San Francisco's New Cruise Terminal

As cruise ports go, San Francisco is…well, awkward. Too far north to be a launching point for cruises to the Mexican Riviera. Too far south to be the point of origin for ships heading for Alaska.

So it’s in between, a port in the heart of a major city, yet given the same type of attention as smaller ports along the West Coast — Astoria and Victoria, Santa Barbara and Catalina.

This month, San Francisco changed.

Not geographically, of course, but esthetically. The city by the bay has a new terminal, replacing the one that was 100 years old, Pier 35. It will be (modestly) busier over the next year, with a 10 per cent increase in port calls, from 73 to 81. That translates into 50,000 more visitors for this beautiful coastal city.

The terminal opened quietly, which is not normally the way things are done in San Francisco, one week and with some fanfare the next week. The Crown Princess was the first ship, the Grand Princess the official-opening ship. Neither is what you’d call a mega ship, by today’s standards.

Even before the change, this was a fascinating port to visit. No amount of time is too much to spend around The Embarcadero, where the cruise ships are…not to mention the barking Sea lionssea lions, the delightful eateries, the busy ferries and all the aromas that come with being on the seashore.

Our best visit was before boarding a ship for South America, a memorable start to a memorable cruise. While that’s not one of the options these days, there is a variety of itineraries.

Princess is by far the best customer, running round-trips to Mexico of either 7 (Ensenada) or 10 (Puerto Vallarta) days, with the occasional short (Vancouver) or long (Hawaii) cruise. Celebrity has the odd return trip to Alaska. Holland America and Norwegian have Panama Canal re-positioning cruises that start there. Cunard has a couple of marathon cruises from San Francisco every year.

Ships will now have access to shore power and amenities that will improve boarding and Embarcaderodisembarking. Passengers will have more interesting and comfortable surroundings in the terminal, which like its predecessor is in the heart of the city, below Telegraph Hill.

San Francisco will never be a Los Angeles for the south nor a Seattle for the north, when it comes to being a place for cruises to call home, but it’s expecting to have ships in port four days a week. The hope is that one day it will be more than a place to visit between arriving and departing.

If nothing else, it’s a fresh start.

Today at Holland America ships with new names

Celebrity Silhouette
15 nights
November 1, 2014
Rome, Florence, Toulon, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Tenerife, Fort Lauderdale
Inside: $843
Cost per day: $77

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