Carnival Cruise Line is beginning a large-scale expansion of The Long Beach Cruise Terminal At The Queen Mary which will see more passengers and ships using the facility than ever before. On April 12, 2017 the company held a ceremonial wall-breaking event to mark the start of a construction project that will more than double the size of the cruise terminal inside the Geodesic Dome that once housed Howard Hughes famed “Spruce Goose” Flying Boat. Carnival’s usage will more than double from the current 66,000 square feet to 142,000 square feet. The renovation will make 100 percent of the Dome available for Carnival Cruise Line operations to accommodate larger ships and provide additional space for improved passenger flow.
The Long Beach facility is currently the busiest cruise terminal on the West Coast and the fourth busiest in the United States with 675,000 cruise passengers annually enjoying a voyage from Southern California. According to Carnival’s vice president of strategic and commercial port development, Carlos Torres de Navarra, it is the busiest single terminal in the nation with ships operating five days a week on average and generating nearly 250 individual ship visits.
An ongoing roadblock to expansion in Long Beach has always been that it is presently a one-way terminal. This means that everyone disembarking the ship needs to get off and be cleared by Customs and Immigration, before the first embarking passenger can enter. Early arriving passengers were left waiting outdoors under sheltered awnings but still exposed to the elements, sometimes for extended periods. With the new improvements an expansive waiting area is being added so that arriving guests can come inside the terminal, get checked in, and sit down and relax while waiting to board, while other guests are still coming off the ship. This two-way efficiency will allow nearly 1,000 more passengers to be processed in a much more comfortable way.
Another major element of the project is the expansion of “cold ironing” capacity to handle larger ships. This involves plugging in to the shore-side electrical grid reducing exhaust emissions while the ship is docked. California regulations require ships to utilize shore power and the Port Of Long Beach was a leader in advancing this technology.
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and Mr. Torres de Navarra from Carnival donned goggles and raised sledgehammers symbolically smashing through a wall to begin construction which is slated for completion before January, 2018 when the 113,300 gross ton CARNIVAL SPLENDOR repositions to Long Beach. The normal capacity of the ship based on double-occupancy is 3,006 passengers but that can increase dramatically to 4,914 maximum with all berths filled. The last time this ship was based in Long Beach was between 2009 and early 2013 when it made a repositioning voyage around South America. Now, with the expansion of the new Panama Canal locks it can accomplish the ocean-to-ocean transit in a matter of hours, and complete the relocation from East to West Coast in under 14-days.
Once arrived, the CARNIVAL SPLENDOR will join three fleet mates already based in Long Beach. The 70,367 gross ton “Fantasy Class” sisterships CARNIVAL IMAGINATION (ex IMAGINATION) and CARNIVAL INSPIRATION (ex INSPIRATION) offer four sailings per week on short three and four-day cruises visiting Ensenada, B.C., Mexico and Avalon on Catalina Island on the longer trips. The newer and larger CARNIVAL MIRACLE, built in 2004, and measuring 88,500 gross tons, spends the majority of her time sailing on seven-day cruises to the Mexican Riviera but also provides more diverse itineraries. Among those are 14 and 15-night cruises roundtrip to Hawaii, with a required foreign port call at Ensenada; And this year for the first time in many years the ship will offer a 14-night cruise to Alaska allowing guests to embark and return to Southern California. This September departure reinstates a two week itinerary that once was a staple of cruising with P&O and Princess Cruises in the 1970’s.
Up until recently the majority of the Dome was used only for special events such as the annual CHILL Ice Attraction at the QUEEN MARY during the Christmas holiday. From time to time it was also utilized as a sound stage for motion picture and television productions. As Mayor Garcia correctly pointed out, “This is a space that truly has been underutilized and not really had full operations since the airplane that was in this building left.” As part of their support of homeport communities the Carnival Foundation donated a check for $25,000 to the Mayor’s Fund For Education.
The Long Beach Cruise Terminal At The Queen Mary is the only privately operated cruise terminal in the United States. It was completed in 2003 based on the conception and design of Mr. Giora Israel, a senior vice-president of Carnival Corporation. While built specifically to give a Southern California homeport to Carnival Cruise Line ships, it has also hosted calls by vessels of affiliated companies including Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Cunard Line. Next door, a few yards away the venerable QUEEN MARY watches over the comings and goings of a different generation of passengers and the ships that carry them.
(Updated story to reflect that: CARNIVAL SPLENDOR previously based in Long Beach from 2009 until February 2013, will be returning to the Mexican Riviera in 2018.)
Special thanks to Martin Cox, Peter Knego and Daniel Sacerio
Shawn J. Dake, freelance travel writer and regular contributor to MaritimeMatters, worked in tourism and cruise industry for over 35 years. A native of Southern California, his first job was as a tour guide aboard the Queen Mary. A frequent lecturer on ship-related topics he has appeared on TV programs. Owner of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel agency, he served as President of the local Chapter of Steamship Historical Society of America. With a love of the sea, he is a veteran of 115 cruises.