As any itinerary planner knows, cruises provide guests with a unique and wonderful way to explore the world, allowing them to continuously move between beautiful locations and make memories that will last a lifetime. Every port of call on an itinerary plays a vital role in creating an enjoyable cruise experience, but what about the homeport?
Embarkation is as crucial to the overall cruise experience as the ship, its onboard amenities and the itinerary of picturesque ports. A homeport that is easy to get into and out of, and provides a variety of unique and interesting activities just steps from the ship? Now that’s an attractive prospect for guests. And that’s exactly what cruise operators and their itinerary planners will find at Port Tampa Bay on Florida’s West Coast.
Positive impressions start from the moment the cruise guests arrive at the modern, award-winning Tampa International Airport. The airport is a convenient 15-minute drive from the Channelside District in Downtown Tampa, which enables travellers to get a view of the water and soak up the Florida vibe and sunshine before they arrive at one of the three cruise terminals.
But that’s just the beginning. One of the growing trends both cruise lines and their itinerary planners are seeing is an increase in the number of guests who are interested in extending their cruise by enjoying the pre- and post-cruise activities in the homeport city.
Tampa is ideally suited for catering to this trend, given that it is located between some of the world’s most popular theme parks (including Busch Gardens in Tampa) and acclaimed beaches with crystal-clear waters in the cities of Clearwater and St. Pete Beach. In addition, guests are just steps from the sights, sounds and experiences of Downtown Tampa. The district is a destination in itself, thanks to attractions like the Florida Aquarium, Sparkman Wharf, the unique Ybor City (Tampa’s Latin Quarter) and Downtown Tampa’s Riverwalk, which has spectacular views and is close to eateries and nightlife.
Port Tampa Bay and the city’s tight network of forward-thinking tourism organisations work together to provide cruise lines’ itinerary planners with the high-quality services they need to help their guests make the most of these tourist attractions during their time in Tampa. For example, Visit Tampa Bay (the city’s tourism agency) collaborates closely with Port Tampa Bay and Tampa International Airport to assist itinerary planners with transportation options that can handle all sizes of guest groups.
Multiple cruise lines have already reaped the benefits of homeporting their ships at Port Tampa Bay and 2020 will be no different. Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Paradise and Carnival Miracle, Royal Caribbean International’s Brilliance of the Seas and Rhapsody of the Seas, and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Dawn will all sail out of the city, enabling cruise travellers to explore multiple destinations across the Caribbean and Central America.
Joining these ships is Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Constellation, which will operate 10- and 11-night roundtrips from Tampa beginning November 2020. Following a 14-night transatlantic crossing from Barcelona, Spain, Celebrity Constellation will begin sailing three unique itineraries, including a 10-night Eastern Caribbean escape that calls at San Juan, Puerto Rico; Basseterre, St. Kitts & Nevis; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; and Samana, Dominican Republic. The vessel will also provide 11-night Southern Caribbean voyages with visits to Key West, Florida; Kralendijk, Bonaire; Oranjestad, Aruba; Willemstad, Curacao; and George Town, Grand Cayman. Alternatively, guests can opt for an 11-night ‘Touch Canal’ itinerary that will take them to explore Cozumel, Mexico; Puerto Limon, Costa Rica; the Panama Canal; Colon, Panama; Cartagena, Colombia; and George Town.
MSC Cruises has added Port Tampa Bay to its winter 2020 cruise itineraries too. For the first time, MSC Armonia will sail from the port, providing year-round voyages to breathtaking destinations, including Progreso, Costa Maya and Cozumel in Mexico, as well as Key West in Florida and the brand’s new Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve in The Bahamas.
Port Tampa Bay’s long-time cruise partner Holland America Line will also be returning to homeport in the city after a one-year hiatus. Throughout winter 2020, Veendam will sail 7- and 14-day itineraries to Key West; Samana; San Juan; St. Thomas; St. John; George Town; Willemstad; Oranjestad; Costa Maya; Castries, St Lucia; Banana Coast and Mahogany Bay, Honduras; Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala; Belize City, Belize; Philipsburg, St Maarten; and Basseterre, The Bahamas.
Greg Lovelace is senior director of business development at Port Tampa Bay
This article was first published in the 2019 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
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