Thousands of Germans vacationing on four TUI Cruise Line ships that docked at Cape Liberty Cruise Port this fall have been offloading to explore the New York-New Jersey region. Cape Liberty is one of only four cruise ship ports in the region, and the only one in New Jersey.
“Germans are very inquisitive and explorative people,” said Stephen Zimmermann, Cruise Director of TUI’s newest cruise ship, the Mein Shiff 6, which docked in Bayonne on on Oct. 25. “It’s why you see almost no one aboard. They’re all out on our excursions, getting to know the area.”
Buses shuttle passengers and crew members, who are on four- and six-month contracts, to and from Bayonne. Many were returning with shopping bags from shops at South Cove Commons, where a Hilton Hotel is planned and may one day accommodate cruise ship passengers.
“We were purchasing some clothes we need. I spilled wine on some shirts,” said Alexander Muller, carrying a TJ Maxx bag. “Clothes are so very inexpensive here. It is very much not that way in Germany.”
Bayonne is not a layover spot for these tourists, but a final cruise destination. During the three days Mein Schiff 6 was docked in Bayonne, it unloaded thousands of Germans to begin the American leg of their vacations and took on thousands more for a cruise to the Caribbean.
“I’m never quite sure what date exactly we’ll be in any location, just when I am to return home,” said Zimmermann, who has a wife in Germany and admits that working so many months in a row away from home can be tough. “It can be funny when you come home and see a car you haven’t seen before. What is that model? Is it new? I must have missed it.”
Vera Michals, 26, works for TUI as an excursion guide. Returning from an all-day trip to Manhattan and Brooklyn, Michals said that she enjoyed Brooklyn most. “It’s smaller and really different from Manhattan,” she said. It was her first trip to New York. “I think everyone had a good time.” After the excursion, she made her way to a Bayonne shuttle, where she planned to do some shopping that she can’t do on the ship, which sells mostly luxury products from stores like Swarovski and marked-up basic goods.
Passengers and crew members venture into Bayonne typically out of necessity. Tourists are understandably more curious and enamored with places like Times Square and the Empire State Building, but cruise ship workers often come into the city for dining and shopping during break periods that are too short to travel into tourist destinations like Manhattan.
“They really like to go out and explore and get to know the area,” Zimmermann said. “If you make Bayonne more attractive, that would be a great thing. Tourists like exploring so many new things. Bayonne is definitely new to them.”
As a point of departure, many American cruise-goers board their ships through Bayonne, but stay in hotels elsewhere. A new hotel is in the works for South Cove Commons, a short shuttle ride away from Cape Liberty.
“I think we can capture that cruise audience with a hotel,” said Bayonne Business Administrator Joe DeMarco. “It would be nice to have them stay in Bayonne and maybe the night before the cruise, you go to Hendrickson’s, or the Refinery, or other restaurants and bars.”
“It’s basically a city inside.” – Stephen Zimmermann
A little city inside
“Honestly, this is way different from any other vessel I’ve been on,” said Thomas Hinderhoffer, Director of North East Port Operations at Cape Liberty, who toured the ship with the Cruise Director and the Bayonne Community News. He’s seen hundreds of ships pass through. Through 2017, the port will have served more than 500,000 passengers, which is on track for a new record. “This ship is particularly impressive, though.”
At 295 meters long, 35 meters wide, the Finland-made ship can handle 2,780 people, including 1,400 passengers. Mein Schiff 6 looks like a typical cruise liner from the outside – like a floating skyscraper – except for the exceptional number of balconies. Eighty-five percent of the cabins have outdoor decks, the highest percentage of any cruise ship on the seas today.
That’s not to suggest that guests spend much time in their rooms. The ship is the equivalent of a contemporary, chic hotel. It has two theaters, one featuring human entertainers and the other holograms, the largest outdoor pool of any cruise liner, restaurants, bars, a dance club, and all the amenities you’d expect from a modern cruise ship.
Everything but Jersey Pizza
TUI is different from cruise lines that market to Americans. For instance, the casino on board the Mein Schiff 6 is tiny, serving fewer than 100 guests per night. If the ship were built for Americans, Zimmerman said, the casino might be larger, food and liquor would cater to American tastes, and entertainment would have an American flavor. But Americans would love the experience.
“It’s basically a little city inside,” said Zimmermann, walking through one of the ship’s many restaurants, each with its own theme that makes every section of the ship feel like a new place. “You won’t get better pizza,” he said, admitting that he hasn’t yet tried Hudson County’s prized pizzerias.
Said Hindenhoffer, “You can’t say that in Jersey.”
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at email@example.com.