More cruise ships than ever are set to dock in Santa Barbara Harbor this year, and some — like the ship Friday — are scheduled to arrive much earlier in the season.
About 2,100 passengers disembarked from a Sapphire Princess luxury liner Friday morning, filing onto a smaller vessel and then Cabrillo Boulevard, into the waiting, pamphlet-filled arms of the Santa Barbara Downtown Organization’s welcome wagon.
The cruise ship was the first of 18 set to arrive in Santa Barbara during the winter season — January through May — although Friday’s daytime 80-degree temperatures reminded visitors of anything but winter.
Nearly 30 ships are tentatively scheduled to dock in Santa Barbara in 2014, topping last year’s 21 (a 22nd ship was forced to cancel due to fog), according to City of Santa Barbara harbor operations manager Mick Kronman.
The liners are also arriving earlier than last year, with two docking in January and another in February.
Locals last year didn’t see a cruise ship until April.
“Santa Barbara is just such a beautiful community … I mean, look at it today,” Kronman said Friday. “The passengers have reacted very, very positively from their visits to Santa Barbara.”
Passengers aboard four different cruise lines — Celebrity Century & Solstice (4,600 passengers), Sapphire Princess (3,700), Crown Princess (3,080) and Grand Princess (2,600) — will disembark at Sea Landing in the harbor and flow into downtown shops and restaurants from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. during the visits.
A smaller, 500-passenger Azamara Quest liner will cruise into Santa Barbara for the first time this February, with exploring hours from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Whereas last year’s cruises generally arrived on Tuesdays and Sundays, the 2014 lot is more mixed.
Ten ships will arrive on either a Friday, Saturday or Sunday this season, with fall arrival dates most likely posted on the city’s website in June.
“There are a smattering of weekend visits this spring, but we’ll try to discourage that in the future,” Kronman said, noting the large number of regular weekend visitors.
The city’s Waterfront Department works with businesses and community members to coordinate the cruise visits, and recently launched a revamped transportation program that involves pickup zones for shuttles, taxis and others along Cabrillo Boulevard near Sea Landing.
The Cabrillo lane closest to the waterfront was closed Friday as cruise passengers lined up to board MTD shuttles to check out State Street shopping, the Santa Barbara Mission, Santa Barbara County Courthouse and more, said Georgette Friedman, operations and sales manager for the Downtown Organization.
“It really helps downtown businesses,” Friedman said, noting that the better experience passengers enjoy, the more likely they are to one day return.