Cruise lines taking private-island parties into the evening

Perfect Day at CocoCay in the evening, with offshore fireworks and open areas on the private island illuminated.
Perfect Day at CocoCay in the evening, with offshore fireworks and open areas on the private island, illuminated. Photo Credit: Nic Morley/RCCL

Imagine lingering on your own private tropical island as the sun sets, the moon rises and the blazing heat of the day disappears.

Until recently, travellers couldn’t do that as part of a cruise experience. But starting in October, that will change when the first of three cruise lines launch late-night stays at its private Bahamian islands.

Beginning Oct. 4, Royal Caribbean International will open CocoCay for a limited number of late-night calls. In November, MSC Cruises will follow, with late-night stays at its Ocean Cay Marine Reserve near Bimini. Then, in April 2020, Virgin Voyages will begin making calls at the Bimini Beach Club that include what it calls “Fire and Sunset Soirees.”

The new late-night, private-island trend is being driven by a few factors, not the least of which is competition among the three lines.

Bimini’s proximity to Miami makes it feasible to stay after dark and still reach Port Miami early the next morning. Piers at all three islands eliminate the need for chancy nighttime tender operations.

With the new infrastructure in place at all three locations, cruise lines have been able to equip their islands with the electrical power generation and illumination required for post-sunset activities.

And the idea resonates with passengers.

“Late stays and more time in port was something that our research told us was really important to our potential sailors,” Virgin spokeswoman Christina Baez said.

MSC was first out of the gate with the concept of late stays on a private island, although its concept has evolved. When it was initially announced in 2015, Ocean Cay was going to have an amphitheatre, envisioned as a 2,000-seat venue that could be used for evening entertainment.

Early this year, MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato said that plan had been scrapped in favour of a movies-under-the-stars concept. The latest iteration, revealed in a video rendering available on YouTube, is a light show that paints the sky with multicoloured searchlights. There will also be bars and other entertainment, such as a traditional Junkanoo parade, on the 95-acre island.

MSC plans to make year-round evening calls with its Miami-based ships, which this season will include the MSC Meraviglia, MSC Armonia, MSC Divina and MSC Seaside.

Virgin’s Beach Club at Bimini is the last stop on each of its three planned itineraries, allowing for late-night stays before departing for Miami. On its five-day cruises, the line’s Scarlet Lady will remain docked until 10 p.m., while on its four-day itineraries, it will stay as late as midnight, Baez said.

Entertainment will include “a late-night beach bonfire soiree,” she said.

Royal Caribbean’s plan for CocoCay is more limited, with just three late stays scheduled so far. Rather than returning to Miami, the Navigator of the Seas will head for nearby Nassau after departing CocoCay at 10 p.m.

While there in the evening, guests will be able to visit Captain Jack’s and Skipper’s Grill; Harbor Beach lagoon; Up, Up & Away; and Splashaway Bay.

“Each of these areas will have sufficient lighting and staffing for our guests to have an incredible evening,” Royal spokeswoman Lyan Sierra-Caro said.

Royal will reopen the casino on the Navigator of the Seas at 7 p.m. on evening calls, Sierra-Caro said, preserving that key source of onboard revenue.

Some areas of the island will close at night, including the Thrill Waterpark and the beaches.

“We will have the staff to ensure that our guests are not entering closed areas,” Sierra-Caro said.

For entertainment, Royal promises a Junkanoo Jam Up Party, an island barbecue and performances by a calypso band and fire dancers, along with farewell fireworks before setting sail.

Other cruise lines with private islands in the Bahamas said they have no immediate plans to add night calls.

John Chernesky, senior vice president of North American sales and trade marketing at Princess Cruises, said his line recently started a late-night/overnight stay program called More Ashore that is mainly focused on big international cities.

“In the places, we’re doing it,” Chernesky said, “it makes sense, given the nightlife, dining, museums, unique opportunities that really get you into the culture and make you feel more connected to that culture, versus a beach-going private island.”

Eva Jenner, vice president of sales at Seabourn and Holland America Line, said, “Our private island, Half Moon Cay, is really a day destination. The private island is awesome — don’t get me wrong — but it’s a beach with daytime activities.”

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Disney Cruise Line’s fifth: Disney Wish

The Disney Wish's stern will feature Rapunzel.
The Disney Wish’s stern will feature Rapunzel.

Disney Cruise Line’s fifth ship will be called the Disney Wish. At its D23 Expo on Sunday, Disney revealed the name of the ship as well as renderings of its stern design and atrium.

Disney described the three-story atrium as “bright and airy, inspired by the beauty of an enchanted fairytale.”

The stern design features Rapunzel with a paintbrush in hand, suspended by her enchanted blond hair. Her sidekick chameleon, Pascal, holds the easel while Rapunzel paints.

“Spirited, smart, curious and — above all — adventurous, Rapunzel embodies the wish and desire to see and experience the world,” Disney said.

The Disney Wish is scheduled to enter service in January 2022.

The Disney Wish's three-story atrium will be inspired by an enchanted fairytale.
The Disney Wish’s three-story atrium will be inspired by an enchanted fairytale.

“There couldn’t be a better name for our incredible new ship because making wishes come true is part of the Disney DNA and is at the heart of so many of our cherished stories,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.

The Wish will be powered by liquefied natural gas. At approximately 144,000 gross tons and 1,250 guest staterooms, it will be slightly larger than the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy.

Also at D23, Disney revealed new information about Lighthouse Point, its second private destination in the Bahamas, located on the island of Eleuthera.

Disney said Joe Rohde, whose work includes the design of Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park in Orlando and the Aulani resort Hawaii, has taken a cultural tour of the Bahamas to meet with local artists and cultural experts.

“The Lighthouse Point site is so beautiful and so full of nature that we want to preserve this and use our designs to call attention to the extraordinary quality of the place itself — a place of natural beauty with a rich and fascinating cultural tradition,” Rohde said. “We will be directly involved in conservation efforts to preserve and protect the environment that creates this beauty, and we will be working with artists of every kind, much like we did with Aulani in Hawaii, to create a unique destination that is rooted in Bahamian culture and imbued with Disney magic.”

Disney said Lighthouse Point guests can look forward to an island experience that celebrates nature and the spirit and culture of the Bahamas.

Disney said Lighthouse Point guests can look forward to an island experience that celebrates nature and the spirit and culture of the Bahamas.

Disney Cruise Line completed its purchase of Lighthouse Point earlier this year, committing to develop less than 20% of the property and build an open-trestle pier that eliminates the need to dredge a ship channel.

Construction at Lighthouse Point will begin after an environmental impact assessment and environmental management plan are reviewed and accepted by the government of the Bahamas, Disney said. The company said construction could begin in 2020 with completion in late 2022 or 2023.

Cruise Traffic Surges in Liverpool

Celebrity ship calls in Liverpool

Cruise traffic is up 40 percent in Liverpool this year, and looks to be up at least 20 percent again in 2020, according to Peter Murney, head of cruise and marine operations.

2019 will see 86 calls, according to the port’s schedule. Visiting vessels can look forward to berthing in the heart of the city, steps from Liverpool’s notable UNESCO World Heritage waterfront.

“We strive to exceed passenger expectations at every stage of their journey. We change perceptions by ensuring guests experience Liverpool as the modern, thriving, dynamic, cosmopolitan destination we know it to be,” Murney said.

“One of our challenges is that the berth is on a floating pontoon with a 10 meter tidal range so at times pedestrian access bridges can be very steep,” Murney explained. “We overcome this by providing mobility buses that transport guests direct from gangway to passenger lounge and back.”

Berth bookings open two years out, he added.

Among the goals is to build the port’s turnaround business, as a new cruise terminal will be open and operational for the 2022 season.