Crown Cruise Line, the first cruise ship company to locate its home port in San Diego, announced Wednesday that because of bad business it is moving its operations to Palm Beach, Fla. The final cruise from San Diego of Crown's Viking Princess, which began sailing from here in April, 1984, will depart Nov. 17.
Crown officials attributed the decision to poor winter business on cruises from San Diego to Ensenada and Catalina Island. Hank Jara, general manager of Crown Cruise Line, said the Florida location "offers the potential for far more tourists in the winter months. Business here during the winter just wasn't nearly what we expected it to be. The weather was just too cold here in the winter."
A prepared statement from Oddmund Grundstad, chairman and president of Crown Cruise Line, said the company was "continuing to work with San Diego to find another type of vessel to continue service from that port." But several employees at Crown, who requested anonymity, said they thought there was little chance the company would again use San Diego as a home port.
Donald Harrison, executive director of the San Diego Cruise Industry Consortium, which has aggressively been promoting the city as a cruise ship port, said the move by Crown should not be interpreted as a setback. But he acknowledged that Crown's expressed desire to sail larger ships out of San Diego was "problematical" and did not elaborate. Jara also refused to comment on Crown's future plans here.
Harrison said the decision last year by the state attorney general's office to forbid Crown's proposed "cruises to nowhere" was the death knell for the Viking Princess. The ruling said that cruises not offering a destination were classified as gambling ships and hence illegal. Gambling was featured on Crown's one-day cruises to Ensenada and on trips to Catalina.
In Florida, Harrison said, the one-day cruises with no destination have been certified.
"It wasn't the Port of San Diego's problem that Crown could not succeed here," Harrison said. "The Viking Princess was the wrong ship in the winter for the one-day configuration. It was a beautiful ship, but, on the cruises to Ensenada, there was not enough indoor space when the seas were choppy or there was overcast weather. A lot of the passengers just did not want to be outside when the weather wasn't right."
Jara said the cruise consortium "did everything it could" to assist Crown. "This is strictly a business decision," he said. "We were very pleased with our dealings with the various officials in San Diego."
City Councilman Bill Cleator, another longtime booster of the cruise industry here, said he was hopeful that Crown would eventually bring a larger ship to San Diego. "A larger ship with a different configuration would be more successful in the short cruise market from San Diego," Cleator said.
Cleator said he had met recently with executives of "two other well-established cruise lines interested in beginning operations from San Diego" after Crown leaves the area. But Cleator and Harrison said it would be "premature" to reveal the names of the companies.
"They don't want any publicity getting out about this," Harrison said. "It would be next spring, at least, before they could come here if any deal is made."
Nevertheless, Cleator was optimistic about the future for the cruise industry here.
"Sentiment aside, this decision could prove to be in the best interests of Crown and San Diego," Cleator said, adding that the city "owed a debt of thanks" to Crown for being the first cruise line to locate a home port here.
Nine other cruise companies have decided to make stops in San Diego since Crown came here, the most prominent being Princess Cruises' Pacific Princess, better known as the "Love Boat" of television fame.