“We don’t like to develop ports,” says David Candib, v.p. of development and operations, Global Port and Destination Development Group, while walking around Amber Cove, where the Carnival Corporation is spending about $85 million to do exactly that. “However, more than 60 percent of cruise ship passengers are repeat customers, so we want to offer them new itineraries,” explains Candib. “We are enabling our company to grow.”
Giora Israel, senior v.p. of Global Port and Destination Development, says, “We are constantly looking for new ways for our guests to enjoy their cruise experience and…to add new destinations to our itineraries, especially in the Caribbean, where many of our passengers have been before.” He and Candib show the facility to a small group of journalists—the first travel media to see what will be the most cutting-edge facility in the Caribbean. The port will welcome its first cruise ship on Oct. 6.
Fall and Rise of the North Coast
Amber Cove lies just outside Puerto Plata, on the north (a.k.a. Amber) coast of the Dominican Republic. This area was once the most important tourism destination in the D.R., but just as Acapulco, Mexico, lost traction to Cancun and Cabo, Puerto Plata was overtaken by La Romana and Punta Cana. Major cruise ships stopped visiting Puerto Plata in the late 1980s.
Today, Puerto Plata is back, with new hotels, attractions, first-time visitors, and, coming soon, Amber Cove. This two-berth port will be able to accommodate the world’s largest cruise ships, so it’s designed to process 8,000 passengers with unprecedented speed. “The transportation hub is the largest part of the facility,” explains Candib.
High at One of the Bars
Impressive, but so is the entire facility. The long piers are already complete, and construction of the shore components are proceeding on schedule. I was able to see store and restaurant buildings that evoke Dominican architecture, a large swimming pool and deck, piers leading to private cabanas that couples/families can rent (each will come with kayaks, paddle boards, and chef/bartender), and a look-out bar atop a 65-ft. high granite rock. As I climbed the stairs and stood on two-by-fours that will soon support a mahogany floor, I was able to enjoy a cool breeze, as well as see the verdant mountains to the south and turquoise water to the north.
Most passengers, of course, will take an excursion instead of staying on site, because the Puerta Plata area is one of the most diverse and unspoiled port areas in the Caribbean. More than 40 excursions will offer options such as beaches, a complete range of watersports, eco-tours, culinary tours, cultural excursions (e.g. the oldest fort in the New World and a community of Jewish refugees in the 1940s), interactions with sea creatures at Ocean World, and a cablecar ride up to Mount Isabel.
Look Who’s Coming
Amber Cove is positioned to pair with Carnival’s Grand Turk Cruise Center, about 100 miles to the north. If (or should I say “when”?) Cuba continues to open up, Amber Cove will also be in an excellent position to accommodate itineraries featuring that country. Meanwhile, the first ship Amber Cove will welcome in October is the Carnival Victory, after which it will receive Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, P&O’s (UK) Azura, AIDA Cruises’ AIDAvita, Costa Cruises’ Costa Deliziosa, and Holland-America’s MS Eurodam. In all, it will host about 250,000 cruise passengers in its first year.
As we completed this tour, Israel suddenly snaps a photo of something near the walkway. “Other people take pictures of things they like,” he says to me. “I take pictures of what I don’t like.” I didn’t see whatever flaw there was that Israel had noticed, but I suspect that whatever it was, he’ll have it fixed. Quickly. For more information, call (888) 227-6482 or visit carnival.com, or goccl.com.