What inspires us to travel is the experience rather than the journey. We crave adventure, excitement, and immersing ourselves in new cultures and new landscapes to escape the drudgery of the mundane. This is especially true for millennials—the fastest growing market for cruise companies and resorts—who tend to value experience over ownership and authenticity over the simulated.
Today, the growing challenge for the cruise industry in port development is to strike the right balance between offering an exciting recreational experience, good shopping and dining opportunities, and preserving the authenticity and local experience of the destination—all while seamlessly moving 10,000 guest-tourists through the location.
Atkins has been privileged to help several clients solve this challenge by creating well thought-out destination ports and entertainment districts. We’ve served as designer/program manager on two of the highest-rated new cruiseport destinations in the world—Amber Cove (Maimon, Dominican Republic) and Mahogany Bay (Roatan, Honduras). In addition, Atkins developed an island-wide master plan for Grand Turk (Turks & Caicos), a globally renowned scuba diving and cruise ship destination. Each project serves as a “welcome village” to the thousands of cruise passengers making day-long port-of-call visits, several times a week.
Amber Cove: an authentic and inviting portal to a beautiful country
The Dominican Republic, the most visited destination in the Caribbean, offers an abundance of natural beauty and historical treasures. The Amber Cove Cruise Terminal was designed to serve as a public space, organized around a central grand piazza, complete with open-air markets where locals come to sell their goods. Unlike the way theme parks tend to caricature architecture into readily identifiable clichés, Amber Cove’s architecture represents the unique style and spirit of the Dominican Republic in a way that feels local, authentic, and contemporary. It offers the traveler the flavor and history of the island, but is not to be confused with the real historical resources visitors are encouraged to visit locally.
For entertainment, a 10-acre active recreation zone was designed on and around a 70 ft high natural outcropping, which serves as the launch point for water-slides and a zip line.
Grand Turk: a master-planned balance with nature
This small island paradise required a well-planned approach to allow a variety of transit modes to seamlessly blend with local traffic, as well as protect its delicate natural resources. Atkins developed the master plan to transform the vehicle-centric sprawl of the 7,000 resident town, to a more compact and interactive village experience that employs “complete streets” to foster vital interactions. Pedestrians and cyclists will safely co-exist with motor vehicles and public transit, while café-sitters and window-shoppers enjoy the view. The plan will also move ATVs off the streets and onto back country trails.
Our team also studied the island’s sensitive environmental resources and ability to support its number one tourist activity: scuba diving. We developed a limitation of hotel rooms based on our environmental scientists’ appraisal of the “carrying capacity” of the island’s many dive sites. This produced a master plan that favors smaller boutique establishments over large resort development, which preserves and strengthens its cultural heritage while preserving its standing as a global dive destination. This is an important limitation that often goes overlooked by tourist destinations, whose success leads to the degradation of the very natural resources that spawned their success.
Mahogany Bay: making the destination the experience
With fewer on-island excursions available at this destination, the port itself offers the resort-style entertainment for travelers. Surrounded by white sand beaches, the design of the port entices travelers off the ship to experience the natural surroundings. Here, we implemented a unique ski-lift ride to ferry passengers from the main port shopping area across a river to an adjacent island with beach and other facilities.
Tourism is a growing market segment and today’s sophisticated travelers are demanding a more authentic, exciting experience than just the shopping opportunities of yesteryear. “Making the destination,” above all, requires a deep understanding of the guests’ expectations as well as the clients’ operational needs. Designing memorable and successful cruise port destinations takes an interdisciplinary approach that blends best practices in themed architecture, new urbanism, landscape architecture, traffic and transit, and infrastructure engineering.