We’ve come a long way since 1958 when the Prudential-Grace Line was the first cruise line to begin weekly visits to Aruba, sending its ships Santa Rosa and Santa Paula packed with tourists every Thursday.
A grand total of 500 passengers a week.
That segment of the Aruba Tourism Industry is oxygen for the merchants on main street. But the person who will find a way to actually get our visitors there, has not been born yet. And the monumental tram investment was no great help.
From what I understand the Cruise Ship business is volatile.
The operators change ports of call at their convenience, and depending on economic shifts move ships to closer ports operating shorter itineraries.
In recent years passengers prefer to drive to their port of embarkation, take a short spin thru a few Caribbean ports, eat and drink, then head home driving.
Aruba in the southern-most Caribbean is never included in short itineraries, we are far removed from mainland, and fuel is always a great expense.
And as such we remain at the mercy of cruise ship companies.
To keep them around we subsidize their docking here. Our rates are the lowest in the biz, we gratefully remove trash and supply water and whatever, to safeguard the industry for the benefit of our retailers, our tour operators, APA and all other support businesses.
Are we bad negotiators or just desperate?
Because of economic benefits to cruise ship company, the ships grow bigger and bigger, and the ports must be dredged deeper and deeper at considerable investment.
Some of the ships carry up to 6,000 passengers, same cost, more revenue to their happy owners. We keep dredging and adjusting, so that Horizon, a giant by Carnival Cruise Line, 3,916 passengers, with a Victoria Secret boutique on board, could visit.
(We’re thankfully unprepared for Symphony of the Sea for example, that is able to accommodate 5,518 passengers at double occupancy up to a maximum capacity of 6,680 passengers, as well as a 2,200-person crew)
But as the age of passengers rises, their desire to shop declines, and the truth is that cruising is cheaper than retirement homes, and much more fun, so the elderly are now traveling with gusto, but they spend less.
And in the spirit of the time, most ships now belong to two or three mega companies, which operate the different brands.
Good news: The Ritz Carlton flaunts its own cruise experience with very upscale, moderately sized ships, but the well-heeled will not get off the boat in Aruba and run the gauntlet of crazy vendors at the entrance of the port to experience the un-manicured Oranjestad sidewalks.
We still have some work to do in town, before the boutique-passenger leaves the lap of luxury to explore Oranjestad.