Norwegian Cruise Lines Returns to Grand Bahama

FREEPORT, Grand Bahamas – Grand Bahama’s tourism sector got a needed boost with an announcement by Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) that it will return to Grand Bahama as of November.

During a press conference at the Ministry of Tourism’s Freeport office NCL announced that while Grand Bahama has been listed as a new port of call the company will also add additional cruises to New Providence and its own private get-a-away Great Stirrup Cay in the Berry Islands.

Tourism and Aviation Minister, the Hon. Neko Grant noted that in the short term NCL is expected to deliver some 38,000 passengers to Grand Bahama, Nassau and Great Stirrup Cay.

Mr. Colin Murphy, vice president, Land Services and Destination Development for NCL joined the Tourism and Aviation Minister in making the announcement.

Mr. Murphy confirmed that the company has taken possession of a new state of the art ship the Norwegian Gem which he described as the latest in a line of innovative ships setting the standard for others to follow.

It offers eleven bars, twelve restaurants, some of the best suites at sea and a four-lane bowling alley among other amenities. The ship will be based in New York and has the capacity to carry 2800 passengers and 1150 crew members.

Utilizing the innovative new ships Mr. Murphy told industry partners in Grand Bahama that he was delighted to formally announce that NCL will return to Grand Bahama beginning in November.

“After working with the Ministry of Tourism we have agreed to add 32 cruises between 2007 and 2009 that will call on Nassau, Great Stirrup Cay and Grand Bahama,” Mr. Murphy said pointing out that twenty-eight of those calls will be made by the newest ship the Norwegian Gem.

According to Mr. Murphy this deployment reaffirms NCL’s long standing commitment to its relationship with The Bahamas which began some forty years ago.

Many Bahamians would remember NCL’s Sunward and Sunward II which for many years offered three and four-day cruises to The Bahamas. The company was the first of the major cruise lines to call on The Bahamas and was the first in the industry to own and include a private island experience in its itinerary.

The NCL executive informed that planning for this new deployment began two months ago when their team was invited by the Ministry of Tourism to experience Grand Bahama once again with the view of adding it to their deployment.

“Our team came with an open mind and in 24 hours we were convinced. We toured the area for the new cruise port facility, had a delightful visit with the dolphins at UNEXSO, enjoyed a rugged Safari Jeep Tour exploring the nature trails of Grand Bahama with Erica Gates and we were jetted through the mangroves on an air boat.

“Our decision to return was based on the positive response of the government and the Freeport Harbour Company as well as the experience, the culture, the cuisine and most of all the people of Grand Bahama whom we came in contact with during this visit,” he said.

He told tourism officials that NCL has a long history of pioneering the development of new cruise destinations and that they are delighted to be a part of establishing Grand Bahama as a major cruise destination.

He further sated that NCL is committed to building big, new, innovative ships and that they will place these ships in destinations that have proven that they can deliver a great experience to every passenger.

Mr. Murphy also informed them that once committed to a destination NCL will spend millions of dollars on marketing that destination and raising awareness in the market.

“The opportunity is there for you. Now you just need to make it happen. So Grand Bahama in particular has a great opportunity to show NCL and its passengers from around the world, what it can do.

“We will do everything we can to ensure that together we are successful but ultimately, it is up to you.” He told the gathering which included police officers, customs officers, casino operators, taxi and tour operators and other executives in the tourism field.

The NCL executive said NCL looks forward to working closely with persons in the tourism industry and the Government of The Bahamas over the coming months and years, watching as Grand Bahama matures and grows as a cruise destination that not only competes with the rest of the ports of the Caribbean, but can be able to take its place among the very best.

Minister Grant termed the decision by NCL to return to Grand Bahama “welcomed news.”

He said it was just another step in the Ministry’s on-going effort to revitalize tourism in Grand Bahama and The Bahamas. He was also appreciative of the role the Freeport Harbour Company played in attracting NCL to Grand Bahama and he thanked the company’s Chief Operating Officer, Mr. Raymond Jones for his efforts.

Minister Grant pointed out that NCL has achieved significant growth by increasing its fleet to 14 ships with the addition of six new ships in as many years.

“They also introduced Freestyle Cruising a revolutionary onboard product that offers cruisers a more relaxed, customized, resort-style experience compared to the more structured traditional cruise product prevalent throughout the industry.

“We believe that all of the above is indicative of the cruise leadership the NCL brand brings to our destination,” he stated.

The Tourism Minister informed that NCL’s Norwegian Jewel which has a capacity of 2,400 passengers will call on Grand Bahama on Friday, November 16th.

He also confirmed that the company will also reposition the Norwegian Gem with a capacity for 2,400 passengers to Nassau and Grand Bahama later this year.

The ship will call on Grand Bahama on Thursday, December 27th and return to Grand Bahama on Thursday, January 3rd 2008. The Gem will make a minimum of 14 consecutive visits to Grand Bahama next year calling during February, March, April and December.

Also in 2008 the Norwegian Jade will visit Grand Bahama on December 19th and 26th and return January 2nd 2009.

In 2009 Grand Bahama can also look forward to visits by the Norwegian Gem in January, February, March and April.

According to Minister Grant this represents strictly incremental business as typically the ship would have followed a route that included New York, Key West, Port Canaveral, Great Stirrup Cay and New York.

He said that in the long term and with the necessary infrastructure and support programs in place we can expect increased traffic to our destination of up to 201,600 passengers which has positive implications for direct visitor spending.

Mr. Grant feels that the start-up of NCL’s operation in Grand Bahama signals the beginning of a more robust future for the cruise industry and related businesses.

“The mix of six and seven day NCL Bahamas/Florida cruises provides an unparallel opportunity for taxi drivers, shop owners, tour operators, travel agents, hair braiders, restaurant owners, straw and craft vendors on Grand Bahama to exhibit the highest levels of professionalism.

“NCL has committed considerable cruise resources to service the destination, but this commitment will only continue based on the on-shore experience by its passengers. It is therefore imperative for all of us in this industry to make certain the visitor experience is exceptional every day and in every way,” Mr. Grant said.

The Minister also pointed out that if we wish to retain and continue to attract quality cruise lines like NCL we must face the challenges that exist and we must look at the creation of a new cruise port.

“In this regard the government continues to pursue talks with various entities with respect to the development of a new cruise facility here in Grand Bahama,” he said.

He also told residents that it is critical that all stake holders continue to energize the tourism product through improved service standards, creation of more authentic Bahamian experiences and by individually and collectively taking responsibility for making Grand Bahama tourism a product better.

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