112 years of the Miami-Nassau route (III)
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112 years of the Miami-Nassau route (III)

Last week the subject was the 1950s and the growth of Eastern Cruise Lines into the 1960s. Today, we finish the Miami-Nassau story with a look at more recent cruise activity on the route and the Bahamas today, including its private islands, a new shipyard in Freeport and cruise ships under the Bahamian flag. Most people do not realize, for instance, that the vast majority of the world's ultra-luxury cruise ships are now registered in Nassau. Let's have a wider look at the Bahamian scene before Cuba is re-opened.

Competition for Eastern

Up to the mid-1960s the Miami-Nassau trade had been restricted pretty well to Eastern Cruise Lines and its predecessors and the old Peninsular & Occidental. Offering Miami-Nassau cruises in the Clarke Steamship Co's old New Northland, renamed Nuevo Dominicano, Eastern had gone on to acquire two famous Boston ships, the Yarmouth and Evangeline, which had cruised from New York and Miami to the Caribbean and run from Miami to Havana before the war. This all formed the basis on which a year-round Miami-based cruise trade was then developed with bigger ships. But new players began to appear.

First was Yarmouth Cruise Lines, who had purchased the old Evangeline and renamed her Yarmouth Castle to sail with her old fleetmate Yarmouth, with both ships advertised as "Fun Ships."
Why Eastern had seen fit to sell these ships to a potential competitor is not clear, but when the Yarmouth Castle sailed from Miami on November 12, 1965, with 376 passengers and 176 crew on board, she burned that night on her way to Nassau, with the loss of 90 lives. The Bahama Star and other ships came to the rescue but Yarmouth Cruise Lines did not survive.

Other players entered the Miami-Nassau trade though. In December 1965, only weeks after the Yarmouth Castle fire, Leslie Fraser, son of Eastern's founder Frank Leslie Fraser, chartered a newly-built Israeli car ferry called the Nili, placing her into service between Miami and Nassau under the name Pan American Cruise Lines. In September 1966, when Pan American tried to obtain a reduction in the daily hire rate, her owners decided instead to assign the charter to a new operator called Arison Shipping. When the owners went bankrupt in late 1966 and both the Nili and her sister ship Bilu were arrested, Arison had lots of bookings for his new ship but no new ship.

A New Generation of Cruise Lines

Arison quickly came across another new ferry called the Sunward, which had been withdrawn from her Southampton-Gibraltar route after the Spanish closed their border. A new company, Norwegian Caribbean Line, resulted in 1967, with the ship, from Norwegian owners Klosters Rederi, managed by Arison Shipping. Although the Nili had been a new ship, it was the Sunward that became the first modern cruise ship to operate a long-term Miami-Nassau service. She was eventually joined in the fleet by other ships such as the Starward, Seaward and Southward, operating longer routes.

Meanwhile at Eastern, the extra competition rom NCL led P&O to sell its second Miami to Eastern Cruise Lines, and she became their New Bahama Star in 1968. P&O, which had first entered the Nassau trade in 1897, was gone after a long history of seventy years. Then Gotaas-Larsen, one of the Norwegian owners that had founded Royal Caribbean Cruise Line in 1968, acquired Eastern in 1970.

Over at the competition, after a number of years Kloster and Arison fell out, and this resulted in the formation by Ted Arison of yet a third line, Carnival Cruise Lines, in 1972. Carnival then placed the biggest ship yet, the Mardi Gras, formerly Canadian Pacific's North Atlantic liner Empress of Canada, onto the Miami-Nassau route to compete with Eastern and NCL.

Eastern meanwhile expanded to the short cruise market from Los Angeles and in 1987, merged with Western Cruise Line and Sundance Cruises to form Admiral Cruises, but not before ordering the first purpose-built ship for the Miami-Nassau route since Flagler's first Miami in 1898. The Nordic Empress entered service in mid-1990 after Eastern had been absorbed into Royal Caribbean, which brought the latter into the Miami-Nassau trade as well.

Now, Nassau would see 3- and 4-night ships from all of NCL, Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Over the years, these would be added to by first Premier and then Disney Cruise Line from Port Canaveral, closer to Disney World, in addition to regular sailings from Fort Lauderdale. With the recent addition of Jacksonville, Nassau is now served from four base ports in Florida with fourteen sailings in a week in the short cruise trade.

This activity that started with one ship 112 years ago, now sees seven ships serving Nassau on cruises similar to the 3- and 4-night circuit that was started by Clarke in 1935. Every Sunday the Carnival Sensation and Disney Wonder leave Port Canaveral on 4-night cruises. Every Monday the Norwegian Sky and Majesty of the Seas leave Miami and the Monarch of the Seas Port Canaveral, also on 4-night cruises. Every Thursday the Carnival Sensation and Disney Wonder leave Port Canaveral on 3-night cruises.

And every Friday the Norwegian Sky and Majesty of the Seas leave Miami and the Monarch of the Seas Port Canaveral, again on 3-night cruises. Every other Monday and Saturday the Carnival Fascination leaves Jacksonville on a 5-night cruise that includes Nassau. And all of these departures include a private island. In addition, Celebration Cruise Line's new Bahamas Celebration leaves Fort Lauderdale every Monday and Wednesday on short 2-night departures for Nassau and every Friday on a 3-night cruise.

Private Islands

The Bahamas can now boast of no fewer than five cruise line-controlled out islands, totally undeveloped out islands that are now used for a day of beach, watersports and snorkelling activity.

First came Great Stirrup Cay, one of the Berry islands, which was purchased by NCL from the Belcher Oil Company in 1977 and added to the cruise ship itineraries of its "Bahamarama" cruises.

Nearby Little Stirrup Cay, about two miles long and a mile wide, was acquired by Admiral Cruises in 1985 and ia now reun by Royal Caribbean, who have renamed it Coco Cay. These islands are about fifty or sixty miles north of Nassau.

A third private island is Half Moon Cay, which takes up about 65 acres of the 2,400 that comprise Little San Salvador. About 100 miles south of Nassau, Half Moon Cay is owned by Holland America Line and also used by Carnival and occasionally by Costa.

Princess Cays, meanwhile, consists of about 40 acres on the southern tip of Eleuthera Island, which is itself about 100 miles long but only two miles wide, and as its name implies, it is the base for Princess Cruises. Regent Seven Seas ships also occasionally stop here.

At these four islands, ships must anchor off and passengers go ashore by tender, often large tenders that are kept on the islands for this purpose. The only private island at which cruise ships can actually dock is Disney's Castaway Cay. This 1,000-acre island about 60 miles north of Nassau is part of the Abacos chain and also features props from Disney films such as "Pirates of the caribbean."

The Bahamas benefit from all five of the cruise line "private islands" through millions of dollars in head tax that is paid by the lines for each passenger it puts ashore, as well as local employment. In ten years, for example, the Bahamas have benefited from some $23 million paid at Half Moon Cay alone, where about 2 million cruise ship passengers have gone ashore.

Grand Bahama Shipyard

Located only about 100 miles from Miami, the Grand Bahama Shipyard at Freeport is another area of economic activity that has come to benefit the Bahamas. Formed in 1999 with the assistance of Lloyd Werft of Bremerhaven, the yard has been in business for eight years. It is now a joint venture of Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean and the Grand Bahama Port Authority.
Two recent projects have been the upgrading of the Azamara Journey for Azamara Cruises and earlier this year the addition of an extended new stern area and more balconies to Holland America's Veendam, which is now trading to Alaska but next year will reintroduce the Manhattan to Front Street service to Bermuda.

Starting with the addition of new balconies to Carnival's "Fantasy" class ships this year, the shipyard now sees about twenty drydockings per year for cruise ship upgrading and renovation in its three floating docks, the latest of which was acquired just last year. The three docks have come from Petroplavsk in Russia's Kamchatka peninsula; Portland, Oregon, and Le Havre, France. The 984-foot Floating Dock No. 2 is so large that it could not be brought from Portland through the Panama Canal and had to be towed 20,000 miles on a long 160-day voyage in 2001 across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, through the Suez Canal and Mediterranean and across the Atlantic. As well as cruise ships, the shipyard gets business in the LNG, tanker, cargo ship, offshore and seismic sectors.

The shipyard now employs 370, of whom 320 are Bahamians, plus up to 500 casual workers. Freeport has also seen cruise ships calling now for half a century, since the port was developed in 1955, and is also the site of various hotel and casino developments, as well as a major container port.

The Bahamian Ship Register

Another sign of Bahamian progress in matters marine is the fact that its ships registry, first formed in 1976, is now the third largest in the world, with 42 million gross tons. Many of these are cruise ships, including of course all the ships owned by Norwegian Cruise Line, 2009 Bahamian cruise line of the year, except of course for its US-flag Pride of America in Hawaii. It is today one of the foremost in the world, being both internationally respected and well managed.

Even though most Carnival ships are registered in Panama, those that aren't are registered in the Bahamas. And while P&O and Princess may rely on Bermuda, Seabourn ships are all registered in Nassau, as are those of Crystal, SeaDream and Silversea, and most of Regent Seven Seas. All of the Celebrity and Azamara ships save one, the Ecuadorian-flag Xpedition, are also registered in Nassau, as are two-thirds of Royal Caribbean's ships. Disney's ships are Bahamian, and on the other side of the ocean, so are those of Fred. Olsen and Phoenix Reisen.
Even the most luxurious ships of Hapag-Lloyd Cruises are registered in Nassau, and the register now includes most of the world's ultra-luxury fleet. In exchange for its registration fees, the Bahamian Government grants tax-free status to all Bahamian-registered ships and large foreign-owned ships are exempted from customs duty as well.

From the original Miami-Nassau sailings by the City of Monticello in 1897 and the first Miami in 1898, the Bahamas have come a long way. And next year sees the 75th Anniversary of the introduction of 3- and 4-day cruises by the New Northland. The only shadow that looms over this scene is what might happen when cruise ships eventually return to Havana.

(Source: By Mark Tré - Cybercruises.com)

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