Monday, 14 October 2013

Bahamas courting cruise passengers with Balmoral Beach in Nassau

Bahamas courting cruise passengers with Balmoral Beach in Nassau

By Tom Stieghorst
In the latest attempt to make a Caribbean port more attractive to return visitors, a group of investors in the Bahamas has redeveloped the former Blackbeard’s Cay and renamed it, providing more for cruise passengers to do when stopping in Nassau.

The attraction, which reopened last month as Balmoral Beach, is one response to the cruise industry’s call for destinations in the Caribbean and the Bahamas to refresh their appeal.

About $5 million has been invested to improve the beach on Balmoral, according to Bahamian press reports. The operator of the resort, Samir Andrawos, was unavailable for comment.

The redeveloped area, which is being used by Carnival Cruise Lines, includes a white-sand beach with lounge chairs and umbrellas, four bars, an indoor restaurant, cabanas and a gift shop.

Other cruise lines have fostered similar day excursions. Royal Caribbean International, for example, last year partnered with Jamaica’s best-known beer to open Red Stripe Beach near the port of Falmouth, where its Oasis and Allure of the Seas ships dock.

Such beaches provide a less expensive option for passengers than excursions to luxury hotels or waterpark resorts. An excursion to Red Stripe Beach, which has a bar and grill, showers and chairs for rent, costs $24.

Balmoral Beach occupies part of an island off Cable Beach, the other half of which is the site of Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort’s offshore island. Blackbeard’s Cay, which had a stingray attraction, closed in 2012, and Andrawos was hired to improve it.

Andrawos runs the destination management company St. Maarten Sightseeing Tours.

Balmoral Beach is hosting excursions from Carnival, which charges $49.99 per adult. It is reached via a launch from the cruise ship pier in downtown Nassau.

Reviews posted on Carnival’s website have praised the new beach and attentive staff but panned the boat ride as lengthy and crowded.

Balmoral costs less than a beach excursion to Atlantis, the mega-resort on Paradise Island, which is priced at $99 including lunch. Guests can pay for Balmoral products and services with the Carnival Sign and Sail card.

In Jamaica, Royal developed a beach that is exclusive to its guests, about 10 minutes by bus from the cruise port. It leased the property and entered a branding partnership with Red Stripe to develop it.

It has fewer facilities than Balmoral Beach, but it also provides a less expensive beach option than, for example, a more inclusive beach excursion to the Hilton Rose Hall Resort near Falmouth, which costs $139.

In Nassau, some merchants along downtown’s Bay Street fear that the Balmoral development will eventually hurt their businesses because passengers can visit the site without even leaving the cruise ship piers.

David Johnson, director general of the Bahamas Tourism Ministry, said that Carnival provides about 1.9 million of Nassau’s 4 million annual cruise ship arrivals. He also noted that those visitor numbers are up from 500,000 in 1995.

“Nassau is now the world’s largest transit cruise port,” Johnson asserted.

As the number of cruise visitors to Nassau grows, they need more things to do, Johnson said. In addition to the private development at Balmoral, the government is making improvements on Bay Street, he said.

“We’re really on a path to completely revamping what we know as downtown Nassau,” Johnson said.

Among other changes to Nassau, a new permanent Straw Market was opened last year to replace the one that burned a decade ago. Pompey Square, a green space in front of the Hilton British Colonial, was dedicated in June and has opened up Bay Street and made it more pedestrian-friendly, Johnson said.

Cargo traffic has been rerouted off Bay Street to Arawak Island, and there is a 10-year plan to extend a boardwalk east from the cruise pier almost to the bridge to Paradise Island, he said.

There are also plans to redo Festival Place, where cruise passengers enter Nassau, to increase its capacity from 5,000 to 25,000 a day, Johnson said.