Residents continue to voice concerns about bringing a cruise line to Yorktown
Princess Cruises held an information session for local leaders and invited members of the public Monday afternoon at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown regarding its plans to bring cruise ships to Yorktown in 2024.
Led by Vicki Johnson, Senior Vice President of Communication for Princess Cruises, the presentation was given in part to give some background on the company and its strategy for Yorktown, and partly to address some of the concerns that have been raisedsince the announcement in February.
The cruise line's pilot program of custom-curated itineraries sees it sailing to Yorktown on three different occasions in the summer of 2024, with plans being discussed about the possibility of five port calls in 2025. The ship would anchor in the river and tender boats would shuttle passengers to floating docks near the Watermen’s Museum.
The presentation played heavily on history, emphasizing the company's connection the "The Love Boat" and including an appearance by Celebrations Ambassador Jill Whelan, who played the captain's daughter Vicki Stubing on the classic television show.
It also gave John Padgett, the native Virginian who is President of Princess Cruises the opportunity to speak directly to the community. Noting conversations over the years revealed many were not familiar with the significance of Yorktown, Padgett said he was inspired to bring people to Yorktown to tell its story, adding having smaller ships in the company's fleet made it uniquely possible.
"I've traveled the world. I've literally visited every destination, land and sea, small and large, and through all those travels, you would strike up conversations," Padgett said, noting eventually people would ask where he was from. "And I'd say Yorktown, where independence was born. And they'd look at me, and then I'd say Williamsburg and they'd say, 'oh okay, we think we know where you're at.'"
Padgett said he felt it wasn't right that people didn't know the story, and he was in a position to change that.
"So when a cruise line that handles over two million guests a year, has one of the greatest fleets and uniquely has three small ships, I was like, let's bring some guests to Yorktown," he said.
Padgett said his familiarity of the river gave him insight on how to make cruise ships work in Yorktown.
"Our anchorage in the York River is about a mile and a half east of Yorktown," he explained. "We're going to tender to the county piers ... all our ships carry shore tenders so we're a self-contained operation. That allows us to access boutique destinations."
Since the initial announcement, a concerned group of Yorktown and area residents have made their opposition to the plan known. A group protested in the parking lot prior to the meeting, and people wearing pale blue "No Princess" shirts were peppered throughout the audience. Their fears range from the environmental impact to the possibility of damaging historic shipwrecks, to the sheer number of people descending on the small community.
Padgett addressed many of the concerns in his presentation.
He said whenever the company tenders guests statistically they fall into what he called the rule of thirds — a third of guests stay on the ship, a third come on shore and visit the community and a third arrange excursions. He also said buses for those excursions would be stationed at the Watermen's Museum and the American Revolution Museum, not adding to the congestion in the town.
He also noted the anchorage area was used by naval vessels in World War II and highlighted the steps Princess had taken to minimize its environmental impact after some very public violations.
To that end, the presentation included Jeff Corwin, the biologist and wildlife conservationist known for hosting various nature shows on television and the company's "Nature and Adventure Ambassador."
"The truth is the success of this business is a healthy ocean. And if the oceans aren't healthy, this business model doesn't work," Corwin said, highlighting the company's strides in eliminating food waste, moving to alternative fuels and recycling.
"Of course we know the tremendous challenges, this part of the world and globally, we face when protecting our planet's oceans and Princess wants to be a big part of that solution," he added.
Those arguments have not swayed Alyssa Adams,organizer of the group in opposition to Princess coming to Yorktown.
"I didn't really learn anything tonight," Adams said. "He did say ... the people on the ship, when they come to Yorktown, they would have to enjoy the experience. And then they want the people in Yorktown to enjoy having them here. Maybe people would enjoy having them here for like, a minute, and then after that? Not so much."
She also expressed her frustration that as private entities, there was no way to know the conversations between the Watermen's Museum and Princess Cruises. She also said rather than bringing cruise ships to Yorktown, she'd prefer to see the state invest in something like the Newport News - Williamsburg Airport to bring tourists to the area.
"In the end, it's a big ship, and the scale does not compute for Yorktown," she said.
Padgett said he hears those concerns.
"We are currently going to 330 destinations around the world. And we go to destinations that have 1,500 residents. That town, because they want the tourism, learns how to accommodate four cruise ships double the size that we're bringing here," he explained. "So there's no fear of volume, as it is done all over the world. But we have to grow together. And that's what we're committed to doing. Carefully. Thoughtfully."
Following the presentation, the Princess representatives and local leaders broke into groups to talk directly with attendees. It also presented a check for $5,000 to the Watermen's Museum.
Padgett acknowledged during his part of the presentation that they were at the start of a long journey, adding in the end, it has to work for everyone. He said it is the goal of the pilot program is to do just that.
"Building the cruise business is a multiple-decade journey, and the first thing that has to be done is that my guests have to love Yorktown, and Yorktown citizens have to love my guests and everyone has to be happy. If that doesn't work. There is no business, there is no value," he said.