By the year 2000, the port of San Juan expects over two million cruise passengers annually to pass through its ports - nearly three times as many as in 1988. By 1992, over $60 million will have been spent on the renovation and modernization of its waterfront, including a new $20 million passenger terminal at Pier 4.
Currently port consultants Louis Berger and Associates, Metcalf and Eddy (environmental engineers), and the Louisiana State University are working on a master plan for the continued development of the Port of San Juan. This $225,000 study is expected to be completed by the end of the year and will focus on the proposed development through year 2000. According to a spokesperson for the port, all these new plans and projects are designed to keep ahead of the growth of passenger and cruise ship movement.
Cruise passenger fluctuations in the earlier half of the decade belie the dramatic increase in the number of cruise passenger since 1985. Due in part to the pro-tourism policies implemented by Puerto Rico in 1984, which then invested $35 million in a new passenger ship terminal and tourism esplanade, San Juan has experienced nearly a 73 percent increase in cruise passengers over the last four years.
In addition to the $20 million terminal, an estimated $8.6 million is slated for remodeling the passenger terminal building at Piers 1 & 3, plus an additional $1 million for development of a cargo pier for cruise passengers. Included in all these projects, which are funded solely by the port authority, are plans for portside office buildings, retail shops, cafes, residential units and possibly a hotel. Other piers are being modernized at a cost of $33 million.
San Juan is the most important homeport in the Caribbean, as well as the third most popular cruise destination in the region - preceded only by the Bahamas and the U.S. Virgin Islands in passenger counts. In 1988 San Juan saw a record number 766,555 cruise passengers - a 15 percent increase over 1987 - counting those using San Juan for embarkation/disembarkation and those visiting the port.
With new larger ships entering service from Southern Florida and with the addition of three new ships homeporting in San Juan by January 1990, and one more by fall of that year, passenger counts are expected to exceed the one million mark by 1991.
Each new ship will offer seven-day itineraries from San Juan: the 728-passenger Skyward of Norwegian Cruise Line launched its program last April; Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's 728-passenger Sun Viking follows in August; and Carnival Cruise Lines Tropicale will be repositioned from Los Angeles next January carrying 1,022-passengers. This will be the second vessel operating out of San Juan for each of these cruise lines. NCL's Starward was launched from San Juan in 1987; RCCL's Song of Norway was placed there last year, and Carnival's Festivale has been cruising from San Juan for two years. By fall 1990, San Juan will also be the permanent winter homeport for Chandris Celebrity Cruises' 1,360-passenger Horizon. With the addition of the new ship, Chandris will become the largest operator out of San Juan, boarding approximately 3,000 passengers per week. Chandris Fantasy Cruises currently operates the Azur, Amerikanis, and the Victoria from the port.
But with all these additional ships, will problems lay ahead?
Jose Oller, Jr. General Manager of the Caribe Shipping Company and president of the Puerto Rico Shipping Association is concerned that problems already exist.
According to Oller, whose company represents Cunard Line, the new cruise ships homeporting are being brought in at the expense of older ships. "Companies which have been here for years have to adapt to the new guys and it's not fair to them," said Oller. For example, Cunard's Cunard Countess, which has been homeported there since 1976, now has to rotate from its pier a few times a year in order for one of the new ships to call. According to Oller, the Countess, as well as other ships will have to rotate to a cargo pier which is being renovated for cruise passengers-and this may go on for years. Other concerns Oller voiced was the weekend congestion of cruise ships, transportation problems and scarcity of hotel accommodations during the peak winter season. Although delighted with the new port projects, Oller feels the government will have to address the current infrastructure of San Juan soon, and implement necessary changes in order to accommodate the increasing flow of cruise lines requesting homeporting in San Juan.
Official statistics show that last year's record number of cruise passengers poured $38 million into Puerto Rico's economy. By 2000, that number is expected to be almost $94 million. And, according to a spokesperson for the port, it is not planning to restrict ship calls and in fact plan on homeporting more ships.