Year-round cruises coming to Charleston

CHARLESTON - South Carolina's tourism ship came in Thursday with the announcement that Carnival Cruise Line ships will sail from Charleston year-round, resulting in millions for the state and local economies.

Carnival Cruise Lines, a unit of Carnival Corp., announced it will home-port its 2,056-passenger Carnival Fantasy in Charleston beginning in May. The ship will make five-, six- and seven-day voyages from South Carolina to the Bahamas and Key West, Fla.

"It's like a fantasy come true," said state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, who said the decision will mean $70 million in direct spending yearly for the Charleston economy.

Grooms said each sailing will mean about $1 million in direct spending with the ripple effect passing through the economy several times. South Carolina's tourism industry pours an estimated $16 billion into the state economy.

"I'm going to declare the recession over in Charleston, S.C.," said state Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston.

Carnival sails from Charleston currently, but operates only a handful of winter season cruises.

"For the first time ever, you will be able to sail from Charleston during any month of the year," said Jim Newsome, the new president and chief executive of the South Carolina State Ports Authority.

The Fantasy is coming from Mobile, Ala., and will be replaced there by a ship from San Diego, said Jennifer de la Cruz, a Carnival spokeswoman in the line's Miami headquarters.

"We have had tremendous success over the past several years in pioneering year-round operations in new home ports," she said.

She said that by putting ships where people can get to them easily, "we're able to attract a whole new group of consumers to cruising."

Currently, South Carolinians have to travel to either Jacksonville, Fla., to the south, or Baltimore, to the north, to catch a Carnival cruise year-round.

The Fantasy carries 2,056 passengers.

"Carnival's model is fill the ship," de la Cruz said. "We never enter into a new market unless we are extremely confident that we can fill that ship week after week and it's going to be tremendously successful."

"What this announcement does is reaffirm our sense that we have in Charleston ... one of the great ports in the world," Mayor Joe Riley said. Riley said the impact on the economy is greater than just spending on the cruise itself. People who come for a cruise will likely stay in the city a day or two before they sail or after they return, he said.

Earlier this week, the State Ports Authority chose Cooper Robertson and Partners of New York, an urban design firm, to develop a plan to improve the authority's existing passenger terminal on the Cooper River and nine acres of land around it.