Uruguay’s cruise revenue, number of cruise passengers and ships all posted historic highs in the 2007/8 season, underlining the country’s ability to satisfy the increasing world appetite for more exotic and higher-end cruise destinations, reported Dr. Ana María Pascale, cruise travel director of Uruguay’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports (Mintur).

During last year's cruise season, which ran from November 2007 to April 2008, 169 cruise ships visited Uruguay, 101 docking at Uruguay’s capital city of Montevideo and 68 visiting the resort city of Punta del Este, representing 27.7 percent growth over the 2006/7 season, said Pascale. Some 180 cruise ships are expected to visit Uruguay during the 2008/9 season, which concludes next month, she added.

Similarly, 260,090 cruise passengers disembarked on Uruguayan shores during the 2007/8 season, compared with 117,272 passengers in the 2006/7 season, while an equal number of cruise passengers are expected to visit Uruguay during the 2008/9 season, Pascale reported.

Several cruise lines have begun sailing again to Montevideo after years of absence, with Mintur’s cruise travel director citing Royal Caribbean and Carnival as examples. The Carnival Splendor, with capacity for 3,000 guests and 1,150 crew members, docked for the first time in Montevideo on February 19.

The depth of Montevideo's port enables it to receive many ships that cannot call at other ports in South America such as Buenos Aires, Pascale said. Among those ships are the Golden Princess and the 345-meter-long Queen Mary 2, which has already stopped in Montevideo four times. Pascale also said that several other cruise ships have made multiple calls at Uruguayan ports, with the Norwegian Crown having visited 11 times, the Costa Romantica eight times and the Rotterdam eight times.

In addition to the large cruise ships docking in Montevideo and Punta del Este, Uruguay is also visited by a growing number of small, exclusive cruises such as the Sea Dream I (formerly Sea Goddess I), which visited not only Uruguay’s two major cruise ports but also Piriapolis, Colonia and Buceo, said Pascale.

The Mintur official said that Uruguay’s unique shore excursions are very appealing to a class of cruisers seeking more cultural or higher-end experiences than those offered by other destinations. Cruise passengers disembarking in Montevideo and Punta del Este often opt for tours of vineyards and horseback riding excursions instead of the more typical city tours or visits to the beach, she explained.

Many cultural attractions, among them the newly-inaugurated Museo del Carnaval (Carnival Museum), the Museo del Gaucho y de la Moneda (Gaucho and Coin Museum), the Etchegaray House (a three-story Fench-style mansion), the historical old town, the Mercado de los Artesanos (Handicraft Market) and the Mercado del Puerto (Port Market), offering a variety of options in dining, shopping and entertainment all under one roof, are located within walking distance of the Montevideo cruise port landing, Pascale said.

Montevideo's new international airport, the increased number of flights to the city and the availability of hotel rooms during the high season (when many people vacation in Punta del Este) will enable it to soon become the first or final destination for cruise passengers, she added.

Meanwhile, in December Punta del Este simultaneously received a record four cruise vessels carrying 8,000 passengers: Royal Caribbean’s Splendour of the Seas, the Costa Mediterranea, Crystal’s Symphony and the Costa Romantica.

Dubbed the Pearl of the Atlantic, the glamorous resort city of Punta del Este attracts celebrities and jetsetters from all over the globe. Colombian singer Shakira has a home there, as does Simon Crowell from the popular television program American Idol, and such personalities as Madonna and Leonardo DiCaprio have vacationed there, Pascale said.

The Mintur official explained that Punta del Este is popular because it has different kinds of beaches: rough oceanic beaches to the north that are great for surfing, and calm beaches to the south that are perfect for families. It also offers river beaches. She said day boat excursions passing near the Isla de Lobos near Punta del Este, one of the largest breeding places for seals in South America as well as one of the largest natural reserves for sea lions in the world, are another popular excursion option.

Uruguay’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports (Mintur for its acronym in Spanish) is the government authority responsible for promoting the country’s tourism destinations, attractions and service providers nationally and abroad. Mintur works in partnership with Uruguay’s travel industry representatives, such as hotels, airlines, cruise lines and tour operators.