By Seth Daniel
Every Friday at 4 p.m., a huge cruise ship’s horn sounds in Boston Harbor.
In fact, one might be able to step out on his porch and hear that horn if he listens carefully.
That’s how close the Massport Cruise Terminal and the Norwegian Spirit – the terminal’s newest and largest ship – are from Revere, and numerous people from all over the area are taking advantage of the ship’s low fares on weekly trips to Bermuda.
It truly is still one of the hidden jewels of Boston.
It’s mid-morning on a Friday in early June, and legions of cruise passengers – suntanned and relaxed – are filing off the Norwegian Spirit and through the Massport Cruise Terminal in South Boston, just a few minutes south of Logan Airport. They are headed back to their homes.
Meanwhile, even more passengers are arriving, dropping off their luggage and heading to board the boat for a full week of excitement, including three days docked at Bermuda, a sub-tropical island in the Atlantic that is due east from South Carolina.
The Bermuda cruise and Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) have been in Boston for a few years already, but the popularity of the trip has grown, now that NCL has stationed the much larger and newly renovated Norwegian Spirit ship.
The 2,018-room ship made its first voyage in 1998, but was renovated last fall to the tune of several million dollars. Following that renovation, it was docked in Boston and began cruising on May 1.
“We had the Norwegian Majesty here before, which is a smaller ship and a little older,” said AnneMarie Mathews, director of public relations for NCL (and also a native of Revere). “This is a much newer and bigger ship. It has more than 2,000 double occupancy staterooms and more balconies. There weren’t any balconies on the Majesty. The Spirit has 10 restaurants, 12 bars and lounges and many, many amenities…It’s a good time to cruise, because the fares have never been so low.”
Lisa Langone, a spokeswoman for Massport, said the new ship is a big coup for the CruisePort, and will fully complement more than $3 million in renovations that Massport intends to perform on the CruisePort facilities this summer.
“From what I hear, the ship has been sold out on each cruise so far,” said Langone. “The Boston to Bermuda market has become so popular that there’s been demand for a larger ship. The bigger ship here proves that…the CruisePort has definitely grown over time. The last season we had was record-breaking for us in terms of passengers and ships.”
While Norwegian Spirit may be the largest destination of passengers, there are other ships that make calls, and overall, the numbers are way up for the CruisePort.
Last year, the number of ships making a call on Boston was up by 12 percent and the number of passengers leaving on cruise ships was up by 15 percent.
Those numbers are quite evident from the hustle and bustle outside the terminal every Friday. And it’s no secret that people are scrambling to get onto the Spirit.
The boat is 13 stories tall and features a 1,000-seat performance auditorium, casinos, restaurants and finely appointed rooms ranging from $599 per person and up. Of course, the price includes just about everything.
It also includes what NCL calls Freestyle cruising, which is a system that gives more flexibility to the traveler in terms of dining and entertainment. On any given night, one can get sushi, a steak, hit the buffet or just get the 24-hour complimentary room service.
There are even activities for kids and teen-agers, as well as plenty of reading nooks and quiet zones for those who are trying to find peace. In fact, the ship is so large that, at times, people said they would forget they were out to sea if they didn’t look out the window.
Capt. Kenneth Hanstrom has been on the water for 40 years and has seen a lot of the sea. He said he is very glad to be leading the Spirit from Boston to Bermuda this summer.
“This was the Rolls Royce of the fleet,” he said. “She was built to a very high standard and, when delivered in 1998, she was the best boat, according to people in the industry…They put a lot of money and effort into it.”
Just below the Captain’s Deck were two first-time cruisers – one from Revere and one from Watertown – sitting down and getting settled for the trip. They had come because the CruisePort was so close, and all their friends had told them what a value it was.
“We didn’t have to fly to a faraway place to pick up a boat,” said Patty Baldassaro of Revere. “The convenience and the price was a real deciding factor, too. I’ve never been to Bermuda. All of our friends keep raving about what a great trip it is, and so we decided to take the cruise.”
Said Sal Ciccarelli of Watertown, “We took a 10-minute cab ride from Revere, and now we’re already on vacation and having a drink and getting something to eat and it’s 1 p.m. How can you beat that?”
For many summer travelers, it will be hard to beat that.
“People don’t need to travel to Miami or some other location to pick up a ship,” said Langone. “They can pick it up in their own backyard.”
The Boston to Bermuda cruise leaves every Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. Travelers spend two days at sea, three days with unrestricted access to Bermuda, and then two days at sea coming back to Boston. Following the Bermuda cruise season, the Spirit will make seven cruises to Canada and northern New England.
In the winter months, it cruises the Caribbean from the New Orleans port.