WILMINGTON — While the world’s largest cruise ships are too tall to fit under the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, Wilmington could definitely be seeing more small-to-medium sized cruises in the future.
Port City Marina owner Chuck Schoninger said he has hosted seven cruise ships this year, and hopes to bring more in the future. Schoninger recently completed a request to the Army Corps of Engineers to officially modify the Wilmington Harbor navigation channel; the request will allow the marina to host smaller cruise ships for short stays.
So far two companies, American Cruise Lines and Noble Caledonia have included Wilmington on their routes, and several more have expressed interest, including Viking cruises. (Author’s note: Those interested in cruises should contact the cruising companies, not Port City Marina.)
According to Marina Manager Pete Werling, many of the vessels are traveling north from the Bahamas, making stops along the Florida and Georgia coast before reaching Wilmington. Werling said ships continue north to New York City and, in some cases, Iceland and Europe.
Schoninger said the existing docks at the Marina can handle two ships simultaneously.
“We’d obviously like as many as we can handle,” Schoninger said.
The small-to-medium sized vessels expected mostly range between 300 and 450 feet long with three to five stories of cabins; the vessels can accommodate between 100 and 200 people.
Most of the cruises expected in the coming year will be docking in Wilmington in the fall and the spring.
“You expect to see them in the shoulder season,” Schoninger said. “We have three or four planned already.”
Wilmington is currently a stop on the itinerary for several cruises in 2019, but – as of right now – none make their initial departure from the Port City. That would likely require additional infrastructure, essentially, a small cruise terminal. It would also likely require additional permission from the Army Corps of Engineers.
Werling said that without the height restrictions of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, things might be different.
“The cruise companies are definitely interested in Wilmington,” Werling said. “They like doing business here — if they could bring the bigger ships I think they would.”
Wilmington will have to wait, indefinitely, for that: there’s no clear timeline on the Cape Fear Crossing, the billion-dollar toll-road bridge planned for the area south of the current Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. There’s also plans to replace the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge itself, with a proposed height similar to the current maximum lift bridge clearance. Finally, there are still plans for a rail bridge over the Cape Fear River, as part of the rail realignment program.
No word yet if any of those projects will factor in clearance for passenger vessels.
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at firstname.lastname@example.org, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.