Hong Kong opened a $1.1 billion cruise terminal at the site of its former airport on Wednesday in a bid to become Asia’s hub for luxury liners.
The new terminal, built on the runway of the old Kai Tak airport, will be able to accommodate the largest cruise ships in the world — liners of up to 220,000 gross tonnes.
“Kai Tak was the site of our legendary airport and is now turning a historic page by connecting Hong Kong with the rest of the world through the seven seas,” Commissioner of Tourism Philip Yung said.
“With the addition of this new facility, Hong Kong is in full gear to receive mega cruise ships,” Yung said.
Royal Caribbean’s 1,020 feet (311 metres) long “Mariner of the Seas” was the first mega luxury cruise liner to dock at the two-berth terminal, which boasts a 360-degree panoramic view of the city.
A troupe of lion dancers welcomed more than 3,000 passengers as they disembarked the ship.
“Our favourite port was Venice. You beat Venice,” George Lamson, a 74-year-old artist from the US, told reporters, adding he was amazed by the views as the ship entered the city’s famed Victoria Harbour.
“We feel very privileged to have this honour,” 65-year-old retiree from the UK Valerie Blakeway said of being the first visitors at the terminal.
The former Kai Tak International Airport was considered one of the most challenging places to land an aircraft due to its central location in the city and tall mountains surrounding it.
The airport closed in 1998 after being in service for over 70 years and was replaced by the current Chek Lap Kok International Airport.
The cruise terminal will open to the public in the third quarter of the year with its second berth opening in 2014.