YORKTOWN, Va. (WAVY) — For the first time in history, ocean liners will sail up the York River and let passengers off in Yorktown.
Princess Cruises made the announcement Thursday that in 2024, two of its ships will call at the historic port city for a grand total of five visits. Each ship is estimated to bring more than 2,000 guests each trip.
The cruise company leadership said it will result in a significant economic impact to the region whose bread and butter is historic tourism. State lawmakers are already working to incentivize the ships to visit far into the future.
“Our community is rooted in history and it is an important part of our visitor mix. We are honored that Princess Cruises sees the value in bringing their customers to Yorktown,” Kristi Olsen-Hayes, Director of York County Economic & Tourism Development said. “Additional visitors coming to our area via the cruise line would contribute to the region’s economy, benefiting retail, restaurants, and regional attractions, as well as generating revenue for both the Commonwealth and multiple local governments.”
The idea to bring large cruise ships to Yorktown started several decades ago when Princess Cruises’ President John Padgett was growing up in Seaford.
“One could say I started working on it when I was 16 when I was a lifeguard on Yorktown Beach,” Padget said. “Princess is already well known for our unique itineraries that appeal to our guests who gravitate toward interesting historical and cultural opportunities and Yorktown is perfectly in tune with that philosophy, offering not only a glimpse at the Revolutionary War but also dining, shopping and activity options with wide-ranging appeal. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Island Princess, which can take 2,200 guests, will make three visits, and the Emerald Princess, which can carry 3,080, will visit twice. The cruises likely will come out of Boston or New York according to Padget.
Initially, tender boats will shuttle cruisers from the ship to the floating docks in Yorktown. However, there are currently efforts underway in the General Assembly to build a more permanent pier.
In the State Senate’s amended budget proposal, $7.5 million is included “to support the initial phase of a major cruise line tourism commitment to Yorktown.”
In December former Board of Supervisors Chairwoman, Shila Noll, and current Chairman, Thomas Shepperd, wrote a letter to the Colonial Triangle’s state delegation requesting the funds saying “the number of cruise visits with York County’s support could grow from six per year to an increase in frequency over time, with corresponding increases in visitation.”
For years, the region has struggled with declining room occupancy rates, according to local news reports. However, tourism has been on the rebound since the pandemic according to Olsen-Hayes.
“It’s important to note that 2019 was the best year for the destination since 2007 (Jamestown’s 400th Commemoration,)” Whittaker said. “Hotel occupancy in 2022 was in-line with pre-pandemic levels.”
Padget says he wants to continue the upswing.
“I’ve always understood the tourism challenges that exist with Yorktown, Williamsburg and Jamestown not having a major international hub from an airport standpoint … it complicates getting tourists to the tourism triangle,” Padget said. “But now with cruise ships. We can bring them right into Yorktown. Direct Inject, right into the tourism attractions and minimize all that infrastructure it takes to handle them. Pedestrians and motor coaches.”
The news is already getting high marks from those who own businesses in Yorktown. Jill Pryor, who owns Patriot Tours and Provisions with her husband, said she hopes cruise passengers are ready to have fun in the sun.
“We do bicycle rentals, we do segway tours, we sell lots of beach supplies,” Pryor said. “We’re on the water. We’re small, we’re quaint, it’s a gem and we just love people to visit.”