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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MSC Unveils Stunning Multiple Ship Miami Terminal

MSC Terminal Rendering

MSC Cruises has announced details of what it said is a new highly-innovative cruise terminal at PortMiami that will support its expanding presence in North America and in the Caribbean

As per the terms of the agreement, which has today received approval from the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, MSC Cruises will design, construct, operate and maintain a large building that hosts two cruise terminals (AA and AAA) as well as two berths.

MSC Terminal Rendering

The PortMiami terminals will be capable of hosting two mega cruise ships at the same time, allowing the MSC to conduct two turnaround operations simultaneously, handling up to 28,000 passenger movements per day.

Pierfrancesco Vago, MSC Cruises Executive Chairman, said: “With another 13 cruise vessels due to join our fleet in the next eight years, our ambition is to have our most innovative ship classes represented at PortMiami, bringing a wealth of choice to our North American as well as international guests.

“In particular, the new terminal – which will be one of the most innovative the industry has seen – will ensure that we can provide our guests an enhanced end-to-end high-quality experience while both embarking and disembarking, thus adding to their ability to fully enjoy every moment of their vacation.”

Work on the new terminals is due to commence in early 2020. MSC Cruises currently estimates that the work will be completed by late 2022, at which time it will transfer all its PortMiami operations to the new Terminal, according to a statement.

Miami Expecting 52,000 Cruise Passengers in One Day

Norwegian Getaway

PortMiami is hosting an estimated 52,000 cruise passengers on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018.

This sets a one-day record for passenger traffic at PortMiami, the port said, in a statement.

PortMiami will be welcoming the following cruise vessels:

  1. Carnival Cruise Lines Carnival Horizon
  2. Carnival Cruise Lines Carnival Magic
  3. Disney Cruise Line Disney Magic
  4. FRS Caribbean San Gwann
  5. MSC Cruises MSC Divina
  6. Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Getaway
  7. Oceania Cruises Oceania Riviera
  8. Royal Caribbean International Empress of the Seas
  9. Royal Caribbean International Allure of the Seas

It’s definitely a busy time for PortMiami,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez. “I want to welcome all cruise visitors to Miami-Dade County and encourage them to explore all that our community has to offer. Cruise passengers are essential to the continued growth and development of the tourism industry in Miami-Dade and contribute millions of dollars to our local economy annually. That includes air travel, hotel nights, entertainment and shopping. I want to thank the more than 52,000 passengers we’re expecting this Sunday for selecting Miami as a destination.”

“PortMiami is home to the world’s most renowned cruise lines,” said Chairwoman of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee Rebeca Sosa. “Last year the Cruise Capital of the World handled more than 5.6 million cruise passengers, welcoming each and every one with open arms and a smile. We’re more than ready for the 2018-2019 cruise season!”