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New cruise ship heads for Tampa docking

Holland America Line will bring a second ship to the Port of Tampa next year, giving another boost to the port's growing cruise business.

The MS Veendam will make weekly trips from late fall through spring to the western Caribbean starting in October 2002, Holland America spokesman Erik Elvejord said.

Holland America, the premium cruise line of Carnival Corp. of Miami, also expects to sail the MS Noordam from Tampa on 14-day Caribbean trips during the winter season, he said.

"Tampa is a very popular gateway for our 14-day itinerary," Elvejord said. "This is a good opportunity to offer a shorter cruise in a place we're already comfortable."

The Veendam is the fourth cruise ship new to Tampa that is scheduled to arrive this or next year. Celebrity Cruises will bring the Zenith in November, followed by Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas in February. They will sail trial schedules during the winter/spring season.

And Carnival Cruise Lines will replace its smallest Tampa-based vessel with a larger ship, the 2,052-passenger Jubilee, in December 2002. That move will increase the cruise line's capacity on its two Tampa ships by 20 percent.

About 265,000 passengers are expected to board cruise ships in Tampa during the year ending Sept. 30, nearly twice as many passengers as two years ago, Tampa Port Authority officials say.

Port director George Williamson said Holland America's decision shows cruise lines are recognizing the port's track record for strong passenger bookings. "It seems we're becoming a safer place to put these ships," he said.

The move also reinforces the strategy that as cruise lines bring newly built vessels to larger ports such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale, they will send their smaller, older ships to Tampa.

The 1,266-passenger Veendam will be replaced in Fort Lauderdale by Holland America's newest ship, the 1,848-passenger MS Zuiderdam.

_ Steve Huettel can be reached at huettelsptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

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