Tourist season will get a jump start this weekend as two Princess Cruise Ships have scheduled last-minute stops in Santa Barbara in the interests of avoiding their intended destinations in the Mexican Riviera. The decision to change their itineraries came in response to a recommendation from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control that all nonessential travel to Mexico be avoided as a result of concern about swine flu infection.
Approximately 5,000 passengers will be spilling from the two ships over the course of the weekend, some from the Sapphire Princess today, May 2, and the rest from the Star Princess on Sunday, May 3. A third ship will be stopping in Santa Barbara on May 10, as part of its regularly scheduled itinerary.
While Santa Barbara is accustomed to hosting one or two such ships per year, the short notice preceding this weekend’s visit has caused the usual preparations to become rushed. Each ship arrives at 7 a.m. and departs at 6 p.m. The Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Organization have coordinated with the Waterfront Department in readying tables, pamphlets, and volunteers to welcome this small boom of tourists.
Downtown business is also preparing itself for this windfall, as the cruise industry estimates that the average visiting couple from a vacation ship spends approximately $200 in one port of call. While this is expected to provide a welcome economic boost, Chamber of Commerce President Steve Cushman pointed out that the extra tourists wouldn’t necessarily mean an uncomfortably crowded downtown: The average weekend in Santa Barbara during tourist season sees roughly 40,000 visitors.
Money is not always the only deposit made by these visitors into the Santa Barbara area, however. The ships will anchor a mile offshore, as the Santa Barbara Harbor does not have the facilities to accommodate cruise liners. This has given rise to concerns among some environmental groups regarding the waste such boats leave behind in Santa Barbara waters. The Waterfront Department’s Harbor Operations Manager Mick Kronman assured that all such visiting ships agree not to dump any waste within 12 miles of the coast, and that similar restrictions exist within up to six miles from the Channel Islands.
Nevertheless, said Santa Barbara Channelkeeper Executive Director Kira Redmond, restrictions have been overlooked in the past by cruise ships. Consequently, cruise ships visiting Santa Barbara are regularly monitored by Channelkeeper staff, who circle the ships testing the bacteria levels in the water. “We go out there to let them know there are watchdog groups : who are concerned about the potential for pollution,” Redmond said.
The fear of pandemic has precipitated this increase in Santa Barbara cruise traffic, with three ships visiting from May 2 to the 13 - a substantial rise considering that only nine such ships have visited the South Coast since 2002, according to the Santa Barbara Waterfront Department. Even with the short notice, the Waterfront Department, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Downtown Organization have worked with other groups in the city to land these big fish, and to bring in needed money scared away from Mexico.