‘Grandeur of the Seas’ returns to Baltimore, sets sail for the Caribbean

James J. White, executive director of the Port Administration  welcomes the latest ship to Port in Baltimore – Grandeur of the Seas. (Jerry Grant)

One of the biggest draws for the cruise ship industry in Baltimore – anchored in Port Covington at a berth off of McComas Street in industrial South Baltimore – is the traffic on Interstate-95.

From the highway, vehicles headed north and south have a good view of the working harbor and a gleaming white jewel among many gray ships: the Grandeur of the Seas.  It’s the kind of free and constant advertising that other ports in the cruise industry envy.

And it gets people out of their cars and up the gangway to board vacations they have dreaming about for years.

In 2012,  about 240,000 vacationers sailed out of the Port of Baltimore, many driving here to avoid taking a plane to a cruise ship. Dockside parking is $15 a day for cars and SUVs. Officials said that 96 cruises are scheduled to originate in Baltimore this year.

Ribbon cutting time as the The Grandeur of the Seas returns to Baltimore and ship out to the Caribbean.
Ribbon cutting time as the the Grandeur of the Seas returns to Baltimore and ships out to the Caribbean. (Jerry Grant)

Built upon the hull of her original “good bones,” the Grandeur was recently overhauled in Cadiz, Spain at a cost of $48 million.

The results – including six new world-class restaurants, circus entertainment in the ship’s six-story atrium and a 220-foot, outdoor movie screen among other stern to bow improvements – were unveiled in Baltimore this past weekend as she set sail for the Caribbean. The ship also boasts a new on-board nursery for children six-months to 3-years-old.

Owned by the Royal Caribbean line – an international firm out of Norway and the United States – the Grandeur is captained by Espen Been, who said dockside that he was glad to be back in Baltimore. The Grandeur was last in Crabtown from 2004-through-2009.

Destinations include year-round voyages to the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada and New England. Last Friday – May 2, 2013 – Been gave a tour of the ship for the media before shoving off for a six-night cruise to Bermuda.

The Grandeur replaces the Enchantment of the Seas at Baltimore’s cruise ship dock. The McComas street wharf can only accommodate one cruise ship at a time. Two ships a week leave the Baltimore cruise dock,  said James White, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration. White has said in the past that this puts the dock at full capacity.

The current single berth is almost 1,200 feet long and 35 feet deep.

Cynthia M. Burman, general manager of the cruise industry for the port administration, said that Maryland would work to prepare a second berth if business warranted it. The current terminal was once a warehouse for goods coming and going from the Port of Baltimore, a historic deepwater port going back to the early 18th century.

In 2011, according to industry officials, Baltimore ranked fifth for cruise passengers among East Coast cruise ports, 11th in the United States and 20th worldwide. According to Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, the Baltimore cruise ship industry – which moved to South Baltimore from Dundalk in 2006 – generates about $90 million in business and is responsible for about 200 jobs.

“Business has remained good,” said travel agent Emily Hicks, whose father John established the Going Places agency in Eastpoint Mall when the shopping center first opened in 1956. “Even in tough times, people find a way to save money to go on a cruise.”

UPDATE: A fire broke out Memorial Day aboard the Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas and the ship’s 2,200 passengers were expected back in Baltimore on Tuesday (May 28) after being flown on charter flights from the Bahamas.  No injuries were reported. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause. The ship left Baltimore Friday for a seven-night cruise to CocoCay, Bahamas. Royal Caribbean said the ship never lost power. Royal Caribbean officials met with passengers in port and said that the cruise line was arranging flights for all 2,224 guests. Passengers are being issued a full refund and a certificate for a future cruise.