BOSTON - The U.S. cruise ship economy is enjoying steady growth, and Massport's Black Falcon terminal is sharing in the bounty. After a dip in ridership during 2006, the South Boston terminal is benefiting from an increase in ''port-of-call'' visits by vessels en route to other destinations this year.

The U.S. cruise ship economy is enjoying steady growth, and Massport's Black Falcon terminal is sharing in the bounty. After a dip in ridership during 2006, the South Boston terminal is benefiting from an increase in ''port-of-call'' visits by vessels en route to other destinations this year.

''We're pleased this year we're able to capture a significant part of that market,'' said Michael Leone, director of the Port of Boston.

Boston's cruise ship industry pales in comparison to warm-weather ports such as Miami, the nation's busiest cruise ship hub. But the Massachusetts cruise ship industry reaped nearly $400 million in direct spending in 2006, enough to rank 10th nationwide, according to a study released this past week by the Cruise Lines International Association of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Nationally, the industry generated $17.6 billion in direct spending on cruises and related costs such as lodging, fuel and maintenance. Spending fell from $31 million in 2005 but topped the $15 million spent in 2004, according to economic analyses by Business Research & Economic Advisors of Exton, Pa.

The strength of the euro currency kept many cruise lines from running transatlantic routes last year, Massport's Leone said.

Activity has picked up in 2007, and Massport projects more than 250,000 passengers this year, up from 209,000 in 2006. The figure includes cruises that originate or disembark in Boston as well as port-of-call visitors.

There are 101 vessels running cruises out of the port of Boston this year. Industry leader Carnival Cruises is the busiest operator at the Black Falcon terminal.

Leone predicts more growth in 2008 when Norwegian Cruises retires its Norwegian Majesty, which offers 26 seven-day cruises between Boston and Bermuda each year. It will be replaced by the Norwegian Dream, increasing capacity from 1,400 to 1,715 passengers.

Royal Caribbean, which runs five-and seven-day cruises between Boston and Canada , will return in 2008 after the company took a year off from traveling to Boston, primarily to make ship repairs.

Leone said one of Massport's top goals is to attract a year-round Caribbean cruise, something the port of Boston has lacked since 2005.

Industry sources predict steady growth nationwide for the cruise market through 2012.

''People are looking at it more as a necessity than a luxury,'' said Robert Sharak, executive vice president of the Fort Lauderdale-based Cruise Lines International Association. ''You need to get away.''

CLIA's market research indicates that only 17 percent of Americans have taken a cruise, leaving ample room for growth. Another 30 million say they probably will take one within the next three years.

Cruise operators who belong to CLIA now operate 151 vessels, with the busiest activity in Miami, Cape Canaveral and Fort Lauderdale. And they're packing them with amusement park-caliber attractions designed to broaden the cruise experience beyond deck chairs and dinner dances.

Royal Caribbean has added skating rinks, boxing rings and Flowrider surf simulator pools on some of its ships.

Five of Princess Cruises' ships have 300-square-foot on-deck movie theaters. Its Crown Princess and Emerald Princess recently launched The Sanctuary, an outdoor spa offering light meals, massages and yoga.

CLIA members are bringing nine new vessels onto the market this year, and the industry has orders for 40 new vessels by 2012.

That includes the largest cruise ship ever, ordered last year by Royal Caribbean. The $1.2 billion behemoth would have capacity for 6,400 passengers. Being built by Norwegian shipbuilder Aker Yards, the first Genesis-class vessel is expected to be delivered in 2009.

The largest cruise ship now in operation, Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas, carries 4,370 passengers.

''Every time one of these new ships is introduced, it kind of raises the bar for everyone,'' Sharak said. ''The product is continuing to evolve to appeal to this big baby boomer group who is in wealth-accumulation mode and want choices in life.''

Patriot Ledger

Steve Adams may be reached at sadams@ledger.com.