Cruise News: Identity Crisis

The arrival of the first cruise ship of the season — the Seven Seas Navigator — in Sydney on Sunday set me to thinking about all things cruise again, so I tried to compose a snapshot of the industry, particularly as it relates to the Port of Sydney, and that’s what I’ll be on about this week.

According to the schedule posted on the Port of Sydney website, we’re expecting 83 calls this season. As usual, the three main cruise lines will represent the vast majority (75 or 90%) of these visits.

Specifically, the Carnival Corporation (which includes the Cunard, Holland America, P&O and Princess Lines, all of which are scheduled to call here in 2022, plus the AIDA, Costa Cruises and Seabourn lines, which are not) will account for 35 calls.

The Norwegian Cruise Line (which owns the Regent Seven Seas and Oceania lines, all scheduled to call in Sydney) will account for 26 calls.

Royal Caribbean (which owns the Silverseas, TUI and Celebrity lines, all scheduled to call here, as well as the Azamara and Pullmantur lines, which are not) will account for 14 calls.

(The Port of Louisbourg was to see 11 calls, although the first vessel, the Viking Octantis, was unable to dock on April 21.  Louisbourg visits are chiefly from smaller vessels owned by smaller lines, although the Silver Cloud — a Silverseas vessel — will dock there on May 15. Otherwise, the calls will be by vessels from the Windstar, National Geographic-Lindblad, Viking, Adventure Canada, and Ponant lines.)


Second berth

I was curious to see how many days would see multiple cruise ships in port, putting our second berth to work, and it looks like there will be 13 such days, namely: August 24 (2 vessels), September 15 (3), September 21 (2), September 22 (2), September 25 (3), September 26 (3), September 27 (3), September 30 (2), October 5 (4), October 6 (2), October 7 (3), October 17 (2) and October 28 (2).

But I would also note that on the six days when there are three vessels in port, one will be at anchor, and on the one day when there are four vessels in port, two will be at anchor. That’s interesting because one of the big arguments for the second berth was that cruise lines don’t like anchoring and bringing passengers to and from shore by tender.

To be fair, though, one of the arguments against the second berth was that cruise lines don’t want to be in port on the same days as other cruise lines, competing for scarce resources (read: buses) and that doesn’t look to be the case this season in Sydney. Mind you, that’s probably because it’s unlikely these ships will be at full capacity this season. The Port actually notes at the top of this season’s schedule that we should expect “reduced passenger counts on each ship.”

Because if the four vessels booked for Sydney on October 5 were all to arrive at capacity, they’d be carrying a total of 8,600 passengers and 3,382 crew members — 11,982 people.

Port of Sydney Calls, 5 October 2022

Source: Port of Sydney

Way back in 2016, I was told by the Port of Sydney that for purposes of calculating the economic impact of cruise, they assume 95% of passengers and 35% of crew disembark here. I don’t believe those numbers — as MUN professor and cruise critic Ross Klein told me at the time, they come from the cruise industry and should be taken with a pinch of salt — but even assuming much lower disembarkation numbers, four full ships’ worth of passengers would surely put an unholy strain on our transportation resources.

In fact, the Seven Seas Navigator. which was here on Sunday, was carrying 115 passengers and 340 crew, well below its capacity of 490 and 374, respectively. We know this because the CBC New Brunswick got the figures from the Port of Saint John, where the vessel docked on April 28. The CBC took an interest in the vessel because it was under investigation by the US Centers for Disease Control for an “Orange” level COVID outbreak, but more about that in part two of my Cruise Update.


Home of the spooked Loyalist

Having perused the 2022 cruise schedule (which, I should note, may be subject to change), the next thing I did was visit some of the cruise line websites to see what shore excursions they’re offering in Sydney this season and how they’re selling them. Excursions at our port are handled by two, Halifax-based operators, Dennis Campbell’s Ambassatours Gray Line and  Maritime Travel Cruise Services, (formerly Atlantic Cruise Ship Services)

The first thing I noticed was that most cruise lines still refer to Sydney as a “city,” which I will forgive on the grounds that “regional municipality” is a fuzzy concept and an inelegant term and “city,” although inaccurate, gets the job done when you’re describing shore excursions.

Props to Royal Caribbean, though, which avoids having to decide what sort of municipal unit Sydney is by calling us an “enclave” (defined by Merriam Webster as “a distinct territorial, cultural, or social unit enclosed within or as if within foreign territory”).

Most cruise lines have a rather shaky grasp of our history and geography as illustrated, once again, by Royal Caribbean:

Originally founded by Loyalists spooked by the American Revolution, Sydney remains a haven — but today, it’s one replete with golf courses, a hearty music scene and the world-famous Cabot Trail.

Sydney wasn’t “founded” by Loyalists, but at least there’s an element of truth in that statement (some Loyalists did flee here and join the British immigrants who arrived with DesBarres, that famous little bronze man, in 1784). But there are no golf courses in Sydney and — do I really have to say this? — the Cabot Trail is not here either. I get that Sydney is the “gateway” to other island attractions, but surely there’s a difference between saying that and simply substituting “Sydney” for “Cape Breton?”

Most cruise lines make no mention of the people who were here before the British (or the French, who get big play because of the Fortress of Louisbourg) but Silverseas Cruises (owned by Royal Caribbean) does reference Cape Breton’s “native Mi’kmaq people,” includes the Membertou Heritage Park in its Sydney itinerary and offers an Eskasoni  Cultural Journey as a half-day shore excursion, as does the Princess line (owned by Carnival Corporation).

And Celebrity Cruises, also owned by Royal Caribbean, kicks everything up a notch, referring to Membertou as “a modern-day blueprint for all aboriginal communities in North America.” (No shade to Membertou, but how much thought do you think Celebrity Cruise Line executives have actually given to the issue of “aboriginal” governance in North America?). Celebrity also includes Membertou in one of its Sydney excursions.

Of course, cruise lines don’t acknowledge your existence because they’ve suddenly become woke, they acknowledge your existence because you’ve suddenly become of monetary value to them. That Princess excursion to Eskasoni is priced at $160 per person. If you look at the Eskasoni Cultural Journeys website, you’ll see the group fee for 20 people is $400. If 20 passengers sign up for the package, Princess collects $3,200. Some of this money will go to the venue and some to the middleman but most of it will go to the cruise line. Dennis Campbell of Ambassatours Gray Line told Phil Moscovitch as much back in March:

It varies by line. Many of the cruise companies mark up the excursions anywhere from 60 to 100 per cent. There are times when the cruise lines almost give the cruises away, and look at their profit centres as the onboard bards, casinos, and on-shore tours. That’s just the way it is.

Moscovitch also spoke to Ross Klein, who noted that even though most of this money is going to the cruise line, the full cost of the excursion counts toward the economic impact of the industry on the local economy. Go figure.

But back to our subject du jour: the cruise lines’ potted histories of Sydney.

Celebrity, which describes “Sydney and its environs” as “[s]pread out and splendid,” notes that it has “served as home to many immigrants who arrived on Canadian shores through the centuries, including French Acadians, Eastern Europeans, Scotsmen, and Africans.”

I know parsing cruise line marketing materials for meaning is a fool’s errand, but who writes a sentence like that and thinks, “Let’s see, I’ve implied there are Acadians other than French Acadians, treated Eastern Europeans and Africans as homogenous ethnic groups and made it sound like no Scottish women immigrated to Cape Breton. NAILED. IT.”

Norwegian Cruise Lines, on the other hand, makes up for this by noting that the coal industry “brought immigration from many parts of the world, giving Sydney a multicultural mix of over 50 ethnic backgrounds.”


Mistaken identity

The most egregious error a surprising number of the cruise lines make when it comes to Sydney, though, is mistaking us for our (admittedly more photogenic) neighbors. For example, this photo labeled “Sydney Nova Scotia cityscape” on the Royal Caribbean site features Immaculate Conception Church in Sydney Mines:

North Sydney waterfront

And in its attempt to encourage passengers to take a walking tour of Sydney or “wander the tidy new boardwalk” listening to “the rustle of washing waves” (who doesn’t love the rustling of paper-dry waves?), Silverseas tempts passengers with a picture of North Sydney (this time it’s St. Joseph’s Church front and center):

Silver Seas Excursion, Walking Tour Sydney

Source: Silverseas Cruises website


Celebrity also substitutes North Sydney for Sydney in its Old Sydney Walking Tour description:

Old Sydney, NS, Walking Tour, photo of North Sydney

Source: Celebrity Cruises website.


As does Norwegian Cruise Line, proving it’s not just a Carnival Corporation misconception. Norwegian Cruise Line’s description of its “Sydney Pub Tour” (a steal at a mere $34 per beer) shows a picture of North Sydney in which you can clearly see not only Saint Joseph’s Church but the Newfoundland ferry:

Norwegian Cruise Lines Pub Tour Sydney, NS

Source: Norwegian Cruise Lines

I realize what this probably means is that a graphic designer somewhere assumed “Sydney Mines” and “North Sydney” were part of a larger City of Sydney — like East L.A. or South Side Chicago — and that, therefore, these pictures were fair game. But shouldn’t somebody at the Port of Sydney have, maybe, pointed out the error? What if passengers sign up for the Sydney Pub Tour and complain later that they didn’t get to see the ferry terminal or the big church?

More interesting to me, though, is the suggestion that, from a web designer’s purely aesthetic point of view — and despite all the development along the Sydney waterfront — Sydney Mines and North Sydney have more appealing skylines than Sydney does. Ouch.

Of course, sometimes the designers remove us from the picture entirely. Here’s the image accompanying the Regent Seven Seas’ pub tour. This photo apparently shows a happy couple at some point between beers at the Old Triangle, the Crown and Moose and Daniel’s in downtown Sydney:

Sydney Pub tour, Regent Seven Seas

Source: Regent Seven Seas Pub Tour

And the Holland America Line (owned by Carnival Corporation), which visits the Port of Sydney more than any other line and which, presumably knows and loves us best, chose to represent us with a photo of a horse at the Highland Village:

Horse at Highland Village, Iona



(Mind you, Holland America Line also thinks we sing sea “chanteys” in our pubs and that a trip around the Cabot Trail will take you through the “Cape Smokey Mountains.”  Celebrity, meanwhile, thinks we boast something called “The Great Island Sea,” which I assume is a reference to our great “inland” sea, the Bras d’Or.)

Royal Caribbean represents Sydney with a picture of the Louisbourg Lighthouse (the same one, coincidentally, used by the Sydney Call Centre), skillfully cropped to remove most of the Louisbourg Lighthouse:

Royal Caribbean cruise itinerary, Sydney, NS



Duly noted

My survey of the cruise line websites was neither scientific nor exhaustive (although the industry does make things easier by being so concentrated) and as a result, I’ve turned up a bunch of stray threads I can’t weave into some larger whole, so I’m just going to list them because they’re funny.

P&O Cruises (owned by Carnival Corporation) directs passengers looking “for souvenirs” to “the vibrant Sydney River shopping district.”

A Holland America Lines excursion to Bird Islands, which starts at $170 per person and takes 2 and 1/2 hours, includes a box lunch “containing a sandwich, applesauce and a granola bar.”

Fred Olsen Cruises tells passengers docking in Sydney to “head into the highlands of Cape Breton and walk the famous Cabot Trail.”

And I’ve invented a “most overblown attraction” award just so I can give it to the cruise line promising passengers a glimpse of the “spectacular wind farm at Lingan.”