The National Football League selected Jacksonville, Florida in 2000 to host its annual Super Bowl this year. Although Jacksonville lacked enough hotels to satisfy the NFL's requirement to be a host, the city made a successful bid by including cruise ships as floating hotels.
Floating in the St. Johns River in downtown Jacksonville are five massive cruise ships normally found on the open sea. The sight of the gleaming vessels adds an instant spark of glamour complimenting the modern waterfront stadium where the Super Bowl will be played Sunday.
The Radisson Seven Seas Navigator, three Holland America ships and the Carnival Miracle are serving as four and five-star floating hotels for the long Super Bowl weekend. The Miracle, Carnival's newest top-of-the-line ship which debuted last year, arrived Wednesday while the other ships made their way along the river banks on Thursday. Following the game, they will set sail on Monday.
Jennifer MacPhee, the Director of Communications for the Jacksonville and the Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the cruise ships are an appropriate complement to the city.
"It seemed very fitting that we are calling this a Super Bowl on the River," she said. "And that we have these cruise ships so that people have their floating hotels and floating entertainment venues. So it is definitely different. But I think it is going to become a signature characteristic of the Super Bowl being in Jacksonville."
Cruise ships have been used for additional accommodations at other large events, including the Olympics and large corporate gatherings in major port cities. This week in Jacksonville, about 6000 visitors are staying on the luxurious ships.
The cruise lines were eager to take part in the Super Bowl. The championship game is the most watched television event each year in the United States and has broad international interest. Because the cruise industry estimates only 11 percent of the North American population has taken a cruise, the Super Bowl provided a good opportunity to showcase the ships and generate interest in vacation cruises. The ships have been open periodically for visitors to board and get a first-hand look.
Jennifer MacPhee says the cruise industry has added a new dimension to Jacksonville since it won the Super Bowl bid in 2000.
"We were not a port city," she explained. Now Jacksonville does have Carnival Cruise lines. So there are regular cruises running."
Patrons are being treated to pre-game parties, fine dining and entertainment. And they have been assured by law enforcement and government agencies that they will be safe. The ships are being protected by the U.S. Coast Guard, which is enforcing a 400-meter security zone around each vessel. During the Super Bowl, river traffic will be suspended. Small craft such as jet skis have been banned from the St. Johns River this week.