The Puerto Rico Ports Authority is expecting a robust winter season, as the cruise industry’s Caribbean operations shift into high gear between November 2023 and April 2024. The season will officially kick off on December 10, 2023, with the arrival of Disney Cruise Line’s 4,000-guest Disney Dream.
San Juan to Welcome 264 Ship Visits in High Season
Officials from the Puerto Rico Ports Authority and the Puerto Rico Tourism Company are confident the island destination will experience a promising high season, with ships from 19 cruise lines scheduled to call at San Juan.
Among them are vessels operated by Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Royal Caribbean, Virgin Voyages, Ritz-Carlton, and MSC Cruises, among others.
About 10 ships will make their inaugural calls to the destination, while 15 will provide homeport operations. In all, 264 cruise ship visits are slated at the San Juan cruise terminals.
“At the Ports Authority we have prepared so that this high season of cruises is a very productive one for that industry as well as for the Authority itself,” said Pizá Batiz, executive director of the Puerto Rico Ports Authority.
Infrastructure improvements were announced in 2022, after Global Ports Holding (GPH) signed a 30-year management agreement with the San Juan Cruise Port that included plans to invest $100 million (US) investment in repairs and upgrades to Piers 1 and 4, and the Pan American Pier. The port also received $75 million (US) in upfront concession fees from GPH.
“To this end, we have worked to satisfy the infrastructure needs and optimize the service to cruise lines at our docks as part of the tourism development strategy under the governor’s public policy,” added Pizá Batiz.
Pizá Batiz pointed to several completed upgrade projects, such as fixes to docks, road resurfacing, and transfer programs for cruise guests arriving at the island’s Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport.
While Disney Dream will officially launch the lucrative winter season in early December 2023, several ships are slated to call at San Juan in November 2023, including TUI Cruises’ Mein Schiff 6, Explora Journeys’ Explora I, Oceania Cruises’ Vista, and Silversea Cruises’ Silver Nova.
Ships scheduled to call in December include Emerald Cruises’ Emerald Sakara, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Prima, Virgin Voyages’ Brilliant Lady, and Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Ascent, a new ship just delivered to the cruise line earlier this week.
Tourism Officials Upbeat About Island’s Recovery
Like other destinations, Puerto Rico’s cruise arrivals plummeted during the pandemic, but the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, a government agency charged with promoting tourism, is actively working with cruise lines to bring more ships to the island destination.
“We are very excited and optimistic about the sustained recovery of the cruise industry on the Island and the projections for the high season that will begin in the coming days, as this is a reflection of the confidence in Puerto Rico as an attractive and first-class destination in the Caribbean region,” said Carlos Mercado, executive director of Puerto Rico Tourism Company.
“At the Tourism Company, we focus on collaborating closely with the cruise lines in order to promote the arrival [of more vessels to] our ports, which is testament to our continued commitment to the growth of this important industry and its positive impact on tourism and the local economy,” Mercado added.
In 2022, the port suffered a considerable loss in arrivals totals when Carnival Cruise Line cancelled 21 port calls to San Juan by Mardi Gras, a mega-ship with a guest capacity of 6,500. The cancelled calls affected Eastern Caribbean sailings between December 2022 and April 2024. The port was replaced with Nassau, Bahamas.
The cruise line did not reveal a reason for dropping the port, but port authority officials later attributed the change to the line’s intention to save on fuel, since Mardi Gras homeports at Port Canaveral, Florida, and Nassau is a much closer port call.