(recent article in the Miami Herald)
The Caribbean and North America remain the cruise industry’s biggest playground — and will soon be busier yet, cruise executives said Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale at the industry’s largest annual conference, Seatrade Cruise Global.
In 2016, the Caribbean received the lion’s share of cruise ship deployments, at 33.7 percent, said Michele Paige, president of Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association. That share is expected to grow by 5 percent in 2017, she said, with ships specifically designed for outdoor activities.
With the increase in ships comes new port development as well. Swiss line MSC Cruises is transforming a Bahamian island into a private beach port, while Jamaica is launching a massive port renovation program in its capital.
Geneva-based MSC, which has now sails one ship seasonally from PortMiami, is launching a North American expansion that includes two new ships dedicated to year-round voyages. Wednesday, MSC announced that the 4,488-passenger MSC Meraviglia, will move to Miami when it debuts in fall 2019. The company previously announced that the 4140-passenger MSC Seaside, which launches in late 2017, will also sail year-round from PortMiami. MSC Divinia, which currently sails from Miami with capacity for 3,502 passengers, will move to offering seasonal voyages.
MSC plans to add even more ships to North America in upcoming years, said Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC, as part of the line’s expansion. It has already ordered 11 additional ships over the next 10 years, nearly doubling its current fleet of 12.
“It’s going to be a turning point for MSC,” Vago said in an interview.
Passengers can expect itineraries to include Ocean Cay, a private Bahamian island about 60 miles from Miami. Because of dredging in the 1960s, before environmental protections were enacted, ships will be able to sail right up to the island. Additional development, now underway, is for completion in late 2018. The former industrial wasteland will become a marine reserve, Vago said.
Jamaica ports are also set for a makeover that will include turning Kingston into a cruise destination, Jamaican Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett announced at a press conference Tuesday evening.
The Kingston initiative is part of an ambitious strategy to eventually bring 5 million cruisers a year to Jamaica in the next five years, up from 1.66 million cruise passengers who visited the island in 2016.
The country also plans to upgrade and expand its existing cruise ports in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, upgrade Port Antonio on the northeastern coast of the island to accommodate smaller boutique ships and dredge the port in Kingston, the county’s capital, to accommodate large ships. The island has a fifth port, in Falmouth, that was opened in 2011.
The country also wants to expanding Jamaica’s shore excursion program, a project valued at “several million dollars.” Barlett said exact budgets and time lines are still in development.
Bartlett said he hopes the new developments will also connect Jamaica and Cuba in the northern Caribbean as a new itinerary option for cruise lines.
“In the early years, the itinerary was Havana-Kingston; that is where the center of cruise was,” he said. “Cuba is a game changer for the northern Caribbean and not only cruise tourism, but tourism as a whole. We are talking a more collaborative approach to development rather than a competitive approach.”
The addition of Cuba to itineraries has the potential to draw increased attention to the Caribbean as a whole, executives said during a Wednesday afternoon panel.
“Cuba is not a competition to anybody, it’s multiplying the itinerary experiences,” said Roberto Fusaro, president MSC Cruises (USA), whose line now visits the island with two of its ships.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio said he expects Cuba to be a “home run” for the cruise company, which in 2017 is sailing to Cuba on all three of its lines: mainstream Norwegian Cruise Line, premium Oceania Cruises and luxury Regent Seven Seas.
“The first five sailings [on Norwegian Cruise Line], when we announced them in December, have sold like nothing else. The same for Oceania and Regent, but at meaninfully higher prices,” Del Rio said. “I’m not sure if those meaningfully higher prices will sustain.” Airlines, which seem to have misread demand for Cuba, have decreased their flights to the island.
Also on Wednesday, Norwegian Cruise Line gave a preview of its new class of ships, code named “Project Leonardo,” which feature more open areas in the bottom decks. The design fits with trends from other lines creating warm-weather ships; MSC’s new Seaside features lanais that jut out from ship’s side on the eighth of its 18 decks.
The design is a departure from Norwegian’s traditional approach, which typically features closed decks save for the open pool deck at the ship’s top. The aim, said Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, is “so people can connect with the sea.”
The Norwegian ships, set for delivery in 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025, will accommodate about 3,300 passengers each. Some of the line’s latest ships can accommodate more than 4,000 passengers — too large for some global ports.
“While this vessel is large, not all destinations in the world — and we do want to be a global cruise line — can handle 4,000- and 5,000-pasenger ships,” Del Rio said. “[This is the] perfect size to deliver top return on investment.”
“[Project Leonardo ships will feature] cutting edge technologies customers can use as part of their fun, as compared to [just]opening their cabin door and getting beeps throughout the day of what they should be doing,” Del Rio said.