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How small ports like Catalina Island and Santa Barbara get some cruise love

How small ports like Catalina Island and Santa Barbara get some cruise love
Santa Barbara is one of the smaller ports in Cruise the West, a group aimed at raising the profile of West Coast ports. (Gretchen McKay / Tribune News Service)

In a vast convention hall full of photos of unfamiliar places, I spotted some familiar scenes: Catalina Island's sparkling blue bay, Santa Barbara's historic mission towers and the soaring redwood forests outside Eureka, Calif.

I was visiting the vendor floor at Seatrade Cruise Global, a four-day trade show that brought together more than 11,000 participants, ranging from the world's largest cruise companies to small-time vendors selling balcony lounge chairs and anti-seasick medications.

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Dancers welcome visitors to the U.S. Virgin Islands display at the Seatrade convention last week in Florida.
Dancers welcome visitors to the U.S. Virgin Islands display at the Seatrade convention last week in Florida. (Rosemary McClure)

Some of the exhibitors represent the world's biggest cruise ports, such as Singapore and Hong Kong. But destinations such as Catalina and Eureka need a little love from cruise operators too.

Both are members of Cruise the West, a group that includes large cruise ports such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, along with places like Santa Barbara and Astoria, Ore.

"It helps the smaller ports who can't necessarily afford the expense of exhibiting and marketing on their own," said Joel Valenzuela, maritime director for the Unified Port of San Diego, which is also a member of the group.

The exhibit floor at Seatrade was a lively place, with several ports pouring Champagne or offering beer and snacks.

Cigar maker rolls a stogie at the Port Tampa Bay display at the convention.
Cigar maker rolls a stogie at the Port Tampa Bay display at the convention. (Rosemary McClure)

At some of the port exhibits, there were entertainers. Dancers sashayed at the U.S. Virgin Islands display, a pianist played at the Port of Dublin, a cigar maker rolled stogies for a long line of men at the Port Tampa Bay exhibit.

As I walked through the huge hall, I saw advertisements for places I'd like to visit, such as Pitcairn Island, a speck in the South Pacific; places I've been, such as Juneau, Alaska; and places I've never heard of, like the Port of Koper in Slovenia.

A Koper representative told me, "We only have 40 kilometers of coast between Italy and Croatia. We only have 100,000 passengers a year."

I asked, "But you're hoping for 200,000?"

"Of course," he said laughing.

Twitter: @latimestravel

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