Norwegian Jewel first big ship for new port in Honduras

By Tom Stieghorst
Banana Coast tramSeveral new cruise ports have sprung up south of the traditional ports of call in the Western Caribbean, bringing that area onto more cruise itineraries, especially from homeports in Texas and Louisiana.

The latest entrant is Banana Coast, which welcomed its first large ship when the Norwegian Jewel called on Oct. 15. Situated in the port town of Trujillo, it is the first cruise port on the mainland of Honduras.

Two other Honduran cruise ports, Coxen Hole and Mahogany Bay, opened in 2008 and 2010, respectively, on the island of Roatan, about 30 miles offshore of the country’s north coast.

Honduran dignitaries turned out to greet the 2,376-passenger Jewel on arrival last week. Six lines are expected to make 29 calls from now until April 20.

They are expected to bring more than 50,000 passengers to the port, said Randy Jorgensen, general manager of Grande Trujillo Autoridad, developer of the 10-acre property.

The Jewel’s Oct. 12 departure from Houston marked Norwegian Cruise Line’s return to that port after seven years away. Banana Coast will be a regular stop on itineraries that also include Cozumel and Belize City.

“It’s key to attract a cruise line of Norwegian’s size and prestige,” Jorgensen said. “It’s extremely powerful in terms of opening the doors to get things done.”

Other lines expected to call this year are Holland America Line, Silversea Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, P&O Cruises and Crystal Cruises, Jorgensen said.

Banana Coast was announced in 2011. It opened even though a $35 million pier envisioned as part of the project has not been built. The port has a beach and a shopping village, which includes about half of the 50,000 square feet in original plans.

Jorgensen said further development hinges on attracting more passengers, “when we start getting higher volumes or an actual need for the dock.”

One factor that clouds future plans is the announcement by Norwegian Cruise Line that it plans its own port in the area on Harvest Caye in southern Belize, about 75 miles away.

Jorgensen said 20 to 30 calls are booked for 2015-16, even without Norwegian. “If Norwegian continues to have confidence in us, we’ll probably get another 20 to 30 calls from them, I would think.”

Jorgensen said he believes cruise passengers will want to come to Banana Coast because it is fresh and authentic. The town of Trujillo is a short walk and is rich with Spanish colonial history, he said.

“We haven’t tried to duplicate southern Florida,” he said. “We’ve kept the local culture and the local institutions in place so they can be part of the experience for the passengers.”

Excursions from Banana Coast include horseback riding, kayaking through a wildlife preserve, tours of an animal rescue center focused on scarlet macaws and a snorkel tour of a starfish bay. The project has about 200 direct employees, Jorgensen said.

Grande Trujillo Autoridad includes Jorgensen’s real estate company in Honduras, Life Vision Development, Canadian equity investors and the municipality of Trujillo, which owns 20%. Miami-based Global Destinations Development, headed by Michael Greve, is a development partner.

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