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World's best cruise ship terminals

With some 18 million people cruising worldwide every year, today’s cruise ship terminals come in all shapes and styles; from bare-boned to “Space Age.” The differences mostly depend on the importance of cruising to the local community, the availability of valuable seaside property and finally, the dedication and ingenuity of local planners and investors.

Vancouver, British Columbia, deserves much of the credit for creating “Canada Place,” the first all-new centrally located cruise terminal where the planners visualized a duel-use downtown space with hotels, shopping, facilities for public events and parking that could be used by the locals year round, and also provide cruise facilities during the cruise season, which in Vancouver only lasts a few months.

The Vancouver model sparked a renaissance in cruise terminal design in Japan, the Pacific Rim and China with its burgeoning middle class and proximity to beautiful islands and world class cities. Like Vancouver, the best new cruise terminals are not only architecturally beautiful, but also offer everyday attractions for locals.

To help me find the most attractive cruise port facilities I asked for the input of John Stoll, vice president of Land Programs for the luxury cruise line, Crystal Cruises.

Here's a list of some of the more innovative terminals that make pulling into port extra special.

Shanghai International Cruise Terminal, China 

Shanghai, China is ideally situated where the mighty Yangtze River meets the Pacific Ocean.  It is China’s largest port city and the “unofficial capital” of southern China (Beijing is in Northern China).

The award-winning Shanghai International Cruise Terminal, designed by Spark Architects and completed in 2011, combines a series of headquarters office buildings with more than 430,000 sq. ft. of retail space within a less than a mile long riverside park. Unfortunately for most cruisers, the facility cannot handle ships larger than 87,000-tons; smaller than most mainstream ships, however, most luxury cruise line vessels, including Crystal, Seabourn, Silversea, Regent, Oceania,  fit very nicely. (The larger and less scenic port facility in Shanghai, where most of the larger mainstream cruise ships will port, is the Wusongkou Terminal about 24 miles from downtown.) Shanghai International Cruise Terminal services many of the river cruise boats that travel up the Yangtze River. Be sure to check out the pictures of this amazing cruise terminal.

 Canada Place Terminal, Vancouver 

Canada Place in Vancouver was completed in 2001 as part of the Vancouver Convention Center and the Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel. It was one of the first cruise terminals integrated with year-round local attractions. The facility largely hosts cruise ships only during the summer season, but holds other public events year-round. The site includes four large stages for music and other attractions, such as an IMAX movie theater and a large lawn for public festivals.

The design evokes five ship's sails draped like tents, and every night the city holds “Sails of Light” where the “sails” are screens for thematic light and video collages coordinated with local and national celebrations, such as the Olympics, the holidays and national anniversaries.

This is a prime example of the multi-use potential of cruise terminals that cities like Charleston and San Diego could use for inspiration.

Fort Lauderdale Terminal 18, Florida

The specially-built home port facility for the Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas and her sister Allure of the Seas is the largest “single ship” cruise terminal ever built. As simply a part of Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades cruise port, one of the largest cruise ports in the world, the building can turn over more than 12,000 passengers and their luggage (half leaving, half arriving) in a matter of hours.

The bottom level has 90 separate check-in counters surrounding an ocean theme mosaic floor. Some 157 flat-panel television screens aid guests through a check-in process that can be completed in as little as 15 minutes. The 240,000 sq. ft. building was started in 2007 and finished in 2009 at a cost of $75 million, but unlike other terminals, when no ship is present this building is dark and not populated.

Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, Hong Kong

Terminal number one of the new Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in Hong Kong is set to open in June, 2013, with a second terminal set to open in July, 2014. They are in Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong, built over an old runway once servicing the former Kai Tak airport.

Kai Tak cruise terminal can also manage a 220,000-ton-displacement cruise ship, which is convenient since Royal Caribbean is a 20 percent stakeholder, and so far the number one customer with three ships scheduled to use the terminal regularly. It's also already to schedule service for Princess, Cunard and Regent Seven Seas.

The ultra high tech building with a large public park area on the top floor will cost about $500 million and was designed by Foster + Partners of London, which also built the London’s Millennium Bridge and London City Hall.

Marina Bay Cruise Centre, Singapore

Just completed in May, 2012 at a cost of $500 million, the terminal can accommodate ships as large as 220,000 tons, which matches the tonnage of the largest cruise ships in the world right now: Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships. The hallmark of the building is its “robust geometric shape” that offers a variety of views from different vantage points.

Marine Façade, St. Petersburg, Russia 

The economic antithesis of China, Russia has struggled to modernize since the Cold War, but St. Petersburg, the only western port city in Russia, is one of the most popular cruise destinations in Europe - largely for its classical, old world architecture.

Investors are currently reclaiming almost 4000 acres of land connected to Vasilevsky Island near the mouth of the Neva River. In 2008, the new cruise ship terminal was among the first projects completed of many planned for the “Marine Façade Project,” an estimated $3 billion complex of condominium and office building skyscrapers.

Osanbashi Yokohama International Passenger Terminal, Japan  

The Osanbashi Yokohama International Passenger Terminal is the main port for larger mainstream cruise ships to access Tokyo, about 40 miles away, (although some of the smaller luxury ships can sail directly to Tokyo harbor). Yokohama held a design contest in 1995 to create the terminal, with hopes of making it the primary terminal for Tokyo. A total of 660 submissions came from 41 countries (336 from Japan and 324 from overseas), making it the biggest international architectural design competition ever held in Japan.

The Grand Prize was won by Mr. Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Ms. Farshid Moussavi, an architect team operating in the U.K. The design evokes the construction of wooden sail ships. The terminal’s lobby is renowned for its column-free design with parking hidden underground and a top-side visitors deck and a rooftop plaza.

Tampa Terminal, Florida 

The cruise terminal in Tampa is not only modern and centrally located, but it is also extremely close to one of the top-rated airports in the nation. Like Vancouver, the city planners wisely used the valuable seaside property to incorporate public parks, an IMAX movie theater, the Florida Aquarium and shopping and dining facilities. There are plenty of first-class hotels nearby, as well. Tampa now homeports cruises from four cruise lines: Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line.

Paul Motter is the editor of CruiseMates.com, an online cruise guide. Follow him on Twitter @cruisemates.