There’s a battle brewing in Boston Harbor: Norwegian Cruise Line and Holland America are competing for passengers on a weeklong sail to Bermuda.
Norwegian Cruise Line has operated that route for more than a decade. Its 2, 300-passenger Norwegian Dawn is similar to a family-friendly resort packed with amenities such as a children’s video arcade, the T-Rex pool, and a disco-style teens club.
Now Holland America is entering the same waters with the Veendam, a smaller ship targeting a more mature demographic with activities such as wine tasting and artisan bread-making classes.
Both ships set sail from the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal in South Boston over the weekend, kicking off the local cruise season. The Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs the terminal, said the dueling ships are helping to raise the profile of Boston’s largely unknown cruise business.
“Boston has a secret: It’s called the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal, ” said Thomas P. Glynn, chief executive of the Massachusetts Port Authority. “A lot of people don’t know, even after all the activity, that it exists. We’re not on the map like we’d like to be.”
Glynn said the cruise terminal had been an afterthought for much of the past decade at Massport, which focused its attention on modernizing Logan Airport and adding dozens of nonstop flights from Boston to Beijing, Istanbul, Mexico City, and other major international cities.
The agency began reinvesting in its cruise operations in 2010. It spent million to renovate the main Black Falcon terminal, a refurbished World War I military warehouse near Castle Island, to allow passengers to board and disembark from ships at the same time. Glynn said Massport completed an additional million renovation before this season kicked off.
But so far, it’s unclear whether the renovations are paying off. The local cruise industry grew steadily from about 200, 000 passengers and 95 ships that stopped in Boston in 2005 to 382, 885 travelers and 116 ships in 2013. Then the number of visitors declined steeply to 313, 861 last year, when the 3, 000-passenger Carnival Glory stopped cruising a route in New England and Canada, according to Massport. It expects 320, 000 passengers to visit the port this year.
Justin Saglio for the Boston Globe
The Holland America Veendam will dock at Hamilton, Bermuda.
Bill Walsh, the owner of a cruise travel agency in Salem, N.H., said cruise lines have limited interest in Boston because of its location.
Currently, travelers can take cruises from Boston to Canada or Bermuda regularly throughout the season, as well as one-time trips such as a 15-night cruise to Denmark offered only in late April.
Walsh, who has sold Boston cruises for 20 years, said Bermuda is one of the few destinations that cruise lines can reach from the Black Falcon in a seven-day trip. Popular Caribbean destinations require longer trips from Boston, which make the ships harder to fill.
Massport’s best shot at growing the local cruise industry would be to extend the season. But Glynn said it could be hard to persuade cruise lines to do that.
Currently, Boston’s six-month cruise season begins late in April and concludes in October, while other cities such as New York offer trips all year. Most of the cruise lines that operate in Boston switch to southern ports as temperatures fall. Cruise companies have limited ship availability, and it’s hard to persuade them to reduce popular southern routes in order to expand the season in Boston, Glynn said.
To offer the new Bermuda cruise, Holland America redirected one of the two ships that it typically sends on trips from Boston to Canada. This year the Veendam is detouring for six weeklong trips to Bermuda, and may add more itineraries next year.
Erik Elvejord, a spokesman for Holland America, said the cruise line last traveled to Bermuda from New York in 2011. The company decided to bring the destination back because of traveler demand, and it was easiest to redirect a ship in Boston to alternate destinations between Quebec City and Bermuda. Also, new rules in Bermuda allow ships to operate their casinos in port, which was an added bonus, Elvejord said.
Unlike the Dawn, which draws most of its passengers from New England, Elvejord expects half of Veendam’s passengers to come from outside the Northeast. The Veendam also ports in Hamilton, Bermuda’s downtown, while the Dawn moors at the Royal Naval Dockyard.
Norwegian has been sailing from Boston to Bermuda since 1998 and offers at least 20 trips a year. The voyage is typically frequented by families during the summer months.
“Keep in mind that we’re very different cruise lines, ” said Elvejord. “We have a different approach and a different client base.”