Stuart Whitaker is a sports reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times and a general reporter for the Bay News.

Cruise ship season on the horizon, with 83 liners scheduled to pop in for a visit this summer

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The Diamond Princess, left, and Golden Princess berthed in Tauranga Harbour. Photo/File
The Diamond Princess, left, and Golden Princess berthed in Tauranga Harbour. Photo/File

Overnight stays and seven more visits than last summer are features of the 2016-17 cruise ship season.

The first ship is due in port on October 12, with the season running until April 24 next year. There are 83 cruise ship visits scheduled this summer. While there will be more visits than last season, overall passenger numbers look set to be down with 153,000 expected this season compared to 164,300 last.

On five occasions cruise ships will be in port overnight.

''This is the first season we have had overnight ships and so it will be an interesting trial to see what impact this does have,'' said Tourism Bay of Plenty chief executive Kristin Dunne. ''We would love retailers to remain open later on those days and contribute to the overall vibrancy of the ships' visits.''

Little Big Markets will be held at Coronation Park on the dates of each overnight stay.

For the first time there will be an official Visitor Information Centre operating under i-SITE branding - Tauranga Cruise i-SITE - and a new seasonal facility will be constructed in time for the first ship arrival.

''This provides us with an upgraded look and feel, larger service footprint, and addresses a number of health and safety improvements for our team and visitors,'' said Ms Dunne.

''We have 17 sales staff and eight ambassadors working in the Tauranga Cruise i-SITE over the cruise season and we are supported by Lionness volunteers in the community.''

Downtown Tauranga will be providing a bus service from the port to Tauranga CBD again this year and Tourism Bay of Plenty staff have discussed the opportunities cruise ship visitors bring with Mount Mainstreet.

Manager Ingrid Fleming said Mount Mainstreet had decided there would be no late-night opening on the night of the first overnight stay.

''There wasn't a commitment at this stage from the cruise ships with regard to letting us know how we can communicate with the passengers that we are open. Apparently that's a very difficult thing to do,'' said Ms Fleming.

''Clearly it's a very quiet night in town, and there's also a market happening on that night at Coronation Park for cruise ship passengers. (Passengers) often go back to the ships for dinner because it's free and then they have shows on the ship. That's quite a lot of competition for a Monday night here when most places are closed on that night.''

The second overnight visit will be on Saturday, December 10.

''We are going to make a big deal of that Saturday night. I've yet to work out a plan for that night ... but there are lots of ideas and thoughts and that's a work in progress.''

December 22 is also shaping up as a big night, with three cruise ships in port.

''We will be open that night because it's going to be fabulous for Christmas shopping and we'll have all sorts of things happening down the street,'' said Ms Fleming.

She said it was a good opportunity for a family night with the chance to head round to Pilot Bay later in the evening to watch the cruise ships leave.

Kiwiana Gifts and Souvenirs owner Ian New said the cruise ship visitors were vital to his Mount Maunganui business.

''It's our main income and it gets us through the winter,'' he said. ''We have always stayed open later - we normally stay open until about an hour before (the ships) leave.''

2016/17 cruise ship season

Eighty-three cruise ship visits are planned for the upcoming cruise season.

The Sun Princess is the first ship scheduled to arrive in Tauranga this season and is due to dock at 5.15am on October 12.

The ship returns again on October 31, then in November, the ships begin arriving more frequently.

The largest ship due this season is the $1.25 billion mega cruise liner Ovation of the Seas, making its first visit on December 26. It is 347m long and weighs 167,800 tonnes.

Luxury superliner Celebrity Solstice, 317m long and weighing 121.878 tonnes, will also be making a return to Tauranga. The ship will bring about 2800 passengers plus crew each visit.

The Celebrity Solstice will be the first cruise ship to berth overnight in Tauranga on November 21, returning again for another overnight visit on December 10.

On February 5 Ovation of the Seas and Emerald Princess will bring a combined total of about 9500 visitors in one day.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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