Cruise passengers arrive in Kai Tak, 15 years after airport closure

Fifteen years after the airport closed, visitors land anew in East Kowloon with the berthing of the first cruise ship at newly built terminal

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 March, 2013, 5:39am

Passengers disembarked at Kai Tak for the first time in 15 years yesterday, after a liner berthed at the terminal built on the site of the city's former airport.

The visitors offered mixed appraisals of the new, yet incomplete gateway to the city.

"It's much more convenient at Ocean Terminal but Kai Tak is more spacious," said Hongkonger Kitty Tam, one of the guests aboard Celebrity Millennium.

Passengers said the government's investment in the new terminal could not prevent teething problems for Asia's new cruise ship industry - such as the long distances between berths and onshore attractions.

With no public transport links to the terminal in East Kowloon, passengers had to board coaches to reach Hong Kong's attractions - something they have grown familiar with during their two-week voyage from Singapore.

"The main disadvantage of Asian cruises are the long coach rides [from the terminals to attractions]," said Briton Michael Benger. While happy with the new terminal, the 61-year-old said passengers had had to make early starts to reach inland destinations.

Mark Galanty, 65, from Los Angeles, expressed a similar sentiment. "A single trip [from the terminal] takes 3.5 hours in Hanoi and 2.5 hours in Bangkok," he said.

It is necessary to use smaller boats to bring passengers ashore from ships in many ports in Asia, such as Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, according to the veteran cruise traveller.

Cruise operators remain wary of taking their vessels from the well-known waters of the Mediterranean and Caribbean to Asia, where cruising is a relatively new concept. So far, no companies have made Hong Kong their home port.

Celebrity Millennium, which can carry 2,158 passengers, sailed into Victoria Harbour at dawn and took 45 minutes to dock at the terminal. Emerging from their cabins in bathrobes and pyjamas, curious passengers waved and cheered the drumbeats of the lion dance that greeted them.

The ship's Greek captain, Kostas Patsoulas, said he appreciated the new Kai Tak terminal.

"Manoeuvring is easier here because of the open area. Ocean Terminal is more confined,"he said.

Still, he noted that currents near the new terminal would make bringing a vessel alongside more difficult than at the Ocean Terminal, especially on a windy day.

Green group Friends of the Earth and some Kwun Tong district councillors staged a protest against air pollution from cruise ships and urged Celebrity Millennium's operator, Royal Caribbean, to switch to low-sulphur fuel when vessels are arriving and leaving Hong Kong.