Cruise-Ship Market, Options on the Rise

May 20, 2005

WITH cruise-ship traffic to theCaribbean port city of Limón and the centralPacific ports of Puntarenas andCaldera continuing its steady rise, andnon-traditional ports opening up to luxuryliners as well, an unprecedented array ofoptions has cropped up for visitors andresidents alike who want an ocean-sideview of Costa Rica’s natural wonders.IN 2004, cruise ships visiting CostaRica carried 318,103 people and broughtin $31.7 million in revenue, according tothe Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT).“The market is growing,” RolandoCampos of Swiss Travel, which organizesday trips for passengers from theWindstar, Royal Caribbean, Princess andHolland America cruise lines, told TheTico Times in an e-mail. “The growth ofthe cruise industry on a global level hasenabled the development of new ports,such as San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, oralternative points like (Costa Rica’s)Playas del Coco, Quepos and theSouthern Zone, without neglecting portslike Limón and Puntarenas that for manyyears have permitted the development ofthe industry.”He said that not only cruise-ship portsbut also day-trip offerings have becomemore diverse as the industry has grown.When passengers step onto Costa Ricansoil, they can choose between educationaltours or adventure, seaside sights or journeysto the interior.WHILE this year’s October-to-Mayseason is coming to a close, the time isripe to make reservations for 2005-2006.Limón, the cruise-ship hub of theCaribbean coast, is the destination of mostof the largest lines, including PrincessCruises, Royal Caribbean and Carnival,whose ships visit Puerto Limón once aweek from October to April.Meanwhile, two Carnival cruises peryear dock at Caldera, on Costa Rica’sPacific coast, en route to the PanamaCanal. The company plans to maintain its2004-2005 level of traffic for the upcomingseason, but has no plans to expand toNicaragua, according to Glen Leandro ofTour Hokeanos, Carnival’s representativein Costa Rica. For more information, callTour Hokeanos at 255-3198 or visitwww.carnival.com.PRINCESS Cruises visits Limón onits 10-day roundtrips from Fort Lauderdale,circling the Cayman Islands andmaking stops in Cozumel, Mexico, andPanama. It only docks in Limón for 12hours, but a boggling array of day trips areavailable from $30-209 per person: from adrive through Limón and the surroundingarea, a pontoon boat trip in the ColónCaribe Estuary or a Rainforest Aerial Tramor Skywalk adventure, to inland sights such as Irazú Volcano, San José or theBasílica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángelesin Cartago, northwest of the capital.For information, visit www.princess.com.Royal Caribbean stops in Limón onits way back from destinations such asHispaniola, Aruba and Panama(www.royalcaribbean.com).A less heavily trafficked Caribbeanoption is Puerto Moín, visited bySeabourn Cruise Ships on its 14-day tripsbetween Belize and Panama. This and agrowing number of other Panama Canaltrips allow tourists to visit both of CostaRica’s famed coasts without ever becomingacquainted with the equally famous,less-than-fabulous roadways. While itinerariesvary – find more information atwww.seabourn.com – a typical itinerarymight start in Fort Lauderdale, Florida,and visit Belize City; Roatán, Honduras;Puerto Moín; the Panama Canal; Queposand Caldera on Costa Rica’s Pacificcoasts; and San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.Inland trips from San Juan del Sur includecolonial Granada and Masaya Volcano.OTHER Pacific ports of call, besidesQuepos, Caldera, traditional cruise-shipfavorite Puntarenas and San Juan del Sur,include Golfito in the Southern Zone,Playa Herradura on the central Pacificcoast, and Playas del Coco in the north westernprovince of Guanacaste.Smaller Pacific ports of call are alsohome to cruises that make convenient getawaysfor Costa Rican residents as well asforeign tourists. One casual cruise experiencevisiting some of these ports isWindjammer Barefoot Cruises, which featuresa casual on-board atmosphere anditineraries including “Las Perlas andCosta Rica,” a six-night, seven-day tripbetween the Los Sueños resort at PlayaHerradura and Balboa, Panama. The shipvisits Quepos/Manuel Antonio on the centralPacific coast, Golfito in the SouthernZone, and the Panamanian islands of LasSecas, Isla Coiba and Las Perlas.The trips alternate in direction betweenCosta Rica and Panama each week,and run June 4 to Oct. 15. For information,visit www.windjammer.com.Another option for those interested insmaller ships is Lindblad Cruises, withpre- or post-cruise land extensions availablethrough Horizontes Nature Tours.Because Lindblad’s ships hold fewer than70 passengers, they don’t need a dock,instead unloading passengers in zodiacs –hard-bottomed inflatable rafts – to givethem access to spots other tourists mightmiss (itins.expeditions.com).WINDSTAR Cruises thrilled businessowners in Playas del Coco when it adjustedits ships’ itineraries to include the townthis past February and March. Its seven-daytrip from San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua,to Tortuga Island will resume againDec. 3-27. This cruise is among the moreconvenient for Costa Rican residents,since many other lines have the U.S. stateof Florida as their departure point.Playas del Coco residents learned thehard way what those in other cruise-shipports of call have learned in the past:while a ship’s arrival certainly offers aboost to the local economy, passengerswho disembark are much more likely tobe swept away on a pre-planned packagetour than they are to wander through thestreets of the town, sampling local products.Even in a town with a longer historyof cruise-ship arrivals, such as San Juandel Sur, business owners such as MarieMendel, owner of Ricardo’s Bar on thebeachfront, told The Tico Times ships’passengers aren’t much of a presence inthe town itself.“It’s true that a large part of thetourists who come on board the cruiseships already have their excursions withinthe country prepared,” Tourism MinisterRodrigo Castro said in a recent statement.“But statistics show that the other half ofthe (passengers) don’t take a tour.Therefore, there’s an interesting captivemarket, since passengers spend $80-100per person when they get off at a port.”Castro added it’s important to generateprivate investment in Limón and otherports of call for beautification and theconstruction of tourist attractions in thosetowns.Cruise-ship passengers do not counttoward Costa Rica’s tourist totals becauseof definitions set forth by the WorldTourism Organization (WTO), accordingto Castro.

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