Strategically situated between the busier Florida homeports to the south and the metropolitan New York port facilities to the north, Charleston, South Carolina, provides an ideal jumping-off point for regional cruise travelers looking to visit the Bahamas or Caribbean. Named 2016’s “Best City in the World” by Travel + Leisure magazine, “Charleston has long been regarded as one of the country’s top travel destinations for its history, natural beauty and Southern charm,” according to the South Carolina Ports Authority’, which goes on to say: “An ideal cruise port with an efficiently run operation and plans for a new, state-of-the-art cruise terminal, Charleston is reach’ to welcome cruise operators and travelers alike.”
The city’s sole resident ship-the 70,000- gross-ton/2,052-passenger Carnival Ecstasy -was recenty refurbished with a variety of Carnival Fun Ship 2.0 improvements that brought the 1991-built vessel in line with newer Carnival ships in the fleet. Among additions that the Ecstasy received during a two-week dry dock in the Bahamas earlier this year were Guy’s Burger Joint, a no-charge poolside venue serving handcrafted burgers and fresh-cut fries; Bluelguana Cantina, a complimentary poolside Mexican eatery serving freshly made burritos and tacos; the Alchemy Bar, a “cocktail-pharmacy”- themed lounge; and Cherry on Top, “the sweetest spot onboard” for bulk candy and other treats. Throughout 2017, the Ecstasy sails on a schedule of four- and five-day cruises to the Bahamas or seven-day cruises to the Eastern Caribbean, with a special one¬time-only, 10-day Carnival Journeys Caribbean voyage departing on November 5.
In addition to the Carnival Ecstasy which operates year-round, the 102,000-gt/3,006-pax Carnival Sunshine will offer six roundtrip cruises from Charleston this year. The first three of these sailings took place in May, with upcoming departures scheduled on October 26 for a four-day cruise to the Bahamas, October 30 for a five-day cruise to the Bahamas and November 4 for a seven-day cruise to the Caribbean. Besides these turnarounds, the city is scheduled to receive in-transit calls from a range of major cruise lines including Royal Caribbean International, Oceania Cruises, Ciystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Princess Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Holland America Line and Seaboum Cruise Line. Foreign lines visiting the port include Britain’s Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines and P&O Cruises, plus Germany’s AIDA Cruises, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises and TUI Cruises.
The Charleston cruise terminal at Union Pier is located in the heart of the downtown historic district and is easily reachable via . Interstate 26 or State Highway 17. Charleston International Airport is located in North Charleston, about 10 miles from the terminal or 20 to 30 minutes driving time, and is served by national carriers including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines. A taxi ride from the airport to the cruise terminal costs approximately $30. For passengers driving to the pier, pre-paid parking can be reserved on the Ports Authority’s website at a rate of $68 for a four-day cruise, $85 for a five-day cruise or $119 for a seven-day cruise.
The Ports Authority has plans in place for a new $35-million cruise terminal at Union Pier near the site of the present facility, which dates back to the 1970s, but for the last few years the project has been embroiled in a lawsuit claiming that increased congestion and pollution would damage the historic district’s unique character. At press time, the lawsuit was still pending.
For those interested in more than just a cruise, Charleston offers a variety of attractions starting with traditional horse- drawn carriage rides. Within walking distance of the port lie several well preserved houses built in the late 1700s to early 1800 s that are open for tours. Among the major attractions closest to the cruise pier is the South Carolina Aquarium at nearby Aquarium Wharf. Picturesque Boone Hall plantation, with its avenue of graceful oak trees, is considered a must-see. Civil War buffs won’t want to miss the opportunity to stand at Fort Sumter, the site of the first shot fired in the War Between the States, while those interested in military hardware can tour a World War H-era aircraft carrier, the USS York town, plus the destroyer USS Laffey and submarine USS Clamagore, at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum.