With Royal Caribbean International's recent announcement of Project Genesis - which in 2009 will deliver a 220,000-ton, 5,400-passenger cruise ship that stands to be some 50 percent larger than the Freedom of the Seas - an even larger question looms: will Caribbean islands be able to accommodate the giant ship?
In Jamaica, at least, the answer is yes, said William Tatham, vice president of cruise shipping and marina operations at the Port Authority Of Jamaica. "We will have the infrastructure to carry the Genesis," he said, noting that Jamaica will also welcome the Freedom of the Seas beginning in June. "We're going to begin an expansion of our facilities in Montego Bay before the end of the year and initially that expansion was to be able to receive two Freedom class ships. We know that we will be able to receive bigger ships than that."
"We need to look into the future as far as we can," Tatham said. " I mean, when 80,000-ton ships came out, we all said, ok that's it. But there seems to be no limit."
According to Tatham, meetings with the cruise lines as well as ship architects are critical in order to determine what the islands need to do to prepare far enough in advance. "The Project Genesis is aheady at 220,000 tons," he said. "Will we soon be looking at a 500,000-ton vessel?"
It's a sentiment that's echoed by Aruba, which will also welcome the Freedom of the Seas. "For this (Project Genesis), we'd have to do something," said Kathleen Rojer, director of Aruba Cruises Tourism. "How many destinations will the ship be able to go to with this size?"
Royal Caribbean's progression has been as such: Voyager-class ships can hold 3,100 passengers, while the Freedom-class will hold around 3,600. Project Genesis represents a huge jump - around 50 percent - to 5,400 passengers. Including crew, the 2009 vessel will be able to accommodate some 8,000 people.
Huge Ship, Huge Impact
Larry Levis, a partner with the architectural firm Bea international, said that some islands in the Caribbean will naturally be more ready than others to accommodate the new ship size and its passengers. " I do feel for those islands that will have to do some dredging," Levis said. "This vessel will be deeper in draft and trigger the need for that in some places. The ship will also present environmental issues for places that have sensitive ecosystems or narrow channels."
Then there's the logistical problem of getting the passengers ashore. "And the landside impact will also be huge. It will be interesting to see what will happen to some road systems with that many people ashore. So there are a lot of factors that the islands will have to contend with, and the smallest islands will feel the impact the most," Levis said.
A Tiered Industry?
What may happen as a result of the ever-bigger ships is that the Caribbean might have to develop into something of a "tiered industry," Levis said. "Ship deployment might be geared toward sending certain ships exclusively to certain places depending on what the destinations can handle, instead of everyone scrambling to get their ports and facilities ready to handle each new ship size that's introduced."
Said Jamaica's Tatham: "We don't see a shoreside issue because it's easy for us to add tours and buses. We can absorb the extra people. It's a quantum leap to Project Genesis, but as Royal Caribbean has told us, the Voyager class has been so successful that this is a natural progression for the line."
But what about tiny Grenada? Danny Donelan, cruise and yachting development officer for the Grenada Board OF Tourism, is happy about the announcement - and while the island is small in comparison to Jamaica - Donelan is relatively sure that by 2009 Grenada would be able to welcome the bigger ship.
"We already have the facilities to hold that kind of capacity on the island, and we already get several ships in a day that bring more than 8,000 people," Donelan said. "It just will boil down to creative scheduling for us...just possibly not bringing the ship here on days where we already have three other large ships. By the time the ship comes out, we think we'll be ready."
But it shouldn't boil down to racing against the clock to be ready, at least according to Levis. "It shouldn't be seen as a competition," he said. "It's not going to be a one-size-fits-all scenario in the Caribbean as the industry continues to grow,"