The first cruise ship pulled into San Diego's new terminal Wednesday, easing long-running concerns that the city lacked adequate facilities for huge, modern vessels.
The Holland America Rotterdam tied up shortly after 7 a.m. to end a 30-day voyage to the French Polynesian and Hawaiian islands. The 1,400-passenger ship had embarked from the older, main terminal next door.
The $28 million new terminal, made of steel and glass, was opposed by environmentalists and neighborhood activists who considered it a blight on the downtown waterfront, but it was welcomed by the cruise ship industry.
The main terminal lacked space to accommodate behemoth ships carrying more than 3,000 passengers, said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of cruisecritic.com.
"It's an incredibly gorgeous city and then you (got) off into this crumbling, cement wreck," she said. "Frankly, it was just sort of depressing."
The new, 52,000-square-foot, gleaming building with a toothed roof is much less ambitious than one initially planned in 1991. A weak economy forced the San Diego Unified Port District to scale back, but industry observers said the new building will help San Diego compete with other West Coast ports.
Unlike many ports, the city's docks are close to its main airport and to downtown hotels, said Paul Motter, editor of cruisemates.com.
Facilities in San Pedro, outside Los Angeles, are undergoing a $125-million upgrade, but the area is less convenient to hotels and airports, he said.
The expansion came at a challenging time for San Diego's cruise ship business. Last year, Carnival Cruise Lines discontinued its year-round ship to Mexico's Baja California coast, significantly cutting into traffic.
The port district expects 258,000 passengers next year, roughly half the estimated 514,775 passengers this year. Dockings by ships were expected to drop to 103 from 152.
The new terminal building, which is less than half the size the main building, is expected to handle about a dozen dockings next year, said port spokesman John Gilmore. It will also be used to weddings and other events.