Trying Out San Francisco’s New Cruise Ship Terminal at Pier 27

by Janis on October 27, 2014

San Francisco, one of my favorite cities, has a new cruise ship terminal at Pier 27 along the Embarcadero. It’s a $100 million building of corrugated aluminum that is 40 feet tall and 504 feet long, designed to handle cruise ships carrying up to 4,000 guests.

Pier 27 Cruise Ship Terminal, San Francisco

I tried out the new terminal last week, while sailing round-trip San Francisco on the Star Princess for a 7-Day California Coastal cruise that included stops in Ensenada, Mexico, as well as San Diego, Long Beach and Santa Barbara, California.

Unlike its predecessor, the 100-year old Pier 35, the new structure does not line up with the Embarcadero street front. Instead, it is located behind a 2.3-acre grassy plaza with benches intended as a respite for those waiting for a ship or just passing by.

San Francisco Cruise Terminal at Pier 27The new terminal is named for veteran labor leader James R. Herman, a onetime port commissioner and head of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

The 88,000-square-foot, two-level cruise terminal houses ticketing, baggage, a Customs and Border Protection Area, and security operations. The boarding areas inside are designed for year-round comfort with heating and air conditioning, and an open floor plan with more than 70,000 square feet of space that can be rented for private events when cruise ships are not in port.

The new Port of San Francisco cruise terminal is environmentally friendly and was certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). It features electric shore power so the ships don’t have to run their engines in port.

San Francisco Cruise Terminal at Pier 27San Francisco’s Pier 27 welcomed its first ship, Princess Cruises’ Crown Princess, on Sept. 18, although the official grand opening was officially held on September 25, 2014.

Despite a month’s worth of cruises by the time I boarded the Star Princess on October 18, there were still a few issues that might require a little more practice.

San Francisco Cruise Terminal at Pier 27

There is a significant off-street passenger drop-off circle for cars, buses and taxis, right in front of the entrance. When I arrived around 1:15 pm, however, there was a long line of guests waiting to enter, that snaked around the building and out to nearly the Embarcadero street front.  (I arrived walking with my suitcase; I had traveled from the San Francisco airport on BART to the Embarcadero Station, and then walked with my bag to Pier 27, which took about 30 minutes.)

While the line at Pier 27 moved fairly quickly, I was told numerous times that I needed to check my roller bag with the porter, but there were no porters near the line.

Despite getting out of the long line several times and dragging my bag around to the taxi/bus drop-off area, I could not find any available porters, just several ‘supervisors’ standing around. The limited number of porters were apparently inside handling several busloads of luggage.

Finally, I got frustrated and took my bag in with me into the building.

cruise luggageMy luggage fit through the security machines with plenty of room to spare.

This long line and lack of available porters was a challenge for the older and disabled passengers.

San Francisco Cruise Terminal at Pier 27You enter through these glass doors. During embarkation, this area was filled with people and several checkpoints for filling out a health questionnaire. At the end of the hall, you entered another check-point and arrived at the escalator that takes you to the second floor where the security screening takes place.

After the security screening, you head to another large room, where you check-in with the cruise staff for your cruise and get your cruise room key/ID card.

We could not board yet; after check-in we got a group boarding number and sat in the boarding area to wait for our group number to be called.

San Francisco Cruise Terminal at Pier 27After about a half hour wait, my group was called and we walked through the doors towards the ship.

San Francisco Cruise Terminal at Pier 27Those doors funnel you onto a walkway alongside the Port building (see photo above.)

This walk doubles back and forth as you eventually make your way onto the ship.

San Francisco Pier 27 Cruise Port

Once on the ship, the view of the Port building, Telegraph Hill, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay is spectacular.

Alcatraz IslandAt 5 pm, the Star Princess set sail, and quickly passed by Alcatraz Island.

Memories of long lines in embarkation quickly fade as one enjoys the world-class views while sailing out of the Port of San Francisco.

sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge, San FranciscoSailing under the iconic Golden Gate Bridge is another highlight.

sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge, San FranciscoOnce the ship has passed under the Golden Gate, there’s still a terrific view of San Francisco and the surrounding coast.

Coit TowerUpon return to San Francisco after the 7-day cruise, this view of Coit Tower greets disembarking passengers.

San FranciscoIn the other direction, arriving cruise passengers get this view of the San Francisco’s Financial District

Pier 23If you can’t go on a cruise, you can watch the departure progress while dining on the outdoor patio of Pier 23, a long-time waterfront dining and drinking favorite.

For easy-to-book tours of San Francisco, check out these offerings from Get Your Guide:

Have you visited San Francisco’s new Pier 27? If so, how was your experience? Please share in comments below.

Are you planning a visit to San Francisco? You may want to check out these posts:

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