The recent expansion of Carnival Cruise Line into the entirety of Long Beach’s iconic dome beside the Queen Mary was the fruition of a vision 15 years in the making. Since the company began operating cruises from the dome in 2003, it has endeavored to grow its operations, according to Carlos Torres de Navarra, vice president of strategic and commercial port development for Carnival.
“I would say that since the day that we opened, or even before we opened, there was always an intent to secure more square footage in order to have a two-way operation,” Torres de Navarra said.
“Long Beach is squarely in our top four as a brand in terms of the busiest ports that we have for cruising in the nation,” he noted.
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, right, joined Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy and Carlos Torres de Navarra, vice president of strategic and commercial port development for Carnival, to celebrate the cruise line’s expansion in Long Beach on February 10. Carnival recently debuted renovations to its terminal within the dome adjacent to the Queen Mary, which it now fully occupies. (Photograph provided by Carnival Cruise Line)
Prior to the expansion, which debuted in a grand opening ceremony on February 10, Carnival occupied only 70% of the dome and was able to accommodate only one-way traffic. Before a cruise ship had finished debarking, embarking passengers would have to wait outside the terminal. Carnival has long desired to expand into the entirety of the dome to allow for two-way traffic, to improve the guest experience, and to accommodate larger cruise ships, according to Torres de Navarra.
For years, the operators of the Queen Mary had used the dome for events like the popular CHILL and Dark Harbor. But in fall 2016, Carnival was able to hash out a deal with the dome’s leaseholder, Urban Commons, with the assistance of the landowner, the City of Long Beach.
Demolition began in April last year, and construction began in August. It took just five months to build out the interior of the dome into a two-way cruise terminal designed to give guests the feeling of starting their vacation as soon as they walk through the doors. The facility includes a boardwalk-type pathway lined with faux palm trees, a mini arcade, two replicas of the Spruce Goose, a VIP area, park-like seating and an ADA-compliant ramp up to the gangway. “We essentially gutted this place. The only thing that is old is our office on the second floor,” Torres de Navarra said.
As he described it, not only is the terminal now a more pleasant experience for everyone passing through it – from guests to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents who work there – it is now also a greater economic driver both for Carnival and for the city.
With the opening of the larger terminal, Carnival has brought a larger ship, the Carnival Splendor, to operate cruises to Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska. And, as the company announced at the terminal’s grand opening, in late 2019 they plan to bring a brand new cruise ship, the Carnival Panorama, to Long Beach.
The Splendor will increase the number of visitors coming through the terminal by 40,000 annually, with Torres de Navarra estimating that 670,000 guests will take Carnival cruises out of Long Beach this year. The Panorama will bring that number up to about 750,000 visitors per year.
“We just think the West Coast is ready to grow even further,” Torres de Navarra said. “We are seeing a very high interest in cruising, we are seeing a high interest in Carnival, and we just thought that the best thing for that ship would be to bring it to Long Beach first,” he said of the Panorama. “People should understand that ship is being deployed here as the first revenue cruise. So it’s coming straight from the yard.”
Carnival Cruise Line has desired to occupy the entirety of the dome located next to the Queen Mary since it first opened a terminal there in 2003. According to Wilken Mes (left), director of the terminal and of commercial port development, and Carlos Torres de Navarra (right), vice president of strategic and commercial port development, the company has had growth potential in Long Beach for years. The company now operates a two-way terminal out of the dome, and has brought in a new, larger ship, the Carnival Splendor, which operates cruises to Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska. (Photograph provided by Carnival Cruise Line)
Long Beach is Carnival’s busiest single terminal operation in North America, besting even Miami, Torres de Navarra pointed out.
At the terminal grand opening, Carnival also announced that it would be investing in a major port development project in Ensenada, Mexico, a destination for some of its Long Beach cruises. The company plans to develop retail and dining for cruise guests to enjoy an improved shore-side experience, Torres de Navarra explained.
These combined multi-million-dollar investments, coupled with the eventual development of the land surrounding the Queen Mary by Urban Commons, should bolster the demand to cruise out of Long Beach, Torres de Navarra explained.
Wilken Mes, director of Carnival’s Long Beach cruise terminal, pointed out that city staff members were greatly helpful in getting the expansion project off the ground. “They fast-tracked it for us – they worked on the weekends even,” Mes said. “They did everything possible to support our timeline. I mean we’re beyond happy with that.”
Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, also praised the city for its support of the project. “The city worked really hard and provided the leadership needed to bring together the deal for Carnival to get the full dome and for Urban Commons to also benefit from this transaction,” Goodling said. He pointed out that Carnival’s investments would bring more travelers to Long Beach, benefiting local hotels and businesses.
Torres de Navarra said that Carnival’s Long Beach terminal is now the company’s finest. He reflected, “It’s going to bring a lot more benefit to the city for sure. I mean, how can it not?”