Liberty Port popular for cruises Bayonne ranks no. 2 in passenger volume in Northeast

Two years ago, when members of the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority signed an agreement with Royal Caribbean about setting up a port here for cruise ships, no one knew whether the experiment would work.

The company was hoping for a good alternative to the crowded and often uncomfortable accommodations along the west side of Manhattan.

At close of second season, Cape Liberty Cruise Port – which the Bayonne site was named – bested even the most optimistic hopes, coming in second along all Northeast and Mid-Atlantic ports for passenger volume.

In 2005, the number of ship calls totaled 67, with 301,303 passengers passing through Cape Liberty port, according to Anthony Caputo, port director at Cape Liberty Cruise Port.

“The cruise industry and Bayonne are an excellent match,” said Mayor Joseph V. Doria, Jr. “This latest development is a win-win for Royal Caribbean and the city, and demonstrates again the advantage of our prime location in New York Harbor.”

Royal Caribbean broke ranks with other cruise lines in Dec. 2003 by signing a temporary agreement that would allow its ships to sail from a port located on the former Military Ocean Terminal. They became the first cruise ship to sail out of a New Jersey port since the early 1960s.

Adam M Goldstein, executive vice president for brand operations for Royal Caribbean International, said the view of Manhattan, shorter docking times, and ease of passenger access made Bayonne a better alternative to the crowded docks up the Hudson River.

Name and numbers

The name of the port, Cape Liberty, came as an inspiration when they saw the Statute of Liberty and thought to take advantage of it as a symbol of the experience.

The new location had numerous other advantages, including less time lost navigating up the Hudson River that would make the single day loading and reloading passengers and baggage easier.

The proximity of local highways, light rail, and Newark Airport also suddenly seemed advantageous.

Richard Fein, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, said a number of factors influenced the company’s decision to leave Manhattan and make a long-term commitment to Bayonne.

“A key reason was the receptivity of the people of Bayonne and of New Jersey,” he said. “Cruise lines go where they are wanted, and our hosts there made it clear that they realized the values we offered their community and were very supportive of these.”

The 2004 season began with two passenger ships – the luxury liner Voyager of the Seas and Empress of the Seas – which made a total of 51 ship calls, carried 238,000 passengers to Bermuda and the Caribbean, and created 300 new jobs.

Following the success of the first season, in 2005 the company expanded its operation with the addition of the Celebrity Cruise ship Zenith, offering weekly cruises to Bermuda, and Constellation, which takes alternate trips to New England and Canada during the fall.

Improvements to the port

In the first year, the Royal Caribbean cruise line invested about $8 million in improvements to the port for temporary operations during the 2004 sailing season, and eventually negotiated with the BLRA for financing that would continue work in expanding the port to accommodate additional ships. Meanwhile, federal authorities began a dredging operation that will allow ships to come and go more easily.

BLRA Executive Director Nancy Kist said Royal Caribbean’s success at Cape Liberty is key to the long-term planning effort at the Peninsula development on the waterfront.

“The fact that Cape Liberty rose to a number two ranking in northeast and mid-Atlantic ports in such a short period of time is positive news for both Royal Caribbean and the Peninsula,” Kist said. “Establishing a successful track record early on is certainly helpful in attracting new tenants to the Peninsula.”

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