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AMA Capital Partners advising on Calypso Cove cruise port financing

Azul Destinations engaged AMA Capital Partners as its exclusive financial advisor for the $250m Calypso Cove cruise port in Long Island, Bahamas.

The destination will offer sweeping beaches, a large lagoon for water activities, a water park, over-water cabanas, nature trails, entertainment, heritage and conservation elements, dining, bars, retail and a boutique hotel.

Its pier is designed to handle two post-Panamax ships over 1,000 feet in length and up to 13,000 cruisers per day. Calypso Cove is envisioned as a high-usage port, with forecasts for 750,000 to 1m cruisers annually.

'Right project at the right time'

'This is the right project at the right time,' said Jim Dolphin, managing director of AMA, a merchant bank based in Stamford, Connecticut with significant experience in cruise and port infrastructure projects.

AMA has worked with Oceania Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Windstar Cruises and American Classic Voyages, while Dolphin's background includes leading Booz Allen Hamilton's global maritime management consulting practice which involved feasibility studies and strategic and master planning for ports.

Pre-pandemic, cruise lines were financing their own developments.

'Being able to offer an attractive destination, a new destination for cruise lines which are currently balance sheet constrained, is a really exciting opportunity,' Dolphin said. Calypso Cove's location will 'fit well into a cruise line's portfolio of destinations, in a variety of different sailing patterns.'

With all the new ships coming online, there's a need to expand destinations and itineraries, added Peter Shaerf, fellow AMA managing director.

Open to all cruise lines, Calypso Cove is an independent project by Azul Destinations, whose partners are Carlos Torres de Navarra, a seasoned cruise port development executive; Sherif Assal, founder of American Guard Services, a leading security services provider to the cruise industry, and Thomas Dean, a prominent Bahamian attorney who's from Long Island.

'Our objective is to be a strong add-on'

According to the developers, the location — in close proximity to Florida homeports, Nassau, Freeport and cruise line private islands — will help diversify itineraries and control fuel costs. 'We're not competing with any Bahamas cruise port,' Torres de Navarra said. 'Our objective is to be a strong add-on.'

The goal is to 'get it right from the onset and have a true marquee port from day one,' he continued. 'Our objective is something right out of the gate that feels compelling and will become central to the cruise lines' marketing efforts.' He believes Calypso Cove will drive demand and ticket revenue, while its robust menu of shore excursions will boost onboard revenue.

Torres de Navarra said several lines have voiced strong interest that he expects will turn into commitments to call. They represent a broad spectrum of the cruise industry.

The project reached a milestone last week when the Bahamas Department of Environmental Planning & Protection approved Calypso Cove's terms of reference — basically, the scope of the project — so the developers can proceed with the environmental impact assessment.

Heading into environmental impact assessment

If environmental approval is received by December, Torres de Navarra said dredging could start by year's end/early 2024, with the aim for Calypso Cove to receive ships in the 2025/26 cruise season.

Dolphin said AMA will be 'actively looking for both debt and equity and trying to create the optimal capital structure for the project.'

He noted capital sources have been very attracted to the cruise industry. Even in the last several years during its most troubled times, the major players have been able to draw debt and equity financing.

And cruising, Dolphin said, has proven to be a resilient business over decades, surviving wars, economic downturns and, most recently, a pandemic.

'It keeps bouncing back. The market is growing ...

We think [Calypso Cove] is an attractive opportunity for somebody to enter the cruise space.'

The Bahamas' bevy of cruise infrastructure projects will be featured in Seatrade Cruise Review's June issue