Cruise ports around the region

CocoCay, a privately leased island for cruise tourism

Across the Caribbean the cruise industry is driving infrastructure projects to accommodate larger ships. Cayman Compass reporter Kayla Young looked at some of the major developments across the region.

Cruise ship at port in Labadee, Haiti

Labadee, Haiti

Located on Haiti’s northern coast, Labadee is a private resort town, leased to Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises until 2050. The 260-acre site is fenced off and tourists are not allowed to leave the area. Only permitted Haitian merchants and established businesses sell goods in the tourist zone.

A cruise pier capable of servicing Oasis-class ships – the largest class currently on the market – was completed in 2009 through a US$55 million injection by Royal Caribbean.

The destination has experienced disruptions over the years due to political instability. In 2004, Royal Caribbean temporarily suspended service following a coup d’état. In 2016, Royal Caribbean was blocked from the port by Haitians protesting in boats.

In French, the town is written Labadie, but is called Labadee by cruise lines to make the name easier to pronounce for English-speaking tourists.

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In 2013, 643,600 cruise passengers arrived to Labadee. Royal Caribbean pays the Haitian government $12 per tourist.

CocoCay, a privately leased island for cruise tourism

CocoCay, Bahamas

Less than a mile wide, CocoCay in the northern Bahamas is leased exclusively for cruise ship tourism by Royal Caribbean. The island once known as Little Stirrup Cay has been rebranded by Royal Caribbean as “Perfect Day at CocoCay”.

The 125-acre site has been completely overhauled by the cruise line to create an immersive tourist village, including a waterpark, a 1,600-foot-long zipline course, bars and restaurants, boat tours and an array of other amenities.

In March 2018, Royal Caribbean announced plans to overhaul the site, dedicating US$250 million to install the region’s largest freshwater pool, water slides, a wave pool, private cabanas and a cruise pier capable of receiving Oasis-class ships.

The first ship to visit CocoCay was Navigator of the Seas in May 2019.

For the 2020 season, Royal Caribbean estimated that the island will be visited by over 2 million passengers.

Cruise and cargo port in Bridgetown, Barbados


The Port of Bridgetown experiences high traffic, with cruise lines and container ships competing for space. In 2018, the port received 810,000 cruise ship passengers and 1.24 million tonnes of cargo.

To accommodate larger cruise ships, the Bridgetown port was dredged from 31.5 feet to 38 feet in 2002. Not long after the dredging, however, Barbados began to debate if construction of another cruise terminal would be necessary, to separate tourism from cargo arrivals. Despite recent upgrades, the port also lacks the infrastructure to receive the largest cruise ships, like the Oasis class.

In 2012, government announced plans to build a separate cruise terminal, Sugar Point, but the project has not come to fruition. The development has been delayed by financing issues and legal disputes. While passenger arrivals to Barbados have grown, average passenger spending has decreased. Between 2005 and 2015, per passenger spending decreased 30% from US$111.82 to US$78.03.

Chairman of the Barbados Port Inc., Senator Lisa Cummins, has said the country aims to receive 2 million annual cruise passengers by 2030.

Falmouth – Jamaica’s newest cruise destination

Falmouth, Jamaica

When the long-awaited Falmouth cruise port opened for business in March 2011, the first ship to make a call at the port was Oasis of the Seas, among the largest cruise ships in the world.

Falmouth soon eclipsed Ocho Rios for the largest number of cruise passenger arrivals in Jamaica and the largest cruise ships, including Harmony of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas, turned to Falmouth as the preferred port of call.

The port attracted 744,671 or 40% of Jamaica’s 1.8 million cruise passengers in 2018. Those number, however, represent an 11.9% decrease in passenger arrivals in Falmouth from 2017 and a 4% drop for Jamaica. By contrast, arrivals to Ocho Rios grew by 7.9% in 2018, reaching 586,715.

The US$180 million Falmouth project, located between Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, was a joint initiative between the Port Authority of Jamaica and Royal Caribbean.

Ship in port in St. Maarten

Sint Maarten

Despite the devastation of category 5 Hurricane Irma in September 2017, Sint Maarten enjoyed the second highest per passenger spending in the 2017-18 cruise year at $142.23 per passenger, according to the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association. A little over a year after Irma, the Dutch jurisdiction’s cruise industry had recovered to the extent that in 2018, more than 1 million cruise passengers had visited the island by October of that year.

Carnival Cruise Lines newest Vista ship, Carnival Horizon, made its inaugural trip to Philpsburg Harbour in Sint Maarten in October 2018. The Carnival Horizon carries 5,000 passengers and 1,470 crew.

Now, Port St. Maarten is expected to expand its berthing space to accommodate more cruise ship arrivals. While Royal Caribbean indicated that it aims to increase arrivals to Sint Maarten in the long term, the company said it will send fewer ships to the island in 2020.

A cruise ship in the background in Havana, Cuba


Like the rest of Cuba’s travel industry, the cruise sector has been subject to regulatory ups and downs, provoked by multinational politics. Following an easing of travel restrictions by the Obama administration in 2016, cruise ships from the United States returned to Cuba for the first time in 50 years.

The opening brought an immediate boom to Cuba’s cruise sector. A reported 800,000 cruise passengers travelled to Cuba in 2018, compared to 541,000 in 2016, the year travel restrictions were lifted.

The burgeoning market was short-lived, however. In June, the Trump administration stepped back on the Obama-era policy and banned passenger and recreational vessels from travelling to Cuba. The announcement prompted anger and confusion among travellers, and forced cruise lines to shuffle itineraries, even for ships already in the water. The Cruise Lines International Association indicated that the new regulations affected nearly 800,000 bookings.

Cruise lines have also faced litigation under the US Helms-Burton Act for their travel to Cuba. The provision, passed in 1996 and put into force this year, penalises foreign companies for “trafficking” in properties seized by the Cuban government. Carnival Cruise, accused of profiting off the Santiago de Cuba port, was the first company to be sued under the act.

Cozumel cruise tourists


Off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Cozumel hosts the region’s most popular cruise terminal. More than 4 million cruise passengers arrived at the island in 2018 and out of 36 destinations surveyed by the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, guests indicated they were most satisfied by their visit to Cozumel.

But when the Cozumel cruise port was undergoing planning in the 1990s, it faced familiar pushback. Environmental advocates protested damage to Paradise Reef, popularised in a documentary by underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau, and divers took to the water to capture footage of coral habitat put at risk by the project.

Now, the Cozumel International Cruise Terminal is expected to undergo another expansion project to accommodate growth in passenger arrivals. Expansion of the 400-metre pier would allow berthing of up to three cruise ships at a time. The project is estimated to cost 56.6 million pesos (US$2.9 million).

In a public vote in 2016, plans to build a fourth cruise dock in Cozumel were rejected by local residents.

Artist rendering of Belize cruise port at Stake Bay


Stake Bank, a largely manmade cay and mangrove habitat off the coast of Belize, is slated to host the nation’s first cruise ship docking facility and a Mayan-themed water park. Developers with the Belizean Feinstein Group plan to connect the bank by road to the nearby North Drowned Caye, where another two-mile roadway is expected to connect to Belize City on the mainland. Otherwise, passengers would take tender boats from the bank to North Drowned Caye or the mainland.

Officials broke on the ground long-delayed project in February, setting a two-year timeline for completion of the 25-acre facility at Stake Bank.

The deep-water cruise port will be able to receive voyager-class cruise ships. These ships carry more than 3,000 passengers but are smaller than the Oasis-class ships with a carrying capacity of more than 5,000 passengers. Two piers should be able to receive four ships at a time.

Developer Michael Feinstein has estimated the project will cost US$82 million by the time of its completion.

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