For cruise lovers, it was a day of good news surpassed by even better news.
In honor of the expanded facility, the Miami-based cruise giant moved the 3,012-passenger Carnival Splendor, one of its jazziest ships, to Long Beach to sail weeklong Mexican Riviera cruises.
But then came the big news: The cruise line plans to send the new 3,954-passenger ship Carnival Panorama to Long Beach in 2019.
"For the first time in 20 years, a brand new ship will sail straight from the yard to Long Beach," Christine Duffy, the line's president, said during the opening ceremony Saturday.
Then came another announcement: Carnival will spend millions on a major port development project in Ensenada, Mexico, featured on the line’s three- and four-day cruises from Long Beach. The project will provide new dining and retail experiences besides new attractions.
All the changes are aimed at "building the Long Beach cruising market," said Duffy, noting that there is a "significant population of people who can drive to this port within a half-day or less.”
"Carnival’s Long Beach Cruise Terminal, already one of the busiest in North America, with ships docking five days a week, has been operated by Carnival since 2003,” Duffy added. “Three- to 13-day voyages depart from here, usually bound for Mexico, bringing about 650,000 passengers a year into the port for embarkation and debarkation.”
The Long Beach facility is unlike any other terminal in the world. Its geodesic dome, originally built to house Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose seaplane, soars to 13 stories at its highest point.
With its multimillion-dollar expansion, Carnival took over the entire dome for its terminal operations, doubling the space for passengers.
The design inside the terminal is whimsical, reflecting the cruise line's "Fun Ship" brand and California's laid-back attitude and landmarks. A 267-foot-long mural of the Sierra Nevada covers one wall.
A walkway lined with palm and olive trees cuts through the center of the terminal. Picnic benches and flooring that mimics grass and sand lend a park-like feeling.
A replica of the wooden seaplane Spruce Goose hangs above the entrance, as well as the original model of the plane used in the 2004 movie “The Aviator.”
The enormous plane, built and flown by Hughes in 1947, was stashed in the giant Long Beach dome as a tourist attraction. It was removed in 1992. It was moved to the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Ore.
The renovated terminal’s efficiency is its best feature, said passengers using it for the first time.
"I dreaded boarding the ship," said Amanda Sacayan, a San Diego County resident who was about to set sail on a weeklong Mexican Riviera trip on the Carnival Splendor, "but it was really smooth. I had expected stress, but it wasn't stressful at all.
"This is bucket list for me. I'm so excited."
Splendor, christened in 2008, features an over-the-top design with pink walls covered with polka dots and black tile with lime green grout. It arrived in Long Beach in late January and will sail Mexican itineraries, for the most part, until 2019, when it will move to Sydney, Australia, when Carnival Panorama arrives.
Carnival Splendor's weeklong sailings to the Mexican Riviera start at $439; the ship will also sail round trip to Hawaii on two-week voyages, from $1,229, and 14-day Alaska trip that starts at $1,339.
Reservations for Carnival Panorama are expected to open in late March.