Queen Mary 2 to dock in S.F. 

On Super Bowl Sunday, San Franciscans will have a tough choice to make: Catch the game’s 3 p.m. kickoff, or get a view of the world's largest ocean liner, the Queen Mary 2, as it narrowly slips under the Golden Gate Bridge.

This will be the first time the Queen Mary 2 — a 2,620-passenger luxury cruise ship — has docked in The City. The grand passenger liner will arrive on Feb. 4 — the 26th day of its maiden "Around the World in 80 days" voyage.

The ship boasts a 2-to-1 staff-to-passenger ratio, six restaurants, five swimming pools, an art gallery and the world’s first on-board planetarium. For history buffs, one of the ocean liner’s whistles is from the original Queen Mary.

Partly due to its long length — 1,132 feet, nearly 280 feet longer than the height of the Transamerica Pyramid — the Queen Mary 2 will be docked for its 24-hour stay at Pier 27.

Until recently, the Queen Mary 2 was the world’s largest passenger ship, but it lost its title early this year when Royal Caribbean debuted the Freedom of the Seas.

Another 2,000 cruise passengers will also pour onto The City’s streets when a second cruise ship, the Dawn Princess, berths at Pier 35 on Feb. 5. With more than 4,000 affluent tourists patronizing The City’s attractions, restaurants, shops and taxis, it is expected to be a strong two days for The City’s No. 1 industry.

City officials expect hundreds of maritime enthusiasts to come out to view the ship as it sails beneath the Golden Gate Bridge — escorted by a flotilla of ships, yachts and San Francisco fire boats — at approximately 3:30 p.m.

"The Queen Mary 2 continues to captivate people everywhere she sails; every maiden call has attracted hundreds if not thousands of people to see her," Cunard Line spokesperson Jackie Matthews said. "We’re excited about her coming to San Francisco, which is obviously an iconic city and our only West Coast call in 2007."

The City actively courts cruise ships

Tourism is San Francisco’s No. 1 industry and in recent years, the port has been aggressively marketing San Francisco as a cruise ship destination.

Last year, cruises brought in nearly 250,000 passengers into The City, traveling on more than 80 ships, with each incoming luxury liner generating an estimated $750,000 for city businesses, according to San Francisco Port officials.

To keep up with the record cruise activity, The City’s port activated two additional berths — Pier 27 and piers 30 and 32 — to supplement the primary cruise terminal at Pier 35. The port spent more than $1 million to upgradethe rarely used Pier 27, adding a new fendering system and conducting extensive dredging to make it deep enough to accommodate the massive ships.

The location of the waterfront makes The City an attractive destination for cruise ships since passengers can step off the ship into the heart of San Francisco — unlike ports in Los Angeles or Long Beach, said Joe D'Alessandro, president of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"It’s very attractive and, in a limited time, you can see a lot," he said.

Last year, however, the port suffered a setback when plans for a $360 million state-of-the-art international cruise ship terminal for piers 30 and 32 were scrapped due to skyrocketing costs associated with retrofitting the rotting piers.

The port has recently formed an advisory panel of experts — including members of the cruise industry, engineers, finance professionals and business and tourism leaders — that will meet in the coming months to take a fresh look at the pier project, according to port spokesman Michael Nerney.

"We are hopeful that we’ll be able to have a nice front door for these cruise ships that enter San Francisco," Nerney said.

E-mail Bonnie Eslinger at beslinger@examiner.com.

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