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Disney Cruise Line awaits decision on second Bahamas destination


Disney Cruise Line’s planned growth in the next five years includes a new destination in the Bahamas, and the country’s government is set to make a decision this week on whether or not to move forward.

The location is a 700-acre privately owned property on the southern end of the island of Eleuthera called Lighthouse Point. Eleuthera is a long, thin island east of Nassau and farther south than Disney’s existing private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay.

In the weeks leading up to an expected Tuesday Cabinet vote, Disney has been making its pitch to government officials as well as engaging the island’s population while opponents have made a play for the government keeping the land from Disney, and instead turning it into a national park.

“We appreciate the warm welcome we have received from so many in Eleuthera,” said Jeff Vahle, president of Disney Signature Experiences that includes Disney Cruise Line. “We have approached this project with a focus on protecting and sustaining the natural beauty of this historic location, creating quality economic opportunities for Bahamians and celebrating the culture of the Bahamas. We will continue to talk with and listen to the government and people of the Bahamas as we share our proposal for welcoming guests and Bahamians alike to this special place.”

Vahle, who also oversees other vacation options in the Disney portfolio including its Hawaiian resort Aulani, wrote an op-ed piece for several Bahamas publications explaining the company’s stance and addressing the concerns of those opposed.

In it, Vahle recounted a recent visit he made to the island and a discussion he had with residents.

“The crowd grew, and there were lots of questions about the project Disney would like to bring to the island. I am sure there were a few skeptics about our true intentions, especially given what some people and groups are saying. Skeptics or not, people talked, and they stopped to listen,” Vahle wrote.

Disney Cruise Line's Castaway Cay

A look at expansion plans of Disney Cruise Line's private island, plus pictures from Castaway Cay's history.

The op-ed played up the benefits of its existing relationship with the Bahamas including that it employs 150 at Castaway Cay, and wages are 50 percent higher than the average national wage. The new resort, Vahle wrote, would add another 120-150 jobs.

A lot of the op-ed took on environmental concerns, pointing out that Disney’s plans would have much less of an impact than previous plans for the location.

“While the previously approved development for this property included plans for hundreds of homes, condominiums, villas, a hotel, and 140-slip marina constructed in the salt ponds, what Disney wants to do is different. Very different. In fact, our development is designed to have as little impact as possible on the natural environment,” Vahle wrote.

That includes Disney giving 170 of the 700 acres back to the Bahamas for conservation and preserving another 100 acres of salt ponds on the property. Vahle said that 20 percent is tagged for development, but that includes low-density use like beach chairs and umbrellas.

Also not on the development planning board is touching the very southern tip of the property, which Vahle said would be off-limits to Disney visitors as well.

He also outlined environmental mitigation efforts such as the use of solar power and constructing an open-trestle pier, which is different than the pier used as Castaway Cay. An open-trestle pier doesn’t block ocean currents as much and would not require much dredging, Vahle said.

“From an environmental perspective, we are absolutely committed to doing the right thing – and would never risk the natural beauty of Eleuthera or our long-standing commitment in this space by doing otherwise,” Vahle wrote.

One of the earlier concerns voiced by some opponents was whether or not Bahamians could venture onto the property as a leisure destination. The cruise line has stated that indeed the property will be open to more than just cruise line guests. This is the same approach Disney has for parts of Aulani in Hawaii.

If approved, the Lighthouse Point development would follow the Aulani template to some degree, using Bahamas history and culture to inspire its design.

Disney Cruise Line announced it is adding three new ships to its current fleet of four. They will be built at the Meyer Werft shipyards in Germany with plans to launch in 2021, 2022 and 2023.

The cruise line is set to grow by three ships from 2021-2023 with this second Bahamas destination aiming for an opening in that three-year window.

While deployment of the new ships has yet to be revealed, Port Canaveral officials have stated that they expect at least two of the three new ships to be based initially at the port. Every Disney Cruise Line ship has made Port Canaveral its home port. The two latest, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy sail year-round from the port with Disney Magic and Disney Wonder making seasonal trips.

The cruise line also sails the Caribbean including stops in the Bahamas from Miami, Galveston and will add New Orleans to the mix in 2020. Seventy-five percent of all of Disney’s cruises make stops in the Bahamas.

The plan for Lighthouse Point would see similar traffic as Castaway Cay, between three and five weekly visits from cruise ships year-round.

That would also mean an increase of visits by the line to Nassau, which is often combined with private island stops, especially on the short three- and four-night itineraries.

“Simply put, we want to work with the Bahamas to create an international destination that protects and sustains the natural beauty of this historic location; that creates quality jobs and opportunity for Bahamians; that celebrates the culture, and that strengthens the community in Eleuthera,” Vahle wrote.Original link

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