Flu outbreak steers more cruise ships to Seattle

Sunday, May 3, 2009 -resale@seattletimes.com

By Kristin Jackson
Seattle Times Travel staff
More ships will sail into Seattle this spring as cruise lines shift out of Mexico because of the flu outbreak there, bringing thousands more passengers — and their spending — to town.

Royal Caribbean cruise ships are expected to make at least a half-dozen extra daylong visits to Seattle, Peter McGraw of the Port of Seattle said Friday. Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas, which can carry more than 3,000 passengers, will arrive next Thursday. Carnival Cruise Lines also is expected to schedule some ship visits to Seattle.

Already, 211 sailings are scheduled for the Seattle-Alaska cruise season that began last week. Now cruise lines and port officials are scrambling to make arrangements here and in ports along the West Coast for the extra ship visits. The ships will depart from Southern California ports and, instead of sailing south to Mexico, will head north to cities such as San Francisco, Victoria, B.C. — and Seattle.

For Seattle, each ship will bring several thousand passengers into town for the day, boosting the coffers of tourist-oriented businesses and downtown restaurants and cafes.

The port estimates that each sailing on the Seattle-Alaska route is worth about $1.7 million for the Puget Sound area, thanks to cruise lines buying food and supplies here plus the spending by passengers and crew on everything from souvenirs and meals to hotels rooms before or after the trip.

The ships shifted from Mexico won’t bring in as much money as they won’t overnight in Seattle and won’t get all their provisions here, but “it’s a great addition to our local economy,” said McGraw.

The extra ship visits will be on weekdays when there are berths available at the city’s two cruise terminals, the downtown Bell Street Terminal and the new Smith Cove Terminal at Interbay.

Major cruise lines have moved their ships off Mexico routes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control early this week recommended Americans avoid nonessential travel to Mexico because of the flu outbreak. For Mexico’s vital tourism industry, it’s bringing huge losses as tourists and cruise ships stay away.

Since Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas has had to change its itinerary so drastically — from the west coast of Mexico to the west coast of the U.S. and Canada — passengers are being offered shipboard credits in compensation or rebooking.

The many cruise ships that sailed out of Florida to ports on Mexico’s east coast, such as Cozumel, are instead substituting ports in Jamaica or the Bahamas, and spending extra time at sea or at port in Key West, Fla.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

~ by fredfelleman on May 4, 2009.

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