Genting Acquires Superfast Ferry For Florida-Bimini Run – Other Cruise News: Celebrity To Increase Australian Capacity By 50% In 2014 – Can Global CLIA Solve Perception Problem?
by Kevin Griffin
Last month, when the Malaysia-based Genting Group acquired the 28-knot fast ferry Superfast VI, observors were left to wonder what their intention was. But since then, the vessel has been renamed Bimini Superfast and it has been announced that she is intended for operation between Florida and Bimini North in the Bahamas, where Genting will open a new casino this December. From Australia comes news that the Celebrity Century will return to join the Celebrity Solstice Down Under in 2014/15. And with increasingly large ships bringing increasingly large crowds, CLIA going global and the US Cruise Vessel Security & Safety Act of 2010, Senator Jay Rockefeller sends a contentious letter to Micky Arison. Is the new global CLIA up to the task of combatting negative publicity from politicians?
THIS WEEK’S STORY
Genting Acquires Superfast Ferry For Florida-Bimini Run
On March 8, Greek-owned Attica Holdings, operators of Superfast Ferries, announced that it was selling to Malaysia’s Genting Group the 32,728-ton overnight fast ferry Superfast VI for a total cash consideration of €54 million. Delivery of Superfast VI, which has been renamed Bimini Superfast, was scheduled for the beginning of April.
Built by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft at Kiel, Germany in 2001, she is being replaced on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Ancona route by another Superfast vessel.
At first it was not known why Genting, owner of Star Cruises and also the largest shareholder in Norwegian Cruise Line, wanted this ship, one of a class of fast ferries that have seen service in the Mediterranean, the Baltic and the North Sea. These ships can carry 1,600 passengers, with berths for up to 934, and can travel at the remarkably high speed, for a full displacement hull, of up to 28 knots. They are also equipped with four vehicle decks providing 1,908 lane metres for loading trucks and motorcars.
On board dining features an “a la carte” restaurant in addition to the usual self-service dining found on ferries. Boutiques in the shopping mall invite shoppers and there are bars and a casino. One of the highlights of these ships is a two-story disco featuring a glass wall overlooking the stern, in the aft area of the vessel. There is also an open-air bar with dance floor, deck chairs on spacious outside areas, a swimming pool and a children’s summer club.
On March 26, Genting Malaysia announced that Genting (USA) Ltd, an indirect wholly- owned subsidiary, had acquired Bimini SuperFast Limited (BSF), a company that was incorporated in the Isle of Man on March 25 for the purpose of providing cruise and cruise related services to Bimini Islands, Bahamas. The ship is now in Patras, Greece, and has been registered in Panama.
While Genting has been trying to open a casino in Miami, so far without result, the Malaysian-based company has found a way to open one just about 50 miles away. It has signed a deal to open a luxury boutique casino, Resorts World Bimini Bay, at Bimini Bay Resort & Marina in North Bimini. The 10,000-square-foot casino, scheduled to open in December, will feature full-scale gaming tables, slots and sports betting, in a venue similar to Genting’s London casinos.
The deal is a partnership between Genting Malaysia and RAV Bahamas, developer of Bimini Bay and the Rockwell Island Beach Estates. This will be the only casino on Bimini and the closest offshore casino to South Florida, just fifty miles off the coast and accessible by a half-hour flight or a 2-1/2-hour fast ferry trip.
The casino is designed to attract visitors to Bimini, a sleepy Bahamian island known more for its fishing than its nightlife and once a haunt of Ernest Hemingway. The Bimini Superfast will provide the critical mass that should make a success of the new casino and the surrounding resort.
Bimini Bay Resort & Marina is a 560-acre oceanfront community that was developed by chairman Gerardo Capo of Miami and family. Construction began in 2003 and its first phase opened in late 2007, bringing a luxury resort to a rustic island. Today, Bimini Bay has over 480 luxury homes and villas, the largest yacht marina in the Bahamas, a shopping village, four restaurants and a Beach Club. Just over half the units are rented out as part of a condominium-hotel program.
Since it opened, visitors to Bimini have grown by about 50 percent, hitting 50,000 a year. RAV Bahamas had already signed a deal in 2005 to open a casino and luxury hotel with Conrad Hotels, Hilton’s luxury brand, but the project never went ahead. So the latest move is actually a return to the Bahamas for Genting, as in 1986 it built the Lucayan Beach Resort and Casino in Freeport in a joint venture with the Bahamian Government.
RAV Bahamas, having known Genting from that project, first approached the Malaysian company when Bimini Bay was still at the concept stage more than a dozen years ago. The advantage of the Bimini casino to the Bahamians is that the project provides stability for the local economy in a destination that already enjoys a 79 percent repeat visitor return.
As the two companies are partnering in Bimini, Genting has already invested $500 million in property in Miami, where Genting and other US-based gaming companies are trying to get the State of Florida to allow casino gambling outside of tribal land and parimutuel facilities.
Meanwhile, the Bimini Superfast is not the first fast ferry to serve the island. Just this February, Spanish operator Balearia opened a new Miami-Bimini service using the 30-knot 358-passenger catamaran Maverick. Offering sailings on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the Maverick leaves Terminal J at the Port of Miami at 9 am and arrives at Alice Town, North Bimini, around noon. Return oassengers leave Bimini at 5 pm for an 8 pm return to Miami. Passengers leaving Miami must check in two hours ahead of sailing and the round-trip day return fare is $145 while the round-trip stayover is $176.
Several hotels on Bimini, including Bimini Bay Resort, include the ferry service in packages. Facilities on board Maverick include a bar, cafeteria and retail shop. All seating is indoors in aircraft-style, three-abreast seats with views from large windows. First class is located on the top deck and offers leather seats as well as priority boarding and disembarking.
Passengers are permitted to bring two carry-on bags free of charge.
Balearia Bahamas Express, in which the Capo family have a minority interest, also operates a fast ferry service between Fort Lauderdale and Grand Bahama Island aboard the 463-passenger wave piercer catamaran Pinar del Rio.
But what is also interesting about the introduction of one of Europe’s most advanced overnight ferries to the Florida trade is the question of how soon a fleet of them may be sailing between Miami and Havana, a distance of 222 nautical miles, or an eight-hour trip for a Superfast ferry. By comparison, Key West to Havana is 92 nautical miles, or three and a half hours by Superfast ferry. What is interesting about Balearia’s Pinar del Rio, mentioned above, is that she is actually named after Cuba’s most westerly province!
OTHER CRUISE NEWS
Celebrity To Increase Australian Capacity By 50% In 2014
Celebrity has come a long way in the Australian market. Starting with a season each by the 1,870-berth Celebrity Mercury in 2007/08 and 1,950-berth Celebrity Millennium in 2008/09, this was followed in 2011/12 by the 1,814-berth Celebrity Century and in 2012/13 by the 2,852-berth Celebrity Solstice. The latest news, announced last week as Celebrity Solstice planned to leave Sydney, is that Celebrity Century will return to the Australian trade in 2014/15.
During her inaugural Australian season, the Celebrity Solstice carried more than 34,000 passengers, of which 15,000 were Australians. She will return for a second season in October 2013, when she will offer sixteen cruises, while Celebrity Millennium will offer two cruises when she visits Sydney on her way to Asia.
In 2014/15, it has now been announced that the Celebrity Solstice and Celebrity Century between them will offer a total of twenty-seven cruises, of from three to 23 nights. Included in this program will be a 23-night Transpacific crossing by Celebrity Century from San Francisco via the Pacific islands to arrive in Sydney on October 10, 2014.
The latest announcement puts paid, at least for a couple of years, to rumours that Celebrity Century might follow her earlier near-sisters Century Galaxy and Century Mercury to another part of Royal Caribbean Cruises’ empire. The latter pair are now with TUI Cruises in Germany while Horizon and Zenith have found their way to Croisières de France.
Can Global CLIA Solve A Perception Problem?
Today we received a comment from a prospective client. It is one that, as a seller of niche cruise product, small ships and expedition voyages, we are starting to see more often these days. What did our prospective client say? “Neither I nor my other half want to travel on a ‘cruise ship.’ We just got back from the Caribbean and saw a cross section of their passengers.”
Apart from the fact that there have always been those who have a negative attitude towards cruising, cruise ships and those who cruise in them, what is interesting here is that this is a couple who actually want to book a sea voyage, in their case through the Panama Canal.
It seems that by going so mass market with huge ships serving passengers in food courts, the industry, in its search for greater profits might have overstepped a certain boundary with people like this and be in danger of ruining a good thing.
A negative attitude towards cruising is starting to show up in the strangest places. For example, Senator Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, recently wrote a tendentious letter to Micky Arison, ceo of Carnival Corp & PLC. When Carnival’s James Hunn, senior vice president of corporate maritime policy, graced Rockefeller with a reasoned response, Rockefeller rebuffed the response as “shameful.”
Criticism has crossed over from the public not liking large ships and crowded ports and certain journalists waging negative campaigns against cruise lines to politicians themselves (Rockefeller is a Democrat) going after the cruise lines. This first became apparent when Senator John Kerry, another Democrat who is now Secretary of State, backed the US Cruise Vessel Security & Safety Act of 2010 that mandated peepholes in doors, not only in passenger doors but in crew doors too.
It also mandated 42-inch high ship railings where the previous convention had been 39? inches. Oddly enough, this completely ignored reports that the cruise line that had lost the most passengers overboard in the previous decade (39 in ten years) actually had 44-inch railings.
We wonder if even the new global CLIA will be up to this game of protecting the industry against assaults by politicians. As more ships are built and destinations suffer from large crowds, there will inevitably be more criticism of cruise lines. And something that seems to be coming out of this is that cruising in general is no longer the genuinely respected and aspired to type of holiday that it used to be.
That’s not to say that positive things are not happening. The introduction of Norwegian Cruise Line’s new Norwegian Breakaway next month is an interesting case in point. Built to carry 4,000 passengers on weekly junkets to Bermuda by summer and the Caribbean by winter, her original new boardwalk restaurant concept is bound to be welcomed by passengers.
Because it connects them with the sea, rather than looking like an inward-facing grab for more on board revenue. Norwegian’s new idea compares favourably with say Princess Cruises’ new “Sea Walk,” a glass-floored enclosed walkway that extends 28 feet beyond the side of the ship at 128 feet above sea level. Norwegian’s new concept will not only please passengers, but it will also generate revenue, something that Royal Princess’s Sea Walk will not do.
But back to the point at hand, there is a growing unease about cruising’s reputation as it has gradually gone more mass market. One wonders, for example, if bringing all the cruise line organizations worldwide into a global CLIA is really such a good idea after all. It presents a much more monolithic presence than the various national and international bodies that had existed before but it also might provide a single target for those that are anti-cruise.
The latter no longer include just envious journalists who love a bad news story (how often have we read “cruise from hell” or “hell ship”?) but also the likes of Professor Ross Klein, a self-appointed “critic” of the cruise industry who has recently been preying on Carnival Cruise Line for its various misfortunes. If you ever want to hear anything negative about cruising, then Klein is your man.
Despite the fact that Carnival have taken all the right steps to prevent their ships from breaking down at sea, Klein has made himself into the kind of “expert” who gets calls from the television networks and these days is often mentioned in the same articles as Senator Rockefeller.
What is most worrying, however, is that this negativity has now spread, at least in the United States, to legislators. Is the new CLIA in a good enough position to be able to counter these increasingly negative voices and present the real truth, that as ships have got larger, cruise prices have come down in real terms?
And that the big ships are not the only ones out there?
(Kevin Griffin is managing director of specialist cruise agency The Cruise People Ltd in London, England. For further information concerning cruises mentioned in this article readers can visit his blog)