The new Half Moone Cruise Terminal is designed to pamper Norfolk's cruise guests.*
New Cruise Terminal Debuts in March
By Susan J. Young
In March, Norfolk will enter the next chapter in its storied maritime history by opening a new, $36 million Half Moone Cruise & Celebration Center (www.cruisenorfolk.org). It’s located downtown adjacent to Nauticus, the maritime attraction and museum which displays the U.S.S. Wisconsin, a World War II era battleship.
One could say that Norfolk’s maritime history actually began four hundred years ago, when in May 1607, three ships navigated through the Norfolk area en route to Jamestown. There the travelers established the first permanent English settlement in the New World. Over the years, Norfolk – with its deep water port – has proven a magnet for vessels of all types.
Thomas Jefferson arrived in Norfolk on Nov. 23, 1789, after a two-month passage across the Atlantic. He was en route to his Charlottesville home from Europe, and has been among the port’s most illustrious visitors to disembark from a ship. A few years later in 1815, the first passenger-carrying vessel of the modern era, the steamship Washington, ported at Norfolk.
In 2006, Norfolk welcomed 60 ships either embarking or on port calls. It was the busiest year for cruise activity ever.
This Year's Offerings
This year, Royal Caribbean International (800-327-6700 or www.royalcaribbean.com) will be the first line to “home port” a ship at the new terminal with Empress of the Seas on April 28, 2007. Empress of the Seas will operate a series of five-, six-, seven- and eight-night Bermuda cruises throughout the spring and summer.
Carnival Cruise Lines (800-327-9501 or www.carnival.com) also will sail from Half Moone with Carnival Victory on two-night cruises to nowhere on June 9 and October 13, and six-night cruises to June 3 and October 7. In addition, Seabourn Pride (www.seabourn.com), Grand Princess (800-PRINCESS or www.princess.com), and Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines’ Black Watch (www.fredolsencruises.com), are among the ships with port calls this year at the new pier.
The new 80,000-square-foot Norfolk facility will give passengers a taste of Norfolk’s history and hopefully attract additional cruise lines to sail from the port. Celebrity Cruises (800-437-3111 www.celebrity.com), Holland America Line (877-SAIL-HAL or www.hollandamerica.com) and others have sailed from Norfolk in the past.
New Terminal Features
With views of the Elizabeth River, the 13,500-square foot Half Moone Vista area is the cruise embarkation lounge. The 1,100-square-foot Bermuda Room can be used for various functions and boasts décor reflects the strong historical relationship between Norfolk and Bermuda. A 1,500-square foot Virginia Room is dedicated to handling VIP guests like Royal Caribbean International’s Crown & Anchor Society members.
The new terminal also boasts 15,000 square feet of baggage handling space, so passengers’ luggage will – hopefully – be handled in a smooth process. And Half Moone offers 13,000 square feet of outdoor deck space; here cruisers may stroll to enjoy views of the Elizabeth River and downtown Norfolk
Cruise passengers will be able to access an open-air deck for great views of downtown Norfolk.*
When we visited Norfolk late last year, the terminal was under roof but still under construction (see photos above). Today, the port is putting the final touches in place. When passengers arrive at the terminal, they’ll enter via a grand rotunda. It boasts a 54-foot-long mermaid -- the symbol of Norfolk – set in terrazzo floor tile.
The new cruise terminal is also designed with a dual purpose. The city and port believe it will be an attractive venue for big events and meetings; the cruise embarkation lounge, for example, can accommodate 500 or more guests for banquets, corporate events, huge weddings and other programs.
Port Call Fun
What’s available for cruise guests on a port call? Within 10 square blocks in downtown Norfolk visitors may explore myriad attractions, shopping, dining and historic sites, according to Anthony DiFilippo, president and CEO, the Norfolk Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We like to say [we have a] ‘clean, safe, and walkable downtown,’” stresses DiFilippo. “And the unique thing about the cruise terminal is that it’s a half block away from all that.”
The MacArthur Memorial (above left) presents the story of General Douglas MacArthur; it's housed in the former city hall, contains nine galleries and both the general and his wife are buried here. Top right shows the contrasts of past and present, a Confederate memorial flanked by a modern skyscraper.*
The new cruise terminal itself is immediately adjacent to Nauticus, the National Maritime Center (800-664-1080 or www.nauticus.org), One Waterside Dr. I highly recommend this 120,000-square-foot attraction for its excellent range of activities, some free, others with a fee. At the ticket office just outside the museum, you can book combination ticket options including including a two-hour Victory Rover harbor cruise to view the U.S. Naval Base at Norfolk.
If you want to take the naval base water tour on a weekend, head for the ticket window immediately -- to have the best shot at getting the departure time you desire. Or, consider booking in advance with the cruise line if this option is offered as a shore trip. Cruises fill up fast on days when many visitors are in town.
The best bargain for cruisers is adjacent to the pier. Admission is free for the superb Hampton Roads Naval Museum and admittance to the top deck of the U.S.S. Wisconsin, an Iowa-class battleship built in 1943. The 880-foot-long Wisconsin saw action in World War II’s Pacific theater, the Korean War and the Gulf War and is now decommissioned
Launched in 1943, the U.S.S. Wisconsin's 16" guns were among its most potent weapons.*
Military personnel and volunteers are happy to explain the World War II-era ship’s history and operations; the ship is famed for its 16” guns capable of reaching a target more than a dozen miles away. In its prime, the ship cruised at a speedy 33 knots and could support a crew of more than 2,900.
Be sure to walk up – literally up – toward the bow. The deck slants upward to help the ship weather a full speed sail in high seas. It’s pretty impressive from that angle to look back down into the gun barrels. Makes a great photo as well.
Allot about two to three hours to explore the naval museum and the ship. Interested in shopping? The Nauticus building has a terrific ground-floor museum shop, with eclectic souvenirs and gifts, many maritime focused; you may enter this area without charge. There are also restrooms here for those out exploring who do not want to return to the ship right away.
Nauticus’ hands-on science exhibits with its computer interactive options, live theater experiences and even a shark touch pool will interest kids and adults alike. Science center admission is $9.95 for adults, $7.50 for children 4 to 12, and $8.95 for senior citizens, AAA members and military personnel with ID. Children 3 and under are admitted free.
Just a few blocks from the new cruise pier, passengers can find souvenirs, gifts and dining at the Waterside Festival Marketplace (above left) and enjoy jogging or a stroll along the harborfront promenade.*
Other possible activities in town include visiting the Granby Street restaurant area just a few blocks from the cruise pier or perhaps shopping at MacArthur Center's 65 stores (757-627-6000 or www.shopmacarthur.com), 300 Monticello Ave. A great indoor-outdoor venue is the Waterside Festival Market (757-627-3300 or www.watersidemarketplace.com) with shopping and dining indoors, as well as al fresco dining and a lovely outdoor promenade.
Norfolk is a town steeped in naval history. General Douglas MacArthur is buried, fittingly, in the MacArthur Memorial (757-441-2965 or www.macarthurmemorial.org), MacArthur Square, Bank Square and City Hall Avenue; it houses multiple exhibition galleries.
Or, you might soak up some culture at the Hunter House Victorian Museum (757-623-9814 or www.hunterhousemuseum.org), 240 West Freemason, St. or the Chrysler Museum of Art (757-664-6200 or www.chrysler.org).
Controlled Cruise Growth
One good thing about cruising from Norfolk is that you can almost guarantee you won’t be getting off the ship with thousands of others from three or four other ships docked at the same pier. The new cruise facility was designed to handle just one ship at a time.
Cruise Norfolk (www.cruisenorfolk.org), the local organization that promotes cruising from the port, has opted for controlled growth. Officials say they want to foster the growth of diverse itineraries and strong partnerships with tourism entities – not just have a ton of ships dropping off thousands of visitors every day.
Of course, it’s also true that Norfolk is geographically distant from many Caribbean cruise destinations. It's even 680 miles from Bermuda. With current U.S. law prohibiting a foreign-flagged vessel from calling at a U.S. port without a stop in a foreign port, the lines’ itinerary planning becomes a bit challenging. Most cruise lines serving North Americans operate ships that fly under foreign flags for tax purposes.
The result is that most every port call by a ship at Norfolk must be included within an itinerary that calls at Bermuda, Nassau or another foreign port. And that’s not that easy in a short or even a week-long itinerary. So, it’s somewhat unlikely that the port will have a flood of cruise ships clamoring to dock.
The bottom line for cruise passengers is that they'll definitely benefit from a saner, less crowded land-side environment than at many other ports in the South.
Some cruisers will undoubtedly take flights into Norfolk to embark. Most will drive, some from quite far away. More than 2.6 million people live within the local region of Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Newport News and Richmond. Norfolk’s cruise port also is expected to draw passengers driving from Washington D.C., Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, NC, Baltimore, MD, Charlotte, NC and Philadelphia, PA.
Many cruise guests also are seeking alternatives from big ports like those in South Florida. The area has much to offer for pre- and post-cruise stays. So talk to your travel agent about options.
For More Information
Norfolk Convention & Visitors Bureau: 800-368-3097, 757-664-6620 or www.norfolkcvb.com.
Cruise Norfolk: www.cruisenorfolk.org
*Photos and renderings on this paper are owned and copyrighted by Susan J. Young and Cruise Norfolk. All rights reserved. Do not link to or copy these photos.