Flanked by saluting tug boats cascading fountains of water, Royal Caribbean International’s (RCI) Adventure of the Seas called on Nassau’s cruise port yesterday, making it the first cruise ship to return since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic more than a year ago.
The ship docked along the harbor to prepare for its first passenger sailing this Saturday from its new home port in The Bahamas. The ship, which is expected to sail at half of its 3,800 capacity, arrived with no passengers onboard and only crew members, who will spend the next few days preparing to welcome guests this weekend.
Nassau Cruise Port Limited’s President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Maura said the port is preparing to welcome just over 1,000 cruise passengers through a temporary terminal that has been constructed for home port-based cruises.
“If you were down on the waterfront today you would have seen Adventure of the Seas arrive and you would have seen what you may have seen on NBC, CBS, ABC news in terms of the big cruise ships going into the Port of Miami and then you have the tug boats doing their water spouts. We actually had that happening today as Adventure of the Seas arrived,” he said.
“She came in this afternoon, she’s taking provisions and she’ll be ready on Saturday, when she will receive about 1,100 to 1,200 passengers that would have come through Lynden Pindling International Airport.”
Cruise lines have not sailed to the cruise port since the country closed its borders to battle the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
Maura said Nassau Cruise Port Limited “couldn’t be happier” that RCI has chosen The Bahamas as its new home port.
“This vessel and all the hope that this first voyage will carry out to sea on Saturday have been a long time in the making,” he said.
“We are very appreciative that Royal Caribbean has chosen to partner with us, with the Ministry of Tourism and all our industry partners to make this home port launch from Nassau possible. As you can imagine, we are all extremely excited and working overtime to ensure that this launch is successful.”
The cruise port has started its $250 million redevelopment project which will include an iconic arrivals terminal featuring a Junkanoo museum, authentic Bahamian retail and food and beverage outlets, as well as an amphitheater to celebrate Bahamian arts and culture.
The old port building is currently being demolished to make way for work to begin on that phase of the project next month, Maura said.
“And what we have right now is we have built this temporary arrivals facility to be able to process these guests as they’re coming from the airports and coming from the hotels to our facility,” he said.
“Home porting is a big deal for us in part because we haven’t done it before. The reason for that honestly is the good Lord put us 200 miles away from Florida and a lot of the pier and port infrastructure is there, so the cruise lines haven’t historically had a reason to home port in The Bahamas, but I wish you could say you make lemonade out of lemons, but COVID-19 is a lot worse than lemons. But we have found ourselves with this opportunity because the cruise industry wants to get back on its feet, wants to get moving.”
The cruise port has set November as its target to complete marine works, which would increase passenger capacity from the 20,000 the port was able to accommodate pre-COVID-19, to now more than 30,000.
Maura said it presents a big opportunity for tourism stakeholders like straw vendors, taxi drivers and other small businesses. Asked if he believes those small businesses are ready to be housed in the new port facility and cater to the growing number of cruise visitors, he said, “I know with all certainty that we have Bahamian small business owners and operators that are ready, no doubt. But I also know that we have some that may not have the capacity and may have to build in inventory or product partners to kind of keep things going.
“So, what we have to do collectively is work together to develop relationships so that there’s sustainability and that we don’t have someone burning out after six months, because they’ve done everything they could to build their inventory, but their factory is their two hands. And that’s a magical thing to have and say but there’s a lot of risk with that. So we have to bring other people to the table and see what also can be produced.”
Adventure of the Seas will be the first RCI passenger ship to cruise in this region since a no sail order was put in place by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last year.
Its “Seven-Night Bahamas & Perfect Day” summer series cruise is scheduled to visit Freeport, RCI’s private island Coco Cay and Cozumel, Mexico before returning to Nassau.
Maura said when passengers arrive to the port on Saturday they will be greeted to a warm Bahamian “Party In da Backyard”, which will include ice-cold Kaliks, courtesy of Commonwealth Brewery; live music, Junkanoo performances and drills by the students of LJM Maritime Academy.
He said this is the country’s time to shine and put Nassau on the map as a home porting destination of choice.
“We will do so with immense pride, making the Bahamian people proud and making our guests and cruise line partners excited that they chose to start and end their cruise in Nassau. This is the beginning of an incredible voyage for us all,” Maura said.