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Goodbye to Philadelphia Cruises

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  I am from the West Coast. I grew up in Phoenix and spent my entire life up to 40 between Phoenix and Los Angeles. Then I was lucky enough to call New York City my home for my the 1990s, and that was a highlight of my life.

There is a distinct difference between the two coasts and unless you spend time in each one I doubt you fully appreciate the difference. The west coast is touchy feely, but not as sincere as the east coast.  California invented the phrase “have a nice day.” The Hollywood mentality is “you’re only as good as your last film.”

The East Coast is where you find Harvard, Princeton and Columbia University; schools known for post-grad degrees. You definitely think more long-term on the East coast. On the East Coast you are as good as the best thing you ever did, they plan ahead and think long-term.

One of the best visits I ever had to a port city was a special trip I made to Philadelphia. I was there to research it as a cruise port, and to see what it is like to spend a few days there pre or post-cruise. I found it to be an extremely impressive city, where we were never bored for a minute and couldn’t possibly find enough time to do all the things we ever wanted to do.

Just four years ago there were as many as 36 cruises sailing out of Philadelphia – going to Bermuda and down to Florida – but just last week the city announced it is closing down its cruise terminal with only two cruises remaining. 

The last two cruises to leave out of Philadelphia will be on American Cruise Line – a small cruise line most of you have probably not even heard about. We have a two articles you should read if you want to more about the American Cruise Lines, and Philadelphia as a cruise port.

Geting back to Philly – For lovers of everything related to sea travel, Philly has the Independence Seaport Museum where you can tour the battle cruise Olympia and the submarine Becuna – two of America’s most historic warships. In fact, the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard is the oldest in the United States founded in 1776.

There was nothing wrong with the city as a seaport, it has great public transportation, hotels and is a fascinating visit. The problem was that the city just did not support the cruise market as well as the cruise lines hoped it would. Philadelphia regularly vies with Phoenix for the title “fifth-largest U.S. city,” but not enough of those people decided to try a cruise.

Instead, the ports in Bayonne New Jersey and Baltimore have become far more popular, especially Baltimore now offering cruises year-round on Carnival Pride.

The problem is that if you told you were cruising out of Philly I could tell you ten “must-do” things when you got to the city, but not so with Baltimore. I have been there as well, and other than the “Bromo-Seltzer Tower, the only worthwhile pre-cruise activity there is finding a place to park the car for seven days.

For West Coasters – I still strongly recommend you make an effort to go east and see the great American cities. You can catch a cruise out of Boston now, or even New Jersey. But don’t skip Philly, the city that truly is the birthplace of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time December 3, 2010 at 8:58 am

Norfolk VA, the city that gave us the BIG U, or, for those not familiar with the nickname, SS United States, built right here in Norfolk.

Norfolk had a inflatable “tent” which served as a cruise terminal, mostly for embarkation for cruises to the Caribbean and Bermuda. During the 1970′ and ’80’s, a smattering of cruises left the city. In those days, a dreary shed was used as I witnessed first hand during a QE2 cruise, a 19 dayer from Boston to Norfolk, then on to the Caribbean. Greek Line and Cunard Line followed by RSSC, Carnival and that was it. The city, not exactly world class, hosted very few cruises.

Along came Holland America, in 2004, with promises of making Norfolk a homeport to the Maasdam. Steps in $25million figure were taken to build a beautiful, truly state of the art cruise terminal, crowning the Elizabeth River, in the very heart of downtown Norfolk. In the 18 months the ship sailed from the city, I took 5 cruises on the Maasdam. Then, BAM, HAL pulled out, citing reasons beyond their control.

The city was hyped as being asssessable to 1/3 of the US and Eastern Canadian cruise market within a mere days drive. The cruises were very well marketed, yet, they seemed doomed to failure. Who in their right mind would drive from Montreal or Buffalo, or even Chicago, during January to cruise out of Norfolk. (I would, but, not everyone is an ultimate cruise nut, as I am).

Along with the Holland America Cruises, HAl sponsored holiday events locally, such as the Boston Pops Christmas, and Nutcracker Ballet. Holland America was the darling of Tidewater Virginia.

In all fairness, HAL is not fully at fault. The airport situation at Norfolk inadequate, hotels are not plentiful. In short, the shortcomings of Norfolk are at best to be blamed.

Today this gorgeous cruise terminal, the Half Moon cruise Ship Terminal, is used for weddiongs and private parties. The few, the dwindling amount, are a handful of 2 0r 6 day Bermudas, and a rare cruise to Nova Scotia.

So, if Philly has to loose its cruises, and then Baltimore, which has seen Celebrity pull out after enourmous fanfare, it should be up to the cruisuing public to lobby for these cruises, on a local basis.

Guess what? Maybe with NOBODY liking to fly these days, more cruises will once again be offered on a local basis.

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time December 3, 2010 at 9:04 am

post script

I need to point out the weather and the quality of the sea, with sailings from the mid-Atlantic and North East regions in winter. ROUGH, it can be unbeleivably rough, with 25 foot seas, two days in a Nor’Easter, even snow falling in the pool before the ship sails off of Floridas warmer waters.

I have experienced both good weather, and really bad storms with winter cruises from Boston, New York and Norfolk. This is something to keep in mind.

Comment from Dave Beers
Time December 3, 2010 at 9:25 am

During my Marine Corps life I was stationed in a Philadelphia suburb. Great city. Great food. The USS Olympia is an elegant warship from a different era. A great website to view photos of the Olympia is

All that beautiful wood paneling and furniture…good thing it never got hit by a Spanish cannon round.

Comment from Paul Motter
Time December 3, 2010 at 9:58 am

It is funny how certain ports never work out. I really don’t see Norfolk as a great port city, but who would have guessed that Galveston would become one of the top ports in the country?

Hawaii should be a GREAT cruise market, with west coasters being willing to fly in and cruise to see the entire chain of islands. I have taken the NCLA Hawaii cruises and sure enough it is a great way to see hawaii – much better than trying to stay in hotels and jump between Oahu, Hawaii and Maui. But it didn’t work out that way – it only supports one ship. When you consider Alaska can support a dozen ships every summer it really does not add up.

Boston is a great city, but it is pretty far north and gets really bad weather, Philly is far more predictable.

And I still don’t “get” Bayonne. I have never tried it and maybe as a drive-to port it is really good, I don’t know, but I do know that as an attraction itself it is not good.

Maybe the ley is that people do not think so much in terms of seeing the city they fly to for a cruise. I know I do personally, but if you already live in the area you don’t.

I guess if you are going to fly, you fly to whatever ship you want, and if you are going to drive you drive to the most convenient port with the ship you want.

But the local appeal factor seems to have little to do with the success of cruise ports. (But then why did Norfolk fail?).

Comment from Dave Beers
Time December 3, 2010 at 10:21 am

Another eastern port to consider is Charleston. The jury is still out on whether it will pan out as a viable permanent port for the Carnival Fantasy. Once again it is a port with a lot of history and interesting things to see and do, but I don’t know how many pre and post cruise stays are booked by cruisers. But then Mobile has proven itself to be a solid port for one ship.

Comment from AshleeBelle
Time December 3, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Hmmm, Lots to talk about here.

First Paul, if you don’t think there is anything more then that to do in Baltimore you really are missing out. The first thing that leaps to mind when I think of Baltimore is Fort McHenry, the site where the Star Spangled Banner flew during a battle of the War of 1812, there is the beautiful inner harbor area with the USS Constellation available for tours (if you are lucky in your timing you might catch Pride of Baltimore II as well), and if you are driving to Baltimore then Annapolis and the US Naval Academy is less then a day away. Additionally it is a very short drive over to our nations capital as well and that of course would make a fantastic pre or post cruise extension to your vacation.

Norfolk, I’ve known since I was a small child having grown up in North Carolina (Everybody east of Raleigh either flew out of Norfolk or Raleigh in that state.) The tour possibilities in the Tidewater Area are truly endless from Williamsburg and Yorktown just a short drive up the road down to Virginia Beach, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, less then two hours from the airport. The problem with Tidewater is that it isn’t really a large east coast city along the lines of Philly Boston, or New York, but rather a group of small cities, of which Norfolk is the most prominent. It really requires a car, a GPS or map, and a lot of patience with traffic and road construction to get the most out of the area as a tourist destination.

The biggest problems for all of these ports is that they are COLD during the winter months and with the exception of the fall foliage cruises they are all catering to a warm weather destination. Nobody who is going to the Caribbean in January wants to spend a cold miserable day getting there and coming back.

Charleston on the other hand is relatively mild, has an excellent harbor and is at least a half a day closer then even Norfolk to Caribbean destinations. The population base for driving there is a good deal smaller then those northern cities however, and the airport situation is much like what was described in Norfolk (inadequate though at least there is a separate airport in that area to handle some of the load). I do hope the Charleston experiment succeeds though, it really does have so much to offer.

I hope if successful some of the lines will think about expanding to Savannah as well, a city much like Charleston in it’s feel and capabilities. It does have the added advantage of being only a few minutes from I 95 as opposed to a couple of hours for Charleston. Again the airport is small, but a lot of people already travel to Savannah to stay across the river in Hilton Head.

I think airport facilities may be one of the largest limited factors in these smaller southern cities. Quite frankly Norfolk, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville or even Mobil would most likely be overwhelmed by the influx of passengers necessary to fill a Freedom class ship. I also wonder if civic support isn’t lacking in a lot of these cities. Charleston has just embarked upon an ambitious terminal expansion program, so hopefully that will help spark additional interest in it as a home port for the lines.

I do hope that more regional cruising becomes the silver lining of this nasty experiment in security window dressing being conducted by the TSA. It would be nice to see it spark a revival in rail travel as well, although unfortunately the TSA has their eye on that as an area to expand their power as well.

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time December 4, 2010 at 6:09 am

Ah, Hawaii, the swaying palms, the beaches, everything wonderful that is Hawaii, except for cruises.

Hawaii fought – lobbied – hard to get regular cruises from and around Hawaii, and won their round AFTER American Hawaii Cruises folded, remember the lovely sister ships Constitution and Independence? I won’t even attempt to give a detailed run down of the Jones Act, whereby ships leaving/sailing to and returning to US ports, without calling at a foreign port, is prohibited, and the ships must be US built, US fitted out, and manned by a US crew, Jones Act can be found on the net, in detail.

What the problem with NCL/America and its operating a cruise ship is just that, NCL.

NCL is owned by Star Cruises, out of Singapore, and has little or no experience in catering to the US and Candian passenger. Reviews are bad enough with NCL, and worse for their American cruise product. The crew is supposed to be 100% American, per the Jones Act. Face it, Americans are not known for grand service with graciuosness. It is a fact. Being an American myself, I would not be willing to work for peanuts and be groussed by passengers all day on a ship. The average waite person on the North East has worked in the chains, not exactly known for luxurious, leisurely dining.

Why do you think ships call at Encenada Mexico for 4 hours when they sail to Hawaii from LAX? These are foreign registered vessles, and the call in a foreign country is MANDATORY as dictated by the Jones Act. Passengers do not disembark.

To read reviews for NCL and NCL/America, go to, which is part of this great site .

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time December 26, 2010 at 8:39 am

Today is the day after Christmas, and another unusual winters day at that here in coastal VA. It is a matter of some interest, and rarity, when you hear the reports on the local TV stations in this part of Virginia, reporting canceled flights from Norfolk and Newport News/Williamsburg airportrs due to SNOW. Holiday passenges that came to this region need to return home, and now, they have to wait for the airports to open due to SNOW.

The roads are a nightmare, people here do not use snow tires, not much of a need for them, and plows, and salting, well, little is budgeted for that. Needless to say, people do not know how to drive in snow in this part of Virginia and do not stay home as a rule. Get this, churches and museaums, the Lion King and a host of other venues are closed today, even some military installations due to SNOW. MALLS, oh, they are open.

So, what does this matter of SNOW in tidewater Virginia have to do with cruises pulling out of Philly? same thing, SNOW. The same storm that hit us with an expected, unheard of 12 inches, will barrel
up the coast, gain more steam in the Atlantic, and hit Philly, Baltimore, and New York, all with expected cruises and with flights with passengers expecting to board their cruise ships.

Now comes refunding for flights and cruises, which I sincerely hope is done, if there is a need to refund would be passenergs for their cruises. Nothern cities also have passengers at airports hoping to fly to Florida, the Gulf ports, maybe west coast, for sunnier port of embarkation cruises. Its a catch 22 situation, D if you do D if you don’t.

I seriously doubt that these innocent weather captive people are interested in taking sightseeing tours of the cities they are going to be stranded in.

Winter cruises from Boston have long ago been abandonded. Maybe cancelling the Philly cruises has just this one redeeming light, to forgo the hassel of winters wrath. On the other hand, Cunard Line keeps its proud tradions going with January cruises from NYC, and the world cruises for the Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth will commence on January 13 2011, with the Queen Victoria also in port.

Oh, lets not pass by the actual real hell of this and other storms that course their way up the Eastern Sea board. The local TV Weather Channel reports are expecting this storm to become a major blizzard for NY and Boston, subjecting any cruise ship leaving or returning to cities if the North East Corridor.

thus, any cruise ships sailing from or returning to the North East corridor will sail right through this enourmous and potentially dangerous storm.

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Time April 28, 2011 at 11:17 pm

[…] Cruisemates Blog В» Goodbye to Philadelphia Cruises – Paul Motter Dec 3, 2010 … The last two cruises to leave out of Philadelphia will be on American Cruise Line – a small cruise … […]

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