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Sunday, January 29, 2023
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New Cruise Ship Debuts on St. Thomas

Some 2,700 passengers reached St. Thomas Wednesday aboard the Celebrity Beyond, which was on its maiden voyage. (Photo by Michele Weichman)

Top officials of the Bryan Administration celebrated what they called a robust return of cruise ship tourism to the Virgin Islands. Optimistic forecasts of what’s ahead for the 2022-2023 winter season were expressed as officials welcomed the arrival of a new mega-ship on Wednesday.

It’s been two years since the Caribbean saw regular arrivals of cruise ships and thousands of day visitors before the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first signs that regular activity might make a comeback prompted officials to forecast a return of sea-going tourism.

Port Authority Director Carlton Dowe, Assistant Tourism Commissioner Alani Henneman and Government House Special Advisor Kevin Rodriguez officiated over a plaque and key exchange with the captain of the Celebrity Beyond. The ship brought 2,779 passengers and 1,379 crewmembers to the Austin “Babe” Monsanto Marine Terminal.

“It’s a good day for tourism,” the director said.

Capt. Dimitrios Kafetzis accepted commemorative plaques and gifts on behalf of the parent company, Celebrity Cruises. Celebrity Beyond is currently on its seven-day maiden voyage that began in Ft. Lauderdale.

“This is a small city visiting you for eight hours,” Kafetzis said. “We thank you very much and many more times to come.”

By the third week of November, two mega-ships occupied the Crown Bay berth as the Beyond tied up opposite Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas. Dowe noted at the brief ceremony that Celebrity Cruises is part of the Royal Caribbean Group, after the Chandris Group — which founded Celebrity Cruise Line — merged with Royal Caribbean in 1997.

“The Royal Caribbean Group made a commitment to the Port Authority, and up to this day, they have lived up to it,” Dowe said. The sight of thousands of visitors traversing the marine terminal, boarding safari tour buses and shopping appeared to spur a bright forecast for the season.

“The season, all in all, should be vibrant. We see things coming back. I know the numbers we’re expecting at Crown Bay seem to be pretty good,” the director said. In addition to the two ships at Crown Bay, two more were berthed Wednesday at the West Indian Company dock in Havensight.

Port Authority Communications Director Monifa Brathwaite-Marrero said there will be more new ships arriving in the territory as 2022 ends and a new year begins. “We are expecting three to four new ships on St. Croix, and a few more new ships to St. Thomas, and a mega-yacht to St. John on Dec. 27,” Marrero said.

This year’s season is getting underway at a time when major airlines have told the Port Authority they are cutting back on air arrivals because of staffing shortages nationwide. But Dowe expressed the belief that the airlines will adjust their operations to match the demands of the traveling public.

Both Dowe and Henneman said their agencies are working with Government House to come up with a successful strategy for keeping tourism afloat. “At the Department of Tourism our strategy is to sustain the momentum we had during COVID … it’s to balance airlift and the cruise industry, now that the cruise industry has rebounded,” Henneman said.

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