The Chesapeake Bay’s two biggest cruise ports are anticipatin some of their busiest seasons yet in 2022, nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic.
Royal Caribbean’s sold out Enchantment of the Seas departs Baltimore on Dec. 23 for first time in about 20 months, replacing the Grandeur of the Seas. The Enchantment joins the Carnival Legend sailing out of Baltimore. Royal Caribbean traded up to a newer, larger-capacity ship, with the Enchantment accommodating 2,730 passengers.
While the Port of Baltimore now has the ability to send more passengers on cruises, estimating how many people will sail in 2022 is uncertain. Will ships continue to sail at reduced capacity? Will they be successful with an environment that is relatively free of COVID-19 cases among passengers and crew? This week, at least 17 positive COVID cases are confirmed on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship that recently docked in New Orleans. The Louisiana Department of Health noted additionally that one of the infected people, a crew member, was a probable case of the Omicron variant. The ship had made stops in Belize, Honduras and Mexico.
However, the Maryland Port Administration is upbeat about the coming year. Says Executive Director William P. Doyle, “We have had a very successful return to cruising with Carnival from Sept. 12 to present. We are also excited to welcome Royal Caribbean back to Baltimore in December. We are always on the lookout for new cruise business—so don’t be surprised if we land a new cruise line service!”
Doyle touts the Baltimore port’s location as its number one selling point. “We are located right off I-95, which passengers love … In addition to many passengers coming from Maryland, they also come from all our neighboring states, other mid-Atlantic and Midwest states. It’s a very easy drive since I-95 connects to all the major highways in the country. “
The Port of Baltimore’s cruise industry supports more than 500 jobs and (when at capacity) brings in about $1,000,000 to Maryland’s economy with each cruise. That includes port fees, fuel, parking, hotel stays, restaurant meals, souvenir purchases, and other cruise-related incidentals. In 2019, pre-pandemic, cruise ships carried 224,900 passengers, making Baltimore the sixth busiest cruise port on the East Coast and 11th in the United States. Other ships, including the American Cruise Lines’ Constitution, calls at Baltimore in the spring and fall/winter, berthing at Pier 4 or Pier 5, and also
contributes to the city’s coffers.
At the mouth of the Bay, Virginia is similarly optimistic about cruising in 2022. The recent construction of a new cruise ship gangway at Norfolk, Virginia’s Decker Half Moone Center cruise terminal has allowed the signing of a five-year agreement with Carnival for their ship, Magic, to sail from there starting in 2022. They’ll also see 25 Norwegian Cruise Line departures. Stephen E. Kirkland, Nauticus’ executive director, anticipates 180,000 passengers in the first year, making it one of the port’s busiest years. Some of these passengers might otherwise sail from Baltimore.
Carnival, which sails out of both ports, serves hundreds of thousands of vacationers along the Atlantic coast.
“We’re thrilled to be back in Baltimore, providing our guests with the relaxing vacation they’ve been so patiently waiting for and also supporting the local economy and offering our crew members an opportunity to support their families back home,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line.