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The nation’s busiest cruise terminal is about to get a little busier.
Carnival Cruise Line on Wednesday embarked on a terminal expansion project in Long Beach that will more than double the size of its arrival and departure facility, allowing 100,000 more passengers to move through the terminal each year.
The multimillion-dollar renovation involves Carnival taking over the 142,000-square-foot Geodesic Dome that once housed Howard Hughes’ famed Spruce Goose. Carnival currently uses about 40 percent of the space to process passengers, a restriction that has limited the size of ships that could call on Long Beach.
During a kickoff ceremony inside the Dome, Carlos Torres de Navarra, Carnival’s vice president of strategic and commercial port development, said the project will do a lot for the local economy, but more importantly, it will create a better customer experience.
“One of the challenges we’ve always had here, as we’ve brought in larger ships, is the one-way terminal, meaning everybody needs to get off the ship and out of the terminal before we could let one guest through to get on the ship,” he said. “With these new improvements, all of those guests that want to come into the terminal, check in, sit down and relax, while other guests are coming off the ship, can wait in a comfortable environment.”
The project is slated for completion late this year, and comes just in time for a larger cruise ship, Carnival Splendor, to call Long Beach home.
Currently, two ships — Carnival Imagination and Inspiration — offer three- and four-day cruises to Baja, Mexico, year round. A third ship, Carnival Miracle, operates weeklong Mexican Riviera voyages and 14- and 15-day cruises to Hawaii and Alaska.
In January 2018, Carnival Splendor will embark on a 13-day cruise from the East to the West Coast, offering passengers a journey through the Panama Canal’s new lock system en route to Long Beach. Splendor can carry nearly 900 more passengers than Miracle, the ship it will be replacing.
When Carnival first came to Long Beach in 2003, it was a one-ship operation. And now, the expanded terminal will allow 1.4 million travelers to pass through each year, up from the current 1.3 million.
An important element of the project, Navarra said, is increasing the capacity of the shore-side electrical grid that allows ships to plug in. California requires ship operators to use shore power, known as “cold-ironing,” to reduce pollutants caused by fuel emissions while docked.
Speaking inside the Dome on Wednesday, Mayor Robert Garcia called the project “a special moment for Long Beach.”
“This is a space that truly has been underutilized and not really had full operations since the airplane that was in this building left,” he said. “When you think about Long Beach and when you think about the skyline or the Queen Mary … this dome is almost always in the photo; it’s almost always a part of Long Beach. Everyone knows that, and I think it’s a great way for Carnival to grow their presence and their brand in this city.”
Navarra also announced Wednesday a $25,000 donation from The Carnival Foundation to the Mayor’s Fund for Education, cementing its commitment to the community, officials said.
The expansion is part of a deal reached with the city and Urban Commons, a real estate firm that recently took over the Queen Mary and announced plans for a $250 million shore-side development called Queen Mary Island. The sprawling complex would feature restaurant and retail options paired with an outdoor amphitheater and California’s first indoor adventure park.
“We’ve seen many landlords come and go with grandiose ideas, but I can tell you, in dealing with these guys with negotiations on the lease, they’re committed,” Navarro said. “They have a clear vision, and we can’t wait to be part of that story as it develops.”