Cruise industry in New York is booming

The Norwegian Gem, a ship from Norwegian Cruise The Norwegian Gem, a ship from Norwegian Cruise Line chugs down the Hudson past the West Side of Manhattan on June 21, 2014. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

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It's not just Broadway or Central Park. Sailing the open seas has become one of the city's hottest tourist draws.

New York's cruise industry has seen a spike in business, generating $229.5 million in economic impact last year compared to $93.8 million five years ago, according to the city's Economic Development Corporation, which oversees the Big Apple's two cruise docks, in Red Hook and on the West Side.

City tourism experts and community leaders said they would like to tap into this boom and have the cruise companies -- and more importantly their passengers -- take in more of New York businesses.

"We're at the fulcrum and we can play a great role," said Craig Hammerman, district manager of Brooklyn Community Board 6, which covers the Red Hook cruise terminal.

Last year, 620,000 passengers embarked on cruises leaving from New York, up from 446,000 in 2009, according to the EDC.

Those passengers and crew members spent $141.2 million while ashore last year, a 51% jump from 2009, when they spent $93.8 million.

The Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey, is also a prime spot for New York area cruise lines like Norwegian and Carnival and Chris Heywood, of the city's tourism wing NYC & Company, said those companies open themselves up to greater opportunities in the Big Apple.

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Having two docks in New York gives the companies an advantage when it comes to a variety of destinations, he said.

"Our location geographically is an advantage. You can get to the Caribbean, England, all places easily."

Other cruise lines that dock in the city include Cunard, which operates the Queen Mary 2, Aida Cruises, Japan Grace and Princess Cruises.

Koreen McNutt, senior director of global cruise for the travel booking site Expedia, said New York also has an advantage over other ports because of its proximity to airports and local attractions.

"So for cruise lovers who don't live close enough to a drive market embarkation port and must fly to reach a cruise ship, New York offers a lot of options," she said.

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Hammerman, however, said that the companies aren't promoting the city enough.

The community leader said passengers rarely check out the sights and sounds of Red Hook because the cruise companies shuttle their passengers from their hotels to the dock.

Hammerman said the neighborhood has become increasingly frustrated with the industry over the years. "Instead of reacting with, 'Oh that's cool,' they now think, 'Oh damn, that means there will be more traffic, because of the boats,'" he said of residents.

Hammerman added that when the Red Hook terminal opened in 2006, there were 40 ships annually, but now it's down to 17.

A representative for EDC said although there are no current plans to expand the Red Hook cruise terminal, it is important to the city's economy and they are looking at ways to enhance it.

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Heywood said NYC & Company, which has been promoting the outer boroughs as fun destinations for tourists, has been working with the cruise lines to do a better job of touting the city's sights and sounds to potential customers.

Heywood said the cruises are already seeing the potential from making New York part of their packages and predicted they will continue to give back to the city.

"We value this sector so much. And our message with the trade is to educate them on what the city has to offer," he said.

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