'The half million catches people by surprise,' BPCL president Kevin Sheehan Jr.—son of the former Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO and a major investor in the company—told Seatrade Cruise News.
'It's very exciting. A lot of work has been leading up to this,' he said.
Grand Classica joins Grand Celebration in sailing between Florida's Port of Palm Beach and Freeport on Grand Bahama Island. With the two ships daily departures can be offered, giving more choice and flexibility.
The line is the largest provider of tourists to Grand Bahama Island and a major presence at the Port of Palm Beach. Roughly 30% to 40% of cruisers incorporate a resort hotel stay in the Bahamas.
A new package bundles in two nights in Palm Beach and two nights at a Bahamas resort. That's 'unique ... something to brag about' for vacationers and 'a nice product to get travel agents excited about selling,' Sheehan said.
When his family took a major stake in BPCL in 2017, the travel agent business was 'basically zero. So that's a huge part of our growth plan. It requires a lot of education.'
Mai Meyaart now heading sales
After Glenn Ryerson retired in December, BPCL hired a new head of sales, Mai Meyaart, former VP hotel division, Travel Leaders Group. Previously she was VP and managing director, CCRA Travel Solutions, and supplier strategies general manager, American Express Global Business Travel.
Meyaart joins some big-name cruise veterans who, as earlier reported, include Maria Miller as chief marketing officer and David Sprechman as CFO (both were senior officials at Norwegian Cruise Line), and Richard Coombs as director of information technology (he was with Royal Caribbean International). Oneil Khosa is CEO and Kevin Sheehan Sr. is chairman.
'Our core customer doesn't want to go to the airport,' Sheehan Jr. said, adding that the company draws a drive market from as far as Jacksonville in northern Florida.
To ramp up for the second ship, marketing efforts have been 'hitting hard' in Fort Lauderdale and Miami. 'It's surprising how little name recognition there was in Palm Beach,' Sheehan said. One goal is capturing a percentage of the huge volume of traffic on nearby I-95, among the nation's busiest interstate highways.
The secondary focus is the rest of Florida—with digital, television and radio advertising in key markets like Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville, followed by the Southeast US, including Atlanta and beyond.
Sheehan's surprised BPCL draws customers from as far as Charlotte and Houston, where there's been no marketing, so that goes down to 'word of mouth,' he said, showing 'People are interested in our product beyond the Southeast and South Florida.'
Families are key in the summer, and the Friday weekend cruise draws a lot of impulse travelers year-round; people can leave the job Friday, head to the port, and be back from the cruise Sunday without missing any work. A lot of couples go.
'Our pricing is so attractive. It's a nice, affordable, fun vacation and a better alternative for an impulse getaway,' Sheehan said. The cruise starts at $149 per person in an inside cabin, and a night at an all-inclusive resort hotel in Freeport ranges from $130 to $150 per person. BPCL is now offering a couple boutique hotel alternatives in Freeport, along with the new Palm Beach hotel package.
Grand Classica has 658 staterooms and capacity for 1,680 passengers. Eight dining options offer different cuisines and new concepts such as alfresco interactive hot rock cooking and a gourmet pizza and wine venue.
Live entertainment includes bands, musicians, singing, dancing and comedy shows, while the casino provides more than 101 slot games and 10 table games. There are multiple bars and lounges including the new Crow’s Nest Sports Bar & Grill high atop Deck 14.
Other feaures include a full-service spa, salon and fitness center, adult-only pool area with two whirlpools and a bar and large main pool area with spacious deck, lounge chairs and jogging track. A Kid’s club for ages 3-17 offers complimentary play and activities, while a shopping plaza provides a number of stores.
Built as Costa Classica in 1992, the ship underwent a major refurbishment to become Costa neoClassica in 2014. Last October a comprehensive dry dock, begun in Italy and finished in Marseille, improved systems and infrastructure to make the ship ready for the US market. More recently, in Freeport, additional wet dock work included giving the decks and venues Bahamian names, new wayfinding and other touches. For example, the main dining room is The Yellow Elder, after the national flower of the Bahamas.
More Bahamian flavor
'We're working on refining the brand,' Sheehan said. The ships don't need to be 'generic' since they sail only between Florida and the Bahamas 'so we want our customers to know where they are when they step on board.'
Sheehan referred to the two ships as 'fraternal twins, the perfect pair.' Grand Celebration recently underwent a dry dock to introduce spots like the Grand Cafe, a specialty coffee and gelato bar that's on Grand Classica, too.
BPCL will be hosting 300 travel agents and 30 media on Grand Classica's inaugural sailing to Freeport tonight. Before departure, a welcome ceremony and ribbon-cutting will draw community leaders, agents, media and partners. Palm Beach County Mayor Melissa McKinlay, Minister of State for Grand Bahama J. Kwasi Thompson and Port of Palm Beach executive director Manuel Almira are expected to be on hand.