New cruise ship terminal in Metro Vancouver for larger ships still a possibility

Apr 28 2023, 5:18 pm

The berths and facilities at the Canada Place cruise ship terminal in downtown Vancouver are fully capable of accommodating the world’s new largest cruise ships.

But there is a problem: these ships cannot reach Canada Place.

The largest ships coming online are taller, and generally, they do not fit under the Lions Gate Bridge, which has a low mid-point clearance of about 60 metres (200 ft).

As a case in point, as a seasonal repositioning move, the recently-built Norwegian Bliss made just one visit to Vancouver during its inaugural year of 2018. With a gross tonnage (GT) of 168,028, it was one of the largest cruise ships in the world at the time, ranked ninth in the world, and the largest cruise ship visit yet to British Columbia.

Five years later, the Norwegian Bliss has now dropped all the way down to being the world’s 26th largest cruise ship — edged over by numerous new ships that are mostly larger by up to 18,000 GT.

This emerging issue for maintaining the competitiveness of Vancouver’s cruise ship industry was identified by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority in the 2010s, based on the sheer number of new larger ships in the construction pipeline throughout the 2010s and into the 2020s.

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Holland America’s Noordam cruise ship passing under the Lions Gate Bridge. (Shutterstock)

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A Holland America cruise ship passing under the Lions Gate Bridge. (Shutterstock)

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Passengers on the outdoor deck of a cruise ship passing under the Lions Gate Bridge. (Shutterstock)

If these new ships are unable to come to Vancouver, they will be forced to start and/or end their itineraries at Seattle — the other main homeport for Alaskan cruises.

Some of the new largest cruise ships that will frequently serve Seattle throughout the 2023 Alaska cruise season, as their homeport, include the Norwegian Bliss, as well as the the 2019-built Norwegian Encore (169,116 GT), 2014-built Quantum of the Seas (168,666 GT), and 2022-built Discovery Princess (145,281 GT). All four of these ships will only make seasonal repositioning visits in Vancouver at the start and/or end of the season.

Whenever the Norwegian Bliss or other vessels of a similar or greater size visit Canada Place, their arrivals and departures are carefully timed around low tide periods, which is highly nonoptimal for operations.

While Seattle will continue to be served by new large modern ships with the industry’s latest onboard amenities and offerings, Vancouver could increasingly become dependent on old, smaller ships.

In 2019, the port authority was in the process of studying the feasibility of building a new additional cruise ship terminal at a new location in Metro Vancouver, outside of Burrard Inlet, that could handle large ships. At the time, it was stated the locations being explored were on the Fraser River in Richmond or Delta.

Public consultation was scheduled to begin in 2020, but the pandemic interrupted the timeline for seriously considering the idea.

In an email to Daily Hive Urbanized upon inquiry, the port authority hinted it will circle back on its push to build a new cruise ship terminal for larger ships at some point in the future.

“We are also continuing our work with industry, destination, and government partners around plans to accommodate future capacity for cruise, and in particular the need for a new terminal outside of Burrard Inlet due to the larger vessels wanting to call the Port of Vancouver,” wrote the port authority.

The port authority also stated the options for cruise ship terminal locations do not contemplate adding such a passenger facility to the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 site, which was approved by the federal government last week in a landmark decision attached with conditions. The Roberts Bank Terminal 2 site, just west of Tsawwassen, will be entirely focused on growing the capacity and redundancy of freight container volumes.

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Canada Place cruise ship terminal in downtown Vancouver. (Shutterstock)

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Canada Place cruise ship terminal in downtown Vancouver. (Destination Vancouver)

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Princess Cruises’ Ruby Princes ship at Canada Place in downtown Vancouver. (Shutterstock)

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Disney Wonder at the Canada Place cruise ship terminal in downtown Vancouver. (Macklin Holloway/Shutterstock)

“From a location perspective, the closer to the primary services that tourists require or desire the better,” Walt Judas, the CEO of Tourism Industry Association of BC, told Daily Hive Urbanized.

“The current terminal at Canada Place is a big reason why Vancouver is not only a homeport but also very popular for cruise passengers. Providing easy access from YVR to hotels, attractions, restaurants, retailers and other amenities in cities like Vancouver and Richmond is paramount for cruise passengers and their experience in our destination.”

Some of the world’s largest cruise ship terminals are co-located with container facilities and even naval establishments.

Vancouver isn’t the only major global cruise ship homeport that is seeing restrained growth due to a low-clearance bridge in its harbour. For many years, Australian officials have been contending with the Sydney Harbour Bridge’s low clearance of 49 metres (161 ft) — a big problem for accommodating large cruise ships, given that much of Sydney’s cruise ship capacity is situated on the other side of the bridge.

In the meantime, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority maintains Canada Place has sufficient capacity to handle “current demand for cruise services” from utilizing all three of its berths, including the east berth for larger ships.

Vancouver experienced a relatively strong return of its cruise ship industry in 2022 when 815,000 passengers were recorded on an all-time record number of cruise ship visits.

For the 2023 season, the port authority is expecting a new record of 331 ship visits at Canada Place, which could produce a new record of 1.3 million passengers if the ships are full — a scenario that was not possible for much of last year’s season due to pandemic-time health safety operations.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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