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'Carnival' comes to Port Royal

Published:Sunday | April 25, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Howard Campbell, Gleaner Writer

Pirates may soon be strolling the streets of Port Royal again. And Callish Bryan is looking forward to their return  Last week, transport and works minister Mike Henry announced that officials from Carnival Cruise Lines will travel to Jamaica in May for talks with the government about taking passengers to the historic seaside town.

For Bryan, sales manager at Morgan's Harbour, one of Port Royal's popular spots, Carnival's presence would be a major boost.

"It would be tremendous for business here," an enthusiastic Bryan told The Sunday Gleaner. "Because of its past, Port Royal is an interesting story."

Henry says the Carnival Cruise Line discussions would complement the US$465 million upgrade of the Palisadoes shoreline which will be funded by the Chinese government.

That project is scheduled to start in July and includes a four-lane highway leading into Port Royal, a town which once had the dubious title of 'Wickedest place on Earth'.

In the 17th century, Port Royal was a escape for swashbuckling pirates like Henry Morgan. Their exploits made it a notorious den but it was brought to its knees by devastating earthquakes in 1692 and 1907.

Wine, women, song and tragedy has made the Port Royal story a romantic one that attracts hundreds of tourists annually. Carlene Williams of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) which oversees historic Fort Charles in Port Royal, agrees that regular cruise ship calls can make it a viable tourist location.

"I see a boom for our heritage if it (Carnival Cruise visits) does happen. Port Royal is a unique place with a unique story," Williams said.

This is not the first time persons in Port Royal have got their hopes up. In the 1990s, the Port Royal Development Company headed by Bobby Stephens, planned to transform the area into a theme park based on its flamboyant past.

Dashed hopes

In a 1998 interview with the Associated Press, Stephens said the US$50 million renovation would begin that year, with a opening tentatively set for June 2000.

"For starters, we expect to bring in 5,000 passengers a week, which would bring the country about US$500,000 weekly," Stephens was quoted as saying.

"By the fifth year, we will be looking for 25,000 passengers a week, which would be US$7.5 million."

That project never got off the ground and Port Royal remains a sleepy community. Its quaint restaurants are popular with lovers of seafood while history buffs from around the world visit landmark sites like the Jewish cemetery and Giddy House.

Currently, there are weekly two-day tours to the town, by mainly Europeans.