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Bayonne, NJ Cruise Port

 

BAYONNE, N.J. -- In a little more than a month, Royal Caribbean Cruises will cut the ribbon on its New York cruise terminal -- in New Jersey.

And from the sound of things, the company plans to make its temporary base in Bayonne a permanent outpost for Royal Caribbean International cruises and, possibly some day, sister brand Celebrity Cruises.

"We're still working with what we want to do long-term," said Craig Milan, the president of Royal Celebrity Tours, which also controls RCCL's land operations. But, he added, "our plan is to develop Bayonne."

The company is spending $8 million to transform a warehouse into a temporary cruise facility and to make other improvements to a berth on the northern tip of a former military base where the Hudson River widens to become Upper New York Bay.

On May 9, this stretch of peninsula -- which RCCL is now calling Cape Liberty -- will become the jumping-off point for two of Royal Caribbean International's ships, the Voyager of the Seas and the Empress of the Seas (formerly the Nordic Empress).

"Temporary for us is five years," Milan said. "We hope that five years from now we'll have a more permanent facility."

RCCL gave TravelWeekly.com a behind-the-scenes look at the future terminal site. The tour began inelegantly on a bumpy road cutting through the remnants -- warehouses and chain-link fences -- of the Military Ocean Terminal.

The Royal Caribbean terminal will use two-thirds of a 120,000-square-foot, brick warehouse on the edge of the peninsula. As of last week, the space was an empty cavern, but Juan Trescastro, RCCL's director of guest port services, led a tour and pointed out where the company will install a security area, a row of check-in desks and a lounge for suite passengers.

Shuttle buses will transport passengers from the terminal to the ship, which will be berthed about a half-mile down the road.

A barren spot just to the east of the terminal will become a parking lot for about 900 cars -- RCCL can add more spaces if needed, officials said -- where cruisers can park for $15 per day. Shuttle buses, meanwhile, will run from Newark Liberty Airport, which is about 20 minutes away.

Part of RCCL's plans include creating additional berths so that multiple ships will be able to dock simultaneously in Bayonne; that plan could include bringing Celebrity vessels over to the New Jersey side of the Hudson.

Milan said the company's preference would be for "consolidated operations."

And the company isn't averse to leasing out future berth space to other cruise lines that might want to give Bayonne a try.

So far, no other line has made the leap. Carnival Corp. has pursued a move to Brooklyn, N.Y., and a spokesman for the company said its ports' development team had "scoured the waterfront" in New Jersey for possible alternatives to New York -- and passed on Bayonne -- several years ago.

Officials at the New York City Economic Development Corp. (EDC), meanwhile, are firming up their own plans for New York: Renovating the Manhattan cruise terminal and building in Brooklyn.

EDC executive director Kate Ascher said a cruise berth could be created in Brooklyn "during the cruise season next year." The plan would be to use one berth in Brooklyn while renovations are ongoing in Manhattan and then create up to two additional Brooklyn berths on an as-needed basis.

The Manhattan overhaul will cost about $150 million ($50 million already has been allocated for the project), with about $25 million needed for the first Brooklyn berth.

Ascher said she hopes to have a funding agreement, which would utilize a combination of city funds and fee increases by the cruise lines, in place by next month.

"Many of us here look at how crowded it is on the weekend and wished we started this five years ago," Ascher said.

But, she added, "It really has just been in the last two years that the industry's peaked [in New York]."

Because RCCL is still using the Manhattan facilities for its Celebrity ships, it, too, is participating in the EDC negotiations. But, Ascher said, "we don't expect that it'll be as involved in the planning and design work for the future terminals as the other lines that are making long-term [commitments]."

The shape of RCCL's long-term development in Bayonne largely rests on projects for the site that will be created by the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority (BLRA). The BLRA is charged with developing the entire peninsula, which it took full control of last year.

"We're envisioning some really nice prestige buildings, restaurants, hopefully a hotel," Nancy Kist, the BLRA's executive director, said last week during the site tour. "I think with these [harbor] views, we'll get them."

Although RCCL has a binding letter with the BLRA and has begun developing the terminal in preparation for its May launch, the cruise company has not signed a lease. Kist said attorneys were still wrangling with the details, which should be firmed up "hopefully before the first ship arrives."

Milan said Bayonne's benefits extend into costs, "mostly in the marine side."

He said the line will save on fuel by not having to make the transit up the river to the Manhattan terminal. Milan added that there is a "significant savings" on port fees.

Although RCCL executives declined to detail Bayonne's fee structure, they said it was less than New York's per-guest charge, which they said was $17.50 per passenger.

Milan called New York "one of the most expensive ports in the U.S."