By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) are the other two entities eyeing Nassau for home porting as the country readies to “make sure we beat expectations”.
Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, confirmed to Tribune Business that an agreement with MSC Cruises was likely “imminent” while more work remained to be done to convert Norwegian’s “interest” into reality.
“It’s very encouraging they’re considering The Bahamas for home porting,” he said, “and that they have confidence in their determination to use The Bahamas to commence in some limited way their operations.
“This is not a panacea for the very serious fall-off in visitors from cruising, but it is an encouraging start.... We’ve never done this before, but it is historic that it is happening now. We have no historical data, but we hope that people at the beginning or end of a cruise come here and tack on a couple of days in Nassau rather than simply go from the airport to the cruise ship.”
Should both MSC Cruises and Norwegian’s’ interest and plans become reality, it would take the number of cruise lines electing to resume their post-COVID voyages in the Americas from The Bahamas to four, joining the already-announced Royal Caribbean and Crystal Cruises.
Michael Maura, the Nassau Cruise Port’s chief executive, yesterday confirmed to this newspaper that discussions with both MSC Cruises and Norwegian were ongoing. “Over the last five-six weeks I’ve been in conversations with MSC,” he revealed.
“That is definitely advancing, and in my conversations with MSC this past week they continued to confirm they’ll be home porting. It’s a Sunday, and I think they said July 21 [for the start]. They’ve got their private island at Ocean Cay, and will be able to offer Nassau, Freeport and Ocean Cay and come up with a solid itinerary.
“On Norwegian, I was over in Miami this past week and had a meeting with them. They asked if we had room on a Sunday, and I told them we did. They are looking at the possibility of home porting in Nassau on Sundays.”
Mr Maura said Royal Caribbean and Crystal Cruises will be home porting in Nassau on Saturdays this summer before setting out on their seven-day itineraries, while MSC Cruises and Norwegian arrived at Prince George Wharf one day later.
He added that the luggage scanning equipment that will be installed to screen passengers’ bags is due to arrive on New Providence in “the next couple of weeks”, and Nassau Cruise Port was working extensively with the cruise lines and Bahamian law enforcement to determine the flow, handling and other details required for this.
Bahamian companies, with manpower and forklifts, will be hired to deal with bags belonging to 1,500 Royal Caribbean passengers, and potentially a similar number for MSC Cruises and Norwegian, plus 600 Crystal Cruises passengers.
“It’s all coming together,” Mr Maura said. “The relationship that exists today with Royal Caribbean is one of partnership, and they are working very closely with us and it’s all about the objective. That is to safely and efficiently provide a great experience to these passengers who will be flying into Nassau and boarding a cruise ship.
“They’ve not been on a cruise ship for quite some time, and giving them a fantastic port experience - everything from how those passengers are going to be handled, how they will be processed - we’re literally taking every step with them [the cruise lines] to make sure we exceed expectations.”
Mr Maura said he will this week meet with executives from Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD), the Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) operator, to discuss the transfer of incoming cruise passengers to the downtown Nassau cruise port.
He revealed that, in Royal Caribbean’s case, a reception room for its passengers will be set up in the British Colonial Hilton, which will act as a “check in”. Passengers’ bags will go from there to the cruise port, where they will be screened before being placed on the vessel.