W.P. Norton


In caribbean, carinval corp., cruise ships, dominican republic, tourism, W.P. Norton on November 5, 2015 at 5:15 pm

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By W.P. Norton, special to the Miami Herald International Edition

Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic — With the fireworks, fervor and ceremony reserved for a presidential victory party, top brass of the world’s largest cruise-ship company, Carnival Corp., joined hands with Dominican politicians this week to christen its $85 million, 25-acre Amber Cove port complex in this city founded by Christopher Columbus.

The official inauguration on Monday of Amber Cove, so named for the abundance of the precious substance that is mined along the northwest coast of the Dominican side of the island of Hispaniola, is Carnival’s boldest move yet in the Caribbean cruise market, which accounts for 80 percent of its cruise business worldwide.

“We are always looking for new ways to create wonderful vacation memories for our guests,” said Carnival CEO Arnold Donald, “and we cannot wait to share the excitement of opening our new Amber Cove cruise port.” (Carnival’s “Victory” cruiser, docked on Monday, was also the first ship to drop anchor at the new port Oct. 6.)

Dominican President Danilo Medina attended the ceremony but made no formal remarks. That role was taken by Francisco Javier Garcia, the minister of tourism. In a fiery oration replete with allusions to Neptune, the mythological god of the sea, the impassioned Garcia thanked President Medina for doing everything possible to facilitate the Amber Cove project, and called the venture an “inseparable marriage” between Puerto Plata and Carnival Corp.

Among the matrimonial terms are a long-term extendable lease on the land surrounding Maimon Bay, just west of Puerto Plata city, where the port complex now sits. The land belongs to the B&R Group, which holds a 49 percent stake in the Amber Cove joint venture with majority stakeholder Carnival.

The cruise port complex is a kind of beachhead for Carnival to enter the Cuban market, a no-go zone for American businesses for the last 50 years until the recent reopening of diplomatic relations with the United States. Amber Cove also represents a second chance for an economic rebound in Puerto Plata, a city with a dire need to modernize its infrastructure and capture cruisers’ dollars in this tourism-dependent country.

Some three decades have passed since a ship brought holidaymakers to Puerto Plata, the country’s eighth-largest city and the regional center of a world-famous strip of surf, water sports and resorts along this Atlantic coastal line of towns that includes Sosua and Cabarete.

In a country whose lifeblood is tourism, Puerto Plata had failed to provide fundamentals like consistent supplies of water and electricity, and the local workforce lacked basic skills to meet the standards of the international hospitality industry, according to Aridio Perdomo, a Dominican journalist who covers tourism.

The city has been in decline ever since, as development dollars have flowed largely to private all-inclusive resort areas and especially to Punta Cana, one of the most popular tourist destinations on the northeastern side of the Island.

Puerto Plata has learned from its mistakes, and stands ready to meet the challenge of catering to the needs of the 350,000 “cruzeristas” expected to visit here annually, Perdomo told a reporter during the midmorning ceremony.

B&R chief Jeffrey Rannik gave credit to the Dominican government and Carnival for making Amber Cove a reality.  But if any single person can be said to have turned Amber Cove from an idea into a reality, it was Giora Israel, Carnival’s vice president of port development.

“Carnival Corporation cruise ships dock in around 720 ports around the world — we are really a global player,” Israel said in an interview with the Miami Herald International Edition. “And when I arrived at Puerto Plata the first time, I knew I really wanted to develop a port right here.”

Since his first meeting, in 1998, with the Rannik group, Israel reckons he made more than 150 visits to the Dominican Republic for negotiations with various government ministers and presidents to negotiate the deal.

In addition to the millions of dollars it pumped into the creation of a long dock that can berth two super-cruisers at a time, Carnival bankrolled many miles of new roads, acres of landscaping and thousands of square feet of retail and dining features for the mall-like tourist complex.

The Amber Cove investment is Carnival’s spearhead into the vast Cuba cruise market, Israel said. To that end, in April 2016 the cruise line is using its new Fathom cruise brand to offer “social-impact” cruises to people who want to spend a few days on Dominican land, sleep in locals’ homes and work with them on local products like handmade chocolate products. People-to-people cruises to Cuba are already scheduled for later next year, Carnival said.

“Victory” passengers Jeremiah Crear and his wife, Cynthia, of Birmingham, Ala., were among hundreds of passengers making their way through Amber Cove’s retail shops, restaurants and water features as a  fireworks display capped Monday’s ceremony.

Both veteran cruisers, the Crears said that although the port lived up to their expectations, the walk from ship to shore seemed too long and would have been easier with a conveyor belt.

“We’re still exploring it,” Jeremiah said. “But we like it so far.”


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