City set to welcome its largest liner

By John Cousins

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A luxury ocean liner synonymous with elegance and style, the Queen Elizabeth, and the biggest cruise ship to visit Tauranga, the Voyager of the Seas, will be the highlights of a busy cruise ship season that will bring 220,000 people to the Port of Tauranga.

Launched in 2010, the liner makes its first visit to Tauranga on February 21 thanks to an alteration in the ship's schedule after earthquake-shattered Christchurch was taken off the itinerary.

The $634 million Queen Elizabeth evokes the style of its famous predecessors and is the third generation of Cunard Line ships dating back to the late 1930s.

Fares for the 36-day Pearls of Pacific cruise from Los Angeles start at $9300 for an inside cabin and climb to $36,500 for the most luxurious suites.

Another liner making a spectacular debut at the port will be the biggest cruise ship to visit Tauranga, the towering Voyager of the Seas.

The 15-deck liner can accommodate 3114 passengers and 1181 crew, and symbolises a cruise ship season marked by a shift to larger vessels.


 


 


Voyager of the Seas: 138,000 tonnes, 311 metres long, 15 bars, clubs and lounges, 10 pools and whirlpools, 3840 passengers and 1181 crew.

Although the 84 cruise liners scheduled to visit the Port of Tauranga is only two more than the 2011-12 season, confidence in the Australia/New Zealand/South Pacific Island market has driven the switch to bigger ships.

The five-month season beginning on October 29 also marks the return of big-spending Americans and Canadians, many of whom have been holidaying closer to home since the credit crunch pushed the world's economy into recession.

Mount Mainstreet manager Leanne Brown says an estimated 220,000 passengers and crew will visit the Bay, including a 32 per cent increase in passengers from North America.

This is 36,000 more passengers and crew than last season.

Based on the nearly $30 million pumped into the local economy by cruise ship visits in 2011-12, the new season holds the promise of a $35.8 million injection.

Douglas Colaco, the cruises manager for ISS-McKay, said the Australia-New Zealand region was a growing market for cruise ships.

It had seen Royal Caribbean International decide to base the Voyager of the Seas in Sydney - the largest cruise ship to ever call Australia home.

The liner will visit Tauranga on six occasions, starting November 29.

"There is a small increase in the number of ships, but the ones that are coming are much larger," he said.

Last season's regular visitor, the Volendam, has been replaced with the bigger Oosterdam. Another regular caller last season Celebrity Century has been replaced by the 50 per cent larger Celebrity Solstice.

A ship catering for the high end of the German cruise market, Europa, will be a rare six-star luxury visitor to Tauranga.

Another first-time arrival at the port will be Costa Romantica, owned by an Italian cruise ship company that has decided to test the South Pacific market this summer.

The brand new Marina replaces the smaller Regatta, which called four times last season.

The Carnival Spirit will also be a first-time caller to Tauranga - fresh from the Caribbean.

However, the bread and butter of the cruise ship market in New Zealand continues to be the Carnival Line's princess-branded ships, totalling 40 per cent of the 84 arrivals at the Port of Tauranga. The 11 visits by the Dawn Princess will make her the most frequently seen cruise ship at the port.

Ms Brown said cruise ship passengers were important for how much they spent, the profile they gave the Mount when they talked about their trip to friends and family, and the way the vibe and atmosphere of the shopping centre was boosted every time a cruise ship was in port.

She said passengers were generally not big spenders because they had limited room in their cabins and limited luggage. And those on longer cruises tended not to buy something in every port.

"It is fantastic they spend money but the bonus is putting downtown Mount Maunganui on the map.

"A lot of people say they love this place and would love to come back," she said.

Cruise ships will double up at the port on 15 occasions next season, with the busiest weeks occurring in late January and mid to late February.

The Queen Elizabeth II, now a floating hotel, visited Tauranga in 2006.

Tourism Bay of Plenty was holding a cruise ship expo at Baycourt's TECT Arena on September 27 for business operators who benefit from the liners.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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