate cruise-ship passengers.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI