Caribbean Port Sees Five Inaugural Ship Calls in One Month

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Port St. Maarten is a popular destination for Eastern Caribbean sailings, a fact that is highlighted by the five different ships from five different cruise lines that have made inaugural calls to the tropical island in just the past month. With such great interest in Port St. Maarten, the destination is looking forward to continued growth throughout 2023.

Five New Ships Visit St. Maarten

Five cruise ships have made their very first visits to Port St. Maarten since early December, bringing more guests to this richly historic and culturally diverse destination.

On December 6, Azamara Onward called on the port, followed quickly by Carnival Cruise Line’s new flagship, Carnival Celebration, on December 8. On December 19, Viking Neptune enjoyed a successful visit, and in the new year, AIDAbella and Celebrity Apex both celebrated their first visits, on January 2 and January 3, respectively.

St. Maarten Ceremony
Photo Courtesy: Port St. Maarten

“The 2022-2023 cruise season is progressing very well. We are very pleased with the additional new vessels that have made inaugural calls so far for the season,” said Alexander Gumbs, Port St. Maarten Group chief executive officer. “We are moving forward with confidence as we continue to grow our cruise business.”

Combined, the five ships brought more than 13,000 guests to the port, and represent five cruise lines’ interest in the destination.

Azamara Onward is an R-class vessel, first entered into service in 1999, and was renovated as part of the luxury line Azamara Cruises in 2022.

Carnival Celebration is the newest ship in the Carnival fleet having been christened in November 2022. Sister ship to Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration is fueled by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and is one of the largest cruise ships in the world, weighing in at 183,521 gross tons and hosting 5,374 guests at double occupancy, and up to 6,631 guests when fully booked.

Carnival Celebration Cruise Ship
Photo Credit: Jouni Niskakoski / Shutterstock

Viking Neptune is part of Viking Cruises’ ocean fleet, all sister ships designed to offer guests more intimate experiences with visits to more diverse destinations. Viking Neptune debuted in 2022 and was officially named on January 10, 2023, less than a month after her inaugural call to St. Maarten.

AIDAbella is the oldest of the recent ships to have made an inaugural call to the port, having entered service in 2008. The Sphinx-class ship is currently homeported from Hamburg, Germany, and made the call to St. Maarten as part of an extensive 43-night holiday sailing that includes ports of call in England, Spain, the Canary Islands, and throughout the Eastern Caribbean. The cruise will conclude back in Hamburg on January 20.

Celebrity Apex is an innovative Edge-class ship, the second in that class, and joined Celebrity Cruises in 2020, having the distinction of the first “virtual delivery” of a cruise ship due to pandemic restrictions when the ship was handed over to the cruise line, just days after the industry lockdown began in March. The ship finally began her maiden season in Europe in June 2021, and is currently homeported from Fort Lauderdale.

What Is an Inaugural Call?

A ship’s inaugural call to a port – the very first time a specific vessel visits – is a special occasion, no matter how old the ship may be, what itinerary she is sailing, or how many ports she has visited previously.

When a ship first visits a port, a small ceremony is typically held, including official greetings from port officials and local authorities to the captain and crew of the vessel. Depending on the importance of the visit – whether it is a cruise ship’s first ever port of call on an inaugural sailing, for example – the event might include additional dignitaries, music, and media coverage.

Cruise ships are usually presented with a plaque or other item to commemorate the occasion, noting the date, the ship’s name, the port, and perhaps other details of the call. Many ports use special designs that symbolize their own unique characteristics, such as official emblems, national symbols, or phrases of goodwill.

These plaques are often displayed aboard the ship, and can be a fun piece of memorabilia for guests to find and read whenever and wherever they sail, as the collection of plaques represent a history of where the vessel has visited.

Cruising to St. Maarten

In addition to Azamara Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Viking Cruises, AIDA Cruises, and Celebrity Cruises, a variety of other lines have planned visits to St. Maarten in the coming months.

Tui Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, Princess Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Costa Cruises, Windstar Cruises, Holland America Line, P&O Cruises, MSC Cruises, and other lines all have itineraries that include St. Maarten.

This gives cruise travelers a great variety of voyages to choose from, including smaller, more intimate ships visiting more exotic ports to major cruise lines stopping at highlight destinations throughout the Caribbean.

Cruises are available to St. Maarten throughout the year, though the port is more popular and busiest in the winter months, as well as early spring and late fall, when the weather is mildest and all tropical destinations are in high demand.

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