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Jason

Cruise line gives local economy big boost

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Holland America anchors Hampton Roads' budding cruise industry offering trips throughout the year.

In the past two years, Jan and Craig Austin of Virginia Beach have sailed on nearly every cruise line that takes off from Norfolk - one trip was on Celebrity Cruises, one on Radisson Seven Seas and two on Holland America. Carnival Cruise Lines also homeports there.

"We love it, we absolutely love it," said Jan Austin, a retired nurse and self-described cruise enthusiast. "I hope we get more ships here."

With two of Nauticus' four cruise lines preparing to exit the local market, Austin's wish for more cruise ships at Nauticus is just that for now - a wish. Radisson Seven Seas Navigator will run out of Europe next year; Celebrity's Horizon will run out of Brazil, for British-based Island Cruises. More than ever, the presence of Holland America at Nauticus is anchoring the budding cruise industry in the Hampton Roads' region. "They are our signature (cruise line)," Nauticus Executive Director Rich Conti said. "If you were speaking of a building, they'd be like our anchor tenant."

Holland America Line, which offers 500 sailings from 15 North American homeports, began to offer service on its Maasdam ship from Nauticus in 2004. The 1,264-passenger ship offers 10- and 11-day Eastern and Southern Caribbean cruises. Unlike Nauticus' other lines, Holland runs during several seasons, between January and April, and October and December.

"Holland gave us year-round activity," Conti said. "They've blazed new trails. They've come in and basically shown the industry that we are a player. Now, you've got enough product where people are paying attention to you."

In 2004, the number of passengers cruising out of Nauticus rose to 107,000, compared to about 50,000 in 2003 and just 35,000 in 2002. An estimated 18,000 passengers in 2004 sailed on Holland America cruises out of Norfolk. Now that Hampton Roads has planted itself within the nation's $20.5 billion cruise industry, travel is sweeter for cruise enthusiasts like the Austins - they no longer have to fly to Fort Lauderdale and elsewhere to catch a cruise.

Instead, they opt for a 15-minute drive from their house to Nauticus. "We absolutely hate to fly," she said. "This saves us from hassling with luggage and security (at the airport)."

Overall, trip costs for the Austins are much less - Jan Austin estimates at least $300 a piece -because they don't have to tack on airfare. Given Florida's proximity to cruise destinations, the majority of want-to-be cruisers still opt to fly to Fort Lauderdale for a cruise. But the local cruise industry is introducing that vacation option to more travelers, who now can drive to catch a ship, said Skip Eliason, president of Cruise Holidays of Virginia Beach.

"We get a lot of first-time cruisers," Eliason said. "It's just become convenient for them." Eliason's company specializes in cruise sales.

"Normally when we've sold cruises, it was for people who'd have to fly to Florida or New York," said Eliason. "This has opened up a whole new market for our business."

Eliason said his business has increased 20 percent in the last year, primarily due to sailings out of Nauticus. In all, Norfolk's cruise industry could mean a potential economic effect of $12 million for businesses throughout Hampton Roads each year, based on Holland America data.

Simon Douwes, director of deployment and itinerary planning for Holland America, said the cruise line began to eye Norfolk in 2002. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, cruise lines began placing ships close to well-populated areas so they could service those people who were jittery about getting on a plane.

They were eyeing Charleston, too, he said. One of the reasons they came to Norfolk was because it is closer to huge population pockets such as the Washington, D.C., area. "Norfolk was not too far North, so you can still offer a fairly attractive itinerary in the winter," Douwes said.

"We wanted to go somewhere where the product would be unique," said Douwes. "From Philadelphia and Baltimore would have meant an extra day to get into the Caribbean."

Holland continues to sail its newest ships in fiercely competitive markets while putting its older ships such as the 9-year-old Maasdam in quieter markets. "The biggest concern (about Norfolk) always was the winter weather, but so far we have been very lucky with that, and things have worked out," he said.

The city's commitment to building a new $36 million terminal was critical to gaining Holland America. "When people arrive in Fort Lauderdale, it's OK when you are outside, but in Norfolk that is not OK," said Douwes.

Officials hope to complete the terminal by fall 2006. Officials estimate they need 198,000 passengers each year to support the new terminal, although it could take some time to reach those numbers. In the meantime, Douwes said that Holland America is committed to homeporting the Maasdam in Norfolk through at least 2006. Beyond that, "it's hard to say."

"We look at what we think the strength will be in the future," he said. "If the yield becomes disappointing and booking numbers drop, we might move it somewhere else where we think it would be better."

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Holland America anchors Hampton Roads' budding cruise industry offering trips throughout the year.

In the past two years, Jan and Craig Austin of Virginia Beach have sailed on nearly every cruise line that takes off from Norfolk - one trip was on Celebrity Cruises, one on Radisson Seven Seas and two on Holland America. Carnival Cruise Lines also homeports there.

"We love it, we absolutely love it," said Jan Austin, a retired nurse and self-described cruise enthusiast. "I hope we get more ships here."

With two of Nauticus' four cruise lines preparing to exit the local market, Austin's wish for more cruise ships at Nauticus is just that for now - a wish. Radisson Seven Seas Navigator will run out of Europe next year; Celebrity's Horizon will run out of Brazil, for British-based Island Cruises. More than ever, the presence of Holland America at Nauticus is anchoring the budding cruise industry in the Hampton Roads' region. "They are our signature (cruise line)," Nauticus Executive Director Rich Conti said. "If you were speaking of a building, they'd be like our anchor tenant."

Holland America Line, which offers 500 sailings from 15 North American homeports, began to offer service on its Maasdam ship from Nauticus in 2004. The 1,264-passenger ship offers 10- and 11-day Eastern and Southern Caribbean cruises. Unlike Nauticus' other lines, Holland runs during several seasons, between January and April, and October and December.

"Holland gave us year-round activity," Conti said. "They've blazed new trails. They've come in and basically shown the industry that we are a player. Now, you've got enough product where people are paying attention to you."

In 2004, the number of passengers cruising out of Nauticus rose to 107,000, compared to about 50,000 in 2003 and just 35,000 in 2002. An estimated 18,000 passengers in 2004 sailed on Holland America cruises out of Norfolk. Now that Hampton Roads has planted itself within the nation's $20.5 billion cruise industry, travel is sweeter for cruise enthusiasts like the Austins - they no longer have to fly to Fort Lauderdale and elsewhere to catch a cruise.

Instead, they opt for a 15-minute drive from their house to Nauticus. "We absolutely hate to fly," she said. "This saves us from hassling with luggage and security (at the airport)."

Overall, trip costs for the Austins are much less - Jan Austin estimates at least $300 a piece -because they don't have to tack on airfare. Given Florida's proximity to cruise destinations, the majority of want-to-be cruisers still opt to fly to Fort Lauderdale for a cruise. But the local cruise industry is introducing that vacation option to more travelers, who now can drive to catch a ship, said Skip Eliason, president of Cruise Holidays of Virginia Beach.

"We get a lot of first-time cruisers," Eliason said. "It's just become convenient for them." Eliason's company specializes in cruise sales.

"Normally when we've sold cruises, it was for people who'd have to fly to Florida or New York," said Eliason. "This has opened up a whole new market for our business."

Eliason said his business has increased 20 percent in the last year, primarily due to sailings out of Nauticus. In all, Norfolk's cruise industry could mean a potential economic effect of $12 million for businesses throughout Hampton Roads each year, based on Holland America data.

Simon Douwes, director of deployment and itinerary planning for Holland America, said the cruise line began to eye Norfolk in 2002. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, cruise lines began placing ships close to well-populated areas so they could service those people who were jittery about getting on a plane.

They were eyeing Charleston, too, he said. One of the reasons they came to Norfolk was because it is closer to huge population pockets such as the Washington, D.C., area. "Norfolk was not too far North, so you can still offer a fairly attractive itinerary in the winter," Douwes said.

"We wanted to go somewhere where the product would be unique," said Douwes. "From Philadelphia and Baltimore would have meant an extra day to get into the Caribbean."

Holland continues to sail its newest ships in fiercely competitive markets while putting its older ships such as the 9-year-old Maasdam in quieter markets. "The biggest concern (about Norfolk) always was the winter weather, but so far we have been very lucky with that, and things have worked out," he said.

The city's commitment to building a new $36 million terminal was critical to gaining Holland America. "When people arrive in Fort Lauderdale, it's OK when you are outside, but in Norfolk that is not OK," said Douwes.

Officials hope to complete the terminal by fall 2006. Officials estimate they need 198,000 passengers each year to support the new terminal, although it could take some time to reach those numbers. In the meantime, Douwes said that Holland America is committed to homeporting the Maasdam in Norfolk through at least 2006. Beyond that, "it's hard to say."

"We look at what we think the strength will be in the future," he said. "If the yield becomes disappointing and booking numbers drop, we might move it somewhere else where we think it would be better."

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