Just as the State Ports Authority begins its cruise terminal revamp, the Miami-based line Celebrity Cruises announced more sailings planned from Charleston.
Celebrity last fall unveiled a series of six 10- and 11-night embarkations to the Caribbean beginning in February. The latest news adds five more sailings to the sun-baked region beginning in March 2011.
Interim SPA chief executive John Hassell, who lists cruise business as a top priority for the agency, called the Celebrity experience "a natural fit for the Charleston visitor market."
Both the 2010 and the 2011 sailings will bring the Celebrity Mercury to dock near the foot of Market Street. The 1,900-passenger ship received a face-lift in 2007 that included a transformed "boutique boulevard" with a skin-care specialist and an appointment-only jewelry store.
Cruise business looked bleak before the Celebrity announcements, as the SPA learned it would lose the
Nor wegian Majesty, the only ship under contract and the one that accounted for 21 of this year's 33 calls.
The Norwegian Majesty departed Charleston for the final time Friday.
Mercury can hold about 400 more passengers than the Norwegian Majesty and begins stopping in Charleston this fall as part of a nine-night cruise originating in Baltimore.
Celebrity president and chief executive Dan Hanrahan said passengers wanted more sailings closer to home.
"Our travel agent partners and guests have repeatedly said they want more options to sail with Celebrity from the Eastern Seaboard, where our brand was founded and where we still have a very large and loyal base of cruisers," he said in a statement. "So we're pleased to present some very attractive new cruise vacations from Charleston."
Though cruise calls only account for about 1 percent of port business and about 1 percent of local visitors, tourism experts say the ships play a vital role in exposing Charleston to first-time visitors and generating repeat business.
The SPA and the city recently began taking the first steps toward revamping the 9 acres including and surrounding the passenger terminal.