Friday, April 12, 2024

Carnival Cruise Line Pivots Baltimore Operations to Norfolk, City Stepping Up to Help Those Affected

Carnival Cruises will pivot Baltimore operations to Norfolk beginning this weekend after the Key Bridge collapse (Nauticus)

NORFOLK — Norfolk city officials are working around the clock to ready themselves for passengers on Carnival Legend with the ship’s home port of Baltimore currently closed due to the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse earlier this week.

The Half Moone Cruise Center closed for a year at the end of 2023 to undergo extensive renovations in preparation for year-round cruise departures in 2025. With the collapse of the Key Bridge in Baltimore, Stephen Kirkland, executive director of Nauticus, received a call to put the center back in action so Carnival has a place to dock.

“On Tuesday morning, like everybody else, I woke up and saw this terrible tragedy on the news and literally about seven minutes later, I got a call from Carnival. I knew what they were calling about instantly. I got to work and we have a great team here and we’ve pulled together and said ‘how can we make this work?” Kirkland said.

While the team is still in process of permit approval and deciding contractors for the pending upgrades, Kirkland has had to turn the terminal back to full operation to help Carnival. As he’s been in meeting after meeting readying the terminal, Kirkland says that the efforts to help this affected by the collapse has been outstanding.

“This community has truly come together quickly, unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of. I’ve never been a part of something that had to be pulled together so quickly and without question, 100% support from everybody I’ve called,” Kirkland said.

To get the terminal in working order, it’s been a federal, state, and local effort.

“It’s not just a matter of opening the doors to the cruise terminal. You have to get Customs and Border Protection involved, United States Coast Guard involved, the stevedore service that takes bags and handles all the luggage, the contracted staff, security and X-ray machines need to be rented, all of that has to be done. There’s a whole host of things and normally you’ve got months to prepare for cruise season,” Kirkland explained.

Carnival Legend will arrive in Norfolk with its first set of passengers on March 31. The more than 2,600 guests on board will receive complimentary bus transportation back to Baltimore. That same day, another seven-day voyage will begin with guests embarking and debarking from Norfolk.

“We’ve told Carnival that we will help them as much as we can for as long as we can. The cruise line is looking for a safe berth and that’s what we’re going to provide. We’re going to make sure that we have the capacity here, but the main thing is just getting those families back home to Baltimore safely,” Kirkland said.

Carnival’s other Baltimore-based ship, the Carnival Pride, will also move operations to Norfolk.

Carnival issued a statement, thanking the city for pivoting quickly.

“Our thoughts remain with the impacted families and first responders in Baltimore,” Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line said in a statement. “We appreciate the pledge made by President Biden to dedicate all available resources to reopen Baltimore Harbor to marine traffic as soon as possible. As those plans are finalized, we will update our future cruise guests on when we will return home to Baltimore, but in the meantime, we appreciate the quick response and support from officials in Norfolk.”

No timeline has been announced by the Port of Baltimore in terms of returning to normal operations at this time.

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