NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – The City of Norfolk made a major announcement Monday involving cruise ships coming to the downtown waterfront.

Norfolk has entered into a new, expanded partnership with Carnival Cruise Line that is expected to bring more than 200,000 passengers through Norfolk in 2023, Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander announced.

Carnival will operate out of Norfolk six months out of the year starting in May, and year-round service will begin by 2025.

“The City of Norfolk is committed to the travel and tourism industry,” Alexander said. “In 2020, we showed that commitment by investing in state-of-the-art passenger gateway, paving the way for larger cruise ships and greater seaways vacation experiences for passengers. I’m pleased to announce in 2025, we’ll have year-round service from the world’s largest cruise line, coming from Norfolk!”

Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Cooper Alexander

The mayor called the expansion a “huge win” for the region.

“The goal is to have passengers come in early. They come from Pennsylvania or the Washington D.C. area. They stop and spend some time in Norfolk, get on the cruise, and then spend some more time in Norfolk before they go back home,” Alexander said.

City Manager Chip Filer said that the estimated $17.6 million economic impact will be a large boost for downtown businesses.

“Downtown is going to see tremendous benefits from this announcement, because all of these folks are going to be largely here getting on and off the ship,” he said.

Carnival plans to establish a home port in Norfolk by 2025. Half Moon Cruises and Celebrations at Nauticus Executive Director Stephen Kirkland said six months of business next year with the world’s largest cruise line is a “game changer.”

He said that improvements must be made to the facility before it can become a home port in 2025.

“We want to make sure we’re ready for year-round service, because once that begins, there’s no stopping.” he said. “So you really have to make all the structural improvements when you can.”

Alexander said that there isn’t yet an estimate for the improvements.

Carnival Cruise resumed cruises in Norfolk back in early May with the 3,690-passenger Carnival Magic. It was the first cruise vacation to sail from Norfolk in more than two years.

Carnival Magic is the largest ship to depart from Norfolk and will be one of 11 voyages to depart from Norfolk’s Half Moone Cruise Center in the summer and fall 2022.

In total, 11 voyages with various itineraries will depart from Norfolk this summer and fall, visiting destinations in Bermuda, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.