For the first time in decades, a cruise ship calls on DC’s Waterfront

WASHINGTON — Yes, that was a cruise ship docked at The Wharf on D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront Sunday, and it is the first time since the 1950s a cruise ship has called on D.C.

The brand-new, 175-passenger American Constitution made The Wharf a stop on its current 11-day voyage out of Baltimore.

The Wharf’s largest dock can handle cruise ships up to 400 feet in length — a good-sized ship, but not big enough for megaships such as Carnival Cruise Lines.

Welcoming smaller cruise ships will likely be an infrequent thing for The Wharf.

Monty Hoffman, with The Wharf development team Hoffman-Madison, told WTOP that he wouldn’t call cruise-ship destination “a primary use” of The Wharf — “I don’t want too much of a good thing, if you will. We like having them come in, but I’m not pushing it too hard either.”

While it has been more than 60 years since cruise ship passengers embarked and disembarked along the D.C. waterfront, that kind of commerce is part of D.C.’s history.

“There were ships that came in here quite regularly up until the Civil War,” Hoffman said. “Then there was a steamship group that came in here up until the mid-1950s. And there were regular routes to Hampton Roads and to Bermuda actually.”

The American Constitution is the newest ship for American Cruise Lines. The ship has what American Cruise Lines calls the most spacious staterooms in the small ship cruising industry, almost all with private balconies.

One of The Wharf’s missions is to connect people to the water, but that is mostly in the form of private vessel dockage, water sports such as paddle boarding, a Jitney that ferries visitors to Hains Point, and a water taxi network that shuttles passengers to and from Georgetown, Old Town and National Harbor.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story said that the Wilson Bridge wouldn’t allow for megaships to pass under it. That isn’t accurate. The Wilson Bridge’s main span is a bascule that opens for taller vessels.

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Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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