Cruise ships are getting so big, industry says B.C. needs to act now to revamp infrastructure

WATCH: One of the world's biggest cruise ships is setting out from Vancouver harbour on its first North American voyage but as Aaron McArthur reports, it can barely squeeze under the Lions Gate bridge and that's jeopardizing the city's future as a destination port.

The arrival of another gargantuan cruise ship in Vancouver Harbour is reigniting calls to revamp B.C.’s coastal infrastructure.

The 333-metre Norwegian Joy sailed under the Lions Gate Bridge Thursday night with barely enough room to squeeze through at low tide, and had to wait for the waters to lower again to sail back out on its way to Alaska Friday.

Only five feet of space was left between the top of the ship and the bottom of the bridge as it passed slowly beneath.

WATCH: Inside the enormous Norwegian Joy cruise ship

With 18 decks, a go-kart track, a virtual reality arena, dozens of bars and restaurants and room for 4,000 passengers, Norwegian Cruise Lines says the Joy represents the future of cruise ships.

“The beauty of the size of the ship is that we can put so many things on that give our guests choice,” said the company’s CEO Andy Stuart. “We want to try and offer more experiences for more people.”

That poses a problem for Vancouver, and the province’s cruise ship industry as a whole.


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A similar problem emerged last year, when the Joy‘s sister ship, the enormous Norwegian Bliss, also had to wait for low tide to carefully make its way into the Burrard Inlet.

With more ships being built at similar levels to accommodate growing passenger demand and the amenities they clamor for, the local industry is worried about major economic losses.

“A visit of is worth, conservatively, $3 million to the provincial economy,” Barry Penner with the Cruise Line International Association said. “A ship like is even bigger, so it offers considerably more, and could bring in even more economic benefit.”

WATCH: (Aired May 6, 2018) Why Vancouver could lose major cruise ship revenue

That benefit is increasingly moving to Seattle, where the Joy is set to call its home port for the summer.

With no option to raise or remove the Lions Gate Bridge, Penner said the time has come to consider an alternate home for the cruise ship industry that doesn’t have such restrictions.

“We’re looking at an option for another terminal somewhere outside the downtown harbour, perhaps towards Delta,” Penner said. “It’s not right downtown, but it would be closer to the airport, and in global terms, it’s not that far from downtown.”


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Despite the worries over its future, the Port of Vancouver is still predicting another record-breaking cruise ship season this year, with a 21 per cent increase in passenger traffic compared to 2018.

Jenner said there’s still major demand around the world for sailings to and from Vancouver, and is hopeful the provincial and federal governments will step in if they sense a need for funding.

“It does sometimes come as a surprise that we can’t rest on our laurels,” he said. “It will take true leadership and vision for us to stay in the game for the next 20 to 30 years if we want to stay at the forefront of this industry.”

— With files from Aaron McArthur

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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