Speeches and sledgehammers through a symbolic wall Wednesday marked the beginning of Carnival Cruise Line's work to expand its passenger terminal in Long Beach.

Since 2003, Carnival has been serving passengers going on three- to seven-day cruises to the Mexican Riviera in about a third of the dome next to the Queen Mary. Earlier this year, officials from Carnival, Urban Commons (holder of the master lease on the Queen Mary and the dome) and the city of Long Beach announced a deal to allow the cruise terminal to expand to use the entire dome. Once complete, the terminal will have 142,000 square feet of space instead of the current 66,000 square feet.

Carlos Torres de Navarra, Carnival's vice president of commercial port operations, said Wednesday that the new terminal will allow two-way passenger traffic — people could be checking in at the same time that returnees are disembarking and collecting their luggage. Currently, new passengers must wait until the terminal is emptied before checking in.

"It's been our philosophy that we want a long-term home, not just a place to rent for our ships year to year," de Navarra said. "We talked to LA, but they were focused on the containers… So we turned to Long Beach. In 2003, we started with one ship. Now we have three ships, and this is the busiest cruise terminal in the country."

Carnival has passengers boarding or disembarking five days a week in Long Beach. de Navarra said there are 1.3 million passenger movements — getting on or getting off — a year in Long Beach now. A larger ship, the Splendor, will start sailing out of Long Beach in January 2018, increasing the passenger number to 1.4 million.

The expansion is a "multi-million-dollar" project, de Navarra said, but no figures were released. Once the work is complete sometime next spring or summer, even larger ships will be making 14- and 15-day cruises to Hawaii and Alaska from Long Beach.

In addition to the expanded passenger service, the work includes upgrading electrical infrastructure on the dock to allow cold ironing — plugging the ships in to use on-dock power instead of running their engines while in port to maintain electricity on the ship.

According to the agreement reached with Urban Commons and the city, Carnival will have the use of the entire dome for five years. After that, Urban Commons has committed to building a new terminal if it decides to include the dome in its Queen Mary Island development.

"I just want to thank Carnival for investing in Long Beach," Mayor Robert Garcia said Wednesday. "To think that we already are the largest on the West Coast or the country, and we're going to grow, that's very exciting… The fact that this incredible structure is going to be fully used again, for the first time really since the plane (Howard Hughes's Spruce Goose), is special, too."

To top the ceremony off, de Navarra unveiled a giant check signifying a $25,000 donation to the Mayor's Education Fund from the Carnival Foundation. The money will be used primarily to promote preschool education, Garcia said.

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at hsalt@gazettes.com.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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