One of the great things about being at Royal Caribbean International is you get to be part of something where you can say “no one has done that before.” Understandably, most readers would quickly think of our ships. After all, the delivery of Oasis of the Seas will mark the eighth time we have established a new standard of innovation on the water – if you’re counting, that would be Song of Norway, Song of America, Sovereign-class, Vision-class, Voyager-class, Radiance-class, Freedom-class and now Oasis-class.
But today I’m not thinking of the ships themselves, but rather one of the places we go – Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey. Proud home of Explorer of the Seas and next year also home to our sister brand’s ship Celebrity Summit. Just over two weeks ago, Cape Liberty celebrated five years since the first call of Voyager of the Seas. Since then, 1.552 million guests have embarked on cruises at Cape Liberty on a total of 308 sailings. And we have consistently achieved some of our highest embarkation ratings in Bayonne.
When I think back on my 20+ years in the business, the creation of Cape Liberty strikes me as one of the most amazing developments of all.
I can summarize in one word what led to such an unforeseen development – panic. We had indicated to New York City in the normal course of business the sailing dates for Voyager’s 2004 season. Bringing Voyager to New York was a big deal to us and we thought it would be a reasonably big deal to New York as well. Wrong. Despite our long operating history at the West Side terminals and Voyager’s status in the industry, New York responded with an incomplete set of confirmations of the sailing dates we had requested. Over the course of six months it became clear New York was not going to make certain dates available to us because of trade shows scheduled to use terminal space we needed for our operation. So we were committed to offer a Voyager program with no homeport for the ship. Not good.
By a remarkable coincidence, just as we started to cast about for an alternative, Bayonne was beginning to come to grips with the large Military Operations Terminal parcel that jutted out into New York harbor from the edge of town. A victim of the base closures of the early 1990’s, MOTBY was only being used for filmmaking in abandoned warehouses. The nascent Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority (BLRA) under then-Executive Director Nancy Kist was looking for early stage tenants. I don’t remember how we found each other, because we weren’t thinking of them and they weren’t thinking of us. All I know is I flew to Newark on a gray, cold, rainy day in March, 2003 to check MOTBY out. I got out of the car at the end of the parcel, looked north (not very far) to the Statue of Liberty and southern Manhattan, and thought to myself “we have to make this work.” There wasn’t really time to create a modern, functioning cruise pier and terminal in 14 months, but that’s the type of challenge Royal Caribbean International people live for and we had great teammates at the BLRA. It has been a success from the start and was improved over the winter as the ships can finally berth out at the point where I got out of the car six years ago.
Congratulations to Anthony Caputo who has overseen our operations at Cape Liberty since the beginning, as well as to Anthony’s team, the BLRA, CBP, the stevedores and porters, Celeste Gladstone, Craig Milan, Juan Trescastro, John Fox, John Tercek, James Boink, Peter Brand and everyone at Royal Caribbean and our partner companies for creating a huge success out of cold, thin air.
As Cape Liberty’s Operations Administrator Danielle Gaskins says: Cruise from the Jersey Side…WHY NOT!