Tuesday touches off a new era at the Port of Charleston. For the first time ever a cruise ship will call the passenger terminal at least once a week, thanks to Carnival Cruise Lines' home port designation. The sailings kick off with the Fantasy, which returns May 23, just a day before the Glory embarks.
That means 2,000 people loading and unloading every few days, and sometimes on consecutive days. It means hotel rooms booked and restaurants serving, but also extra traffic on city streets.
After a backlog in November, the State Ports Authority developed a new strategy for routing passengers -- and their cars -- around the city and into the terminal.
The new course steers drivers left on Chapel Street, keeping them away from the congested Market area. From there they turn left on Charlotte Street and then right on Concord Street and into the Union Pier Terminal.
They enter the terminal through a gate farther north than the previous entrance to avoid a traffic jam on Washington Street, and security officers now check credentials inside the terminal to prevent a line from forming on the streets outside.
Byron Miller, director of marketing, public relations and planning for the SPA, said the plan worked, except during the delayed sailings related to norovirus outbreaks on the Celebrity Mercury. He credits the success, in part, to partnerships within the hospitality industry that lets cruise passengers leave their cars at hotels.
Miller said the SPA, which plans a major overhaul of the cruise terminal and its surrounding acreage, also made short-term upgrades, some of them at Carnival's request. Those changes include new check-in desks, fresh paint, carpet cleaning and dock improvements.
Carnival first came to Charleston in the '90s, when the company used the port to give travel agents previews of new ships, public relations director Jennifer de la Cruz said. The company launched seasonal sailings a few years ago and saw Charleston as a viable market, especially for people driving in from around the Southeast, according to de la Cruz.
"We already had a well- established relationship with the Port of Charleston," she said. "We know the folks at the port. It was a matter of conducting research on our end, being comfortable with putting a ship here year-round. We never put a ship on year-round basis unless we're really confident it's going to be successful."
Caroline Hassell, who runs local booking service Cruises for Less, said the company wanted a larger, more accommodating passenger terminal. She called the master plan to revamp the area one of the deciding factors for positioning a ship locally.
"Being a cruise (home) port is all the difference in the world," Hassell said. "We've had ships coming in as port of call for years. But now people can leave their house, get off the ship and be home in 15 minutes and wonder who's going to make them lunch."
Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or email@example.com.