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Historic South Carolina port welcomes year-round cruises, plus plenty of passengers partaking of the city’s charms.

With the debut of year-round cruises aboard the Carnival Fantasy this past spring, the historic port of Charleston, South Carolina served notice that this historic port is making waves--again. Though the city has served as a convenient seasonal homeport for several lines since 9/11, Carnival Cruise Lines' decision shined the spotlight on what many already knew: Charleston is charming.

Carnival Fantasy’s new year-round program from Charleston has been a huge success, providing consumers with a variety of affordable five-, six-and seven-day cruises to the Bahamas, Key West, and Bermuda from a convenient and attractive homeport,” says Terry Thornton, Carnival’s senior vice president of marketing planning. “Not only is Charleston within a day’s drive for millions of residents of the southeastern U.S., but the city is also an appealing tourist destination and many of our guests are opting to extend their vacation with a pre- or post-cruise land stay in the Holy City.”

Charleston is certainly not new to the cruise business, but the port is new to year-round embarkations. For more than 35 years, the city’s well-situated cruise terminal (located at the foot of Market Street and bustling City Market) has welcomed cruise ships of varying sizes. The ships were lured by lots of locals, including the organization “Destination Charleston,” which is made up of the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Charleston County Aviation Authority, and the South Carolina State Ports Authority.

The Charleston peninsula’s charms have been attracting seagoing visitors for centuries. Set at the intersection of the Ashley and Cooper rivers and less than six miles from the Atlantic Ocean, it’s easy to see why sailors, shipping lines, cruise ship companies, and even a few pirates have historically been drawn to this waterlogged town. “Charleston’s convenient location combined with its rich history, unique architectural sites and landmarks, and vibrant waterfront makes it the ideal choice as a “Fun Ship” departure point,” Carnival’s Thornton adds.

Charleston’s location is ideal for a regional drive market that includes the Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia. Beyond the close-in resident, the city’s position as one of the premier travel brands in all of North America means that its cruise market extends to a proven market of more than 33.5 million households. In addition, the region’s travel community got a big shot in the arm when Southwest announced it would begin service to Charleston in 2011, complimenting more than 110 existing daily flights between Charleston and 14 cities.

To give cruise ships and passengers white glove service, Charleston relies on a broad partnership of public and private sector. Ship suppliers, ground handlers, the Charleston County Aviation Authority, stevedores and labor, the Convention & Visitors Bureau, ship agents, the Ports Authority, and U.S. Customs all work collaboratively in a close-knit team.

In addition to the Carnival Fantasy round-trips, Charleston also features a number of port calls from other lines. The city expects more than 65 embarkations and port-calls this year and 90-plus in 2011. Besides Carnival, other lines that call include Aida, Celebrity, Cruise West, Crystal, Cunard, Hapag-Lloyd, Holland America, Oceania, P&O, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, and Seabourn. (American Cruise Lines frequently uses the Charleston City Marina on the other side of town.)

While 2010 will be the city’s biggest cruise season yet, efforts to revamp the port's infrastructure are underway. Charleston has initiated a major redevelopment of its passenger terminal and the surrounding area. The port is working to have a new world-class cruise facility operational by the 2012 sailing season, replacing its existing terminal. The South Carolina State Ports Authority’s plan, developed in conjunction with the community, is to shift its cruise operations north of the existing terminal. Charleston’s new cruise terminal would remain in the heart of the historic district in a converted 151,200-square-foot building, with ample and adjacent surface parking.  The Ports Authority is also evaluating proposals and aims to have a new passenger-loading bridge under contract this summer and operational for the 2011 cruise season. The next step is to retain an architectural/design firm for the new terminal building and surrounding area.

Located in the heart of historic Charleston, the current and future passenger terminal could not be more convenient for those enjoying a day docked downtown--or extending their vacation with the already popular pre/post-cruise stays. In keeping with the city’s welcoming nature, the Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.charlestoncvb.com) even sets up a mini-Visitor Center right at the cruise terminal when ships are in port. Callers also to head to the Charleston Visitor Center at 375 Meeting Street for a multi-sensory presentation called "Forever Charleston," lots of brochures and information, many tour and attraction tickets, and even the regularly departing DASH Trolley that runs throughout the historic district. Another popular initiative has been the creation of the web site www.charlestoncruisepackages.com that's packed with hotel discounts and value-added packages (like free parking), as well as discount coupons for Charleston-area restaurants, shopping, attractions, tours, and more. Attesting to the popularity of the "Charleston Cruise Packages," there are more than 60 properties participating in the program.

For more information on cruising from Charleston, log on to www.scspa.com, the web site of the South Carolina State Ports Authority. For more information on attractions in the Charleston area, log on to www.explorecharleston.com.