Having represented cases from Miami for over four decades, our cruise lawyers know that Florida is the country’s number one cruise ship departure destination. Although Miami is the main port (most cruise lines are based in Miami and most require passengers to file lawsuits against them exclusively in Miami), there are other cities in the state that also rely heavily on the cruise industry. The industry can be a great source of revenue and one Sunshine State city is trying to get a piece of the cruise ship action – Pensacola.
Around 3.5 million tourists visit Pensacola each year, mostly by car or plane, but the city can also be accessed by the sea. Although there aren’t many ships sailing into Pensacola Bay, the numbers are starting to grow, leading city officials to wonder if Pensacola will be the next big cruise ship destination.
Just this past Saturday, the 243-foot-long Yorktown sailed into Pensacola Bay with 140 passengers, docking at Plaza de Luna’s east side Berth 14. Operated by Sunstone Tours and Cruise, the Yorktown is the first of several small cruise ships that have included Pensacola on their 2012 and 2013 itineraries. Excited about the call, local officials worked hard to make sure passengers were left with a great first impression of the city and all its charms in order to promote future visits.
“It’s a part of our tourism industry that’s still in its infancy, but we really want to develop it,” said Ryan Winterberg-Lipp, director of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
Sunstone representatives contacted Winterberg-Lipp in the fall of 2011 to discuss including Pensacola on its December 2012 cruise itinerary, which also includes New Orleans, Mobile, Natchez and Vicksburg, Miss. The logistics of the visit was handled by local tourism company Sunshine Express Tours, whose spokeswoman, Sharon Miller, noted that travelers will have several options to tour the city and Naval Air Station. According to Miller, “It seems the clients of Sunstone are more interested in educational type tours.”
Sunshine chartered three buses operated by Pensacola-based Good Time Tours and hired local tour guide Lucy Rentz to teach cruise passengers about the history of the town. Then after lunch, passengers had the choice of two afternoon tours: one to NAS and the National Museum of Naval Aviation or an environmental tour of Project Greenshores along Bayfront Parkway.
While this was the first of the Yorktown’s visit, it certainly won’t be its last. More calls to Pensacola have been scheduled for next spring. And in May, the 184-foot MV Grand Caribe will make its debut in Pensacola for an overnight stay on its way to Panama City and Tampa. Local officials hope that this will be the first of many more small cruise ship visits to Pensacola.
“This is a great business, a repeat business and we’re all very tickled about the prospects,” said Rentz. “We have to do a good job for them.”
PHOTO CREDIT: greatbaycapital.com