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‘Economic boom’: Sapphire Princess docks in Victoria as first ship of B.C. cruise season

More than 300 ships expected in B.C. waters, bringing up to a million visitors
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Greater Victoria Harbour Authority CEO Robert Lewis-Manning speaks to media after the arrival of the Sapphire Princess at Ogden Point Tuesday (April 11) morning. (Austin Westphal/News Staff)

Passengers aboard the Sapphire Princess were greeted by Lekwungen dancers and Songhees Nation representatives as B.C.’s first cruise ship of the year docked in Victoria.

On Tuesday (April 11) morning, the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA) welcomed the 209-metre ship at the Breakwater District port, marking the start of the 2023 cruise season in Canadian waters.

Despite the cold temperatures and strong wind gusts at Ogden Point, Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO Bruce Williams said the arrival of the Sapphire Princess means spring has finally sprung.

“It’s great to have the cruise ships back because of the economic boom that it brings to the city,” he said. “People disperse around the region – they stay downtown, they go to Butchart Gardens, they go to other attractions around (Greater Victoria) and they bring that whole energy that we need to get us back into the swing of things.”

Williams said the cruise industry is expected to contribute about $130 million to the Capital Region’s economy this year alone.

The 209-metre Sapphire Princess, operated by Princess Cruise Lines, docks at Ogden Point April 11. (Austin Westphal/News Staff)
The 209-metre Sapphire Princess, operated by Princess Cruise Lines, docks at Ogden Point April 11. (Austin Westphal/News Staff)

While the Alaska-bound Sapphire Princess is only staying a brief 14 hours at the Breakwater District port, Downtown Victoria Business Association CEO Jeff Bray said it’s an exciting start to what he believes will be a solid tourism season in the B.C. capital.

“It’s really what fuels a lot of our retail and food and beverage (sales) downtown. And certainly having this first ship here in April signals – I think – what’s going to be another strong year for downtown,” he said.

This year, the GVHA is projecting 320 total ship calls. While that figure is just slightly down from last year’s 329 ship calls, CEO Robert Lewis-Manning said passenger numbers are up from 735,000 to 850,000 due to increased ship capacities.

Earlier this month, the province announced a $9-million investment into the shore-power project for the port at the Breakwater District. The shore-power connection will allow cruise ships to plug into the local electricity grid and turn off their generators while docked, reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as noise.

Six cruise ships will also be making their inaugural call to Victoria this summer: Brilliance of the Seas, Carnival Luminosa, L’Austral, MS Insignia, Scenic Eclipse II and Ocean Victory.

The Victoria arrival of the Sapphire Princess marks not just the beginning of the cruise ship season in Victoria, but for the entire province. The vessel travels next to Vancouver to begin that city’s season.

The Port of Vancouver says 331 cruise ships are scheduled, potentially delivering more than one million visitors into the downtown core, with almost daily arrivals and departures at the height of the season between May and September.

Prince Rupert’s cruise ship season doesn’t start until May 3 with the arrival of the Carnival Miracle, but 43 more ships and nearly 80,000 passengers are scheduled to visit before the season ends at that north coast port in early October.

Cruise ships returned to British Columbia last year following a two-year, COVID-19 related break, with the Port of Vancouver saying it welcomed a record 307 ships, a seven per cent increase over visits in 2019.

— with a file from The Canadian Press

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