NORFOLK, Va. — As College Beach Weekend wraps up in Virginia Beach, over in Norfolk, the tourist season is kicking off.
The Mermaid City is welcoming back-to-back cruise calls this week, with more than 5,000 cruise ship passengers arriving.
Sunday afternoon, the 2,400-passenger Norwegian Gem pulled into port for the first time. On Monday, thousands more arrived on the Norwegian Getaway for the ship’s longest port visit of the season.
“This is a big weekend for us," Nauticus Executive Director Stephen Kirkland said. "This is a really, really huge weekend for our cruise ship port.”
Kirkland said tourists love to spend the afternoon shopping and eating in downtown Norfolk, and the money they spend is a huge economic boom for the city.
“On average, these cruise ship passengers spend about $125 while they’re in port – and that’s on things like lunch, retail, and all sorts of things," he said. "While they are here, we’re going to roll out the red carpet for them and we’re going to welcome them to this region.”
Kirkland said the Norfolk cruise season is accelerating.
These visits will kickstart the spring and summer seasons. Kirkland said they’re expecting more than double the number of cruise visitors this year versus what Norfolk saw before the COVID pandemic.
“This year we’ll welcome about 180,000 passengers. To give you a comparison, the full year before COVID we had about 68,000 passengers," Kirkland said.
“We have been waiting for this kind of energy and this kind of activity on the waterfront for a long time, since before COVID.”
Kirkland said after two years of uncertainty caused by the COVID pandemic, he’s glad to welcome Norfolk’s busiest cruise season ever.