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NCL still vested in the Caribbean, eyes further Bahamas development

NCL's Great Stirrup Cay, cruising's original private island, has The Bahamas' approval for a dock
The newly named Norwegian Viva spent Thursday anchored off Great Stirrup Cay, cruising's original private island, and will be based in San Juan, Puerto Rico this winter.

Though Norwegian Cruise Line, in search of higher yields, has branched out far from its roots as Norwegian Caribbean Lines in 1966, the Caribbean and Bahamas remain important.

The Caribbean is 'still our second largest deployment. We're not going to ignore it,' NCL President David Herrera said. 'We have a phenomenal asset with Great Stirrup Cay. It's a unique experience,' and it fits into itineraries from New York, Port Canaveral, Miami and Tampa.

'Our percentage of Caribbean deployment is significantly less than it was five years ago. But when you roll it forward, the number of passengers we're going to carry is [just] a little bit lower' due to capacity additions.

Viva San Juan!

This winter NCL's newest ship will sail from San Juan, which has been known as a challenging homeport because of airlift. But Alex Sharpe, president/CEO of Signature Travel Network, said 'It's a better launching point if you want to have meaningful itineraries.'

For NCL customers from New York, it doesn't make much difference if they're flying to Miami or San Juan to embark a cruise, Sharpe said.

'New York is one of our largest source markets, especially for Caribbean product,' Herrera said. 'There's great airlift out of the Northeast to Puerto Rico.'

He noted Viva replaces Norwegian Epic, a larger vessel, and NCL was able to fill that.

Viva's a 'brand-new ship. It's enticing. When we put a new ship anywhere, we usually get a nice premium. I'm very confident we'll be able to fill a new ship in Puerto Rico.'

A dock at Great Stirrup Cay?

As for Great Stirrup Cay, NCL has been granted permission to build a dock there but Herrera wasn't ready to discuss specifics or a timetable.

The Bahamas have been abuzz with cruise developments and investments as lines look to cut fuel costs and carbon emissions with closer-to-home sailings.

When Norwegian Viva anchored off Great Stirrup Cay, the ship overlooked two Royal Caribbean vessels docked at nearby Perfect Day at CocoCay, where the new Hideaway Beach is to open soon. And Royal Caribbean is planning its first Royal Beach Club at Paradise Island, Nassau.

Carnival Cruise Line has announced more than 500 sailings to its new Celebration Key on Grand Bahama, and it will be getting its own new facilities, with a dock, at sister brand Holland America Line's Half Moon Cay. Disney Cruise Line is opening Lookout Cay at Lighthouse Point in Eleuthera. MSC Cruises is investing $100m in additional amenities and environmental upgrades at MSC Ocean Cay Marine Reserve.

Paying attention to Calypso Cove

A new Bahamas cruise port that will be open to all lines, Azul Destinations' Calypso Cove on Long Island, is advancing as the Bahamian Department of Environmental Planning & Development recently reviewed its environmental impact assessment and other documentation, with no objections.

The clearance led to a required public consultation on Nov. 14 at Long Island, the next step toward securing a certificate of environmental compliance. This will enable the developers to obtain the necessary permits for construction.

'We are absolutely paying attention to Calypso,' Herrera told Seatrade Cruise News.

He noted that besides Great Stirrup Cay, NCL calls at Bimini, Nassau and Freeport, adding: 'The Bahamas is a key destination for us.'

Port of Galveston

The Port of Galveston will provide another regional anchor for NCL, which continues talks about the new Cruise Terminal 16 there.

'There's a lot of potential opportunity for us going forward in the Caribbean,' Herrera said. 'As our fleet grows, we have to go somewhere.'