Cruise lines ful­fill pas­sen­gers’ va­ca­tion fan­tasies with pri­vate ports of call

Cruise lines spend big to avoid the dirt and beg­gars of real ports Va­ca­tion­ers “want the Caribbean as they imag­ine it to be”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - CONTENTS - −Christo­pher Palmeri

The Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic is re­plete with nat­u­ral beauty and is­land cul­ture. But pas­sen­gers dis­em­bark­ing from Car­ni­val’s ships at the cruise line’s mas­sive Am­ber Cove com­plex on the na­tion’s north­ern coast can ride zip lines, shop for lo­cally grown coffee in a replica Vic­to­rian vil­lage, or chill out in a thatched-roof hut on the wa­ter— with­out leav­ing the fenced-in prop­erty. Rather than ex­plor­ing the coun­try, Pierre Maloka, a soft­ware en­gi­neer from Wee­hawken, N.J., whose voy­age on the Queen Mary 2 last Novem­ber in­cluded a stop there, spent the day by Am­ber Cove’s pool, en­ter­tained by a merengue band and Do­mini­can dancers. Ex­plains Maloka: “You’re ly­ing in the sun, get­ting drinks and food. What’s not to like?”

Am­ber Cove, which opened in Oc­to­ber, is the lat­est of sev­eral pri­vate ports be­ing built in the Caribbean by cruise oper­a­tors. The lines like the fa­cil­i­ties, be­cause they can mar­ket them as ex­clu­sive des­ti­na­tions and keep much of the rev­enue from sou­venirs, piña co­ladas, and pad­dle board rentals. Car­ni­val ex­pects more than 350,000 guests to dis­em­bark this year at Am­ber Cove, one of its six sim­i­lar fa­cil­i­ties in the Caribbean. Guests can still leave the com­pounds, ei­ther on pre­ar­ranged ex­cur­sions—many sold by Car­ni­val—or in taxis that wait just be­yond the gates.

Geneva-based MSC Cruises is build­ing what it says will be the largest cruise-line-run is­land, the $200 mil­lion Ocean Cay in the Ba­hamas, slated to open in De­cem­ber 2017. The com­pany is re­plant­ing 80 species of lo­cal trees, build­ing a 2,000-seat am­phithe­ater for out­door shows, and con­struct­ing a wed­ding pav­il­ion. MSC is also cre­at­ing a land-based ver­sion of the ex­clu­sive “Yacht Club” sec­tion of its ships that will in­clude but­lers and a pri­vate beach. “We’re tak­ing this to an­other level,” says spokesman Luca Bion­do­lillo.

Cruise lines have in­vested in pri­vate ports of call since Nor­we­gian Cruise

Line pur­chased Great Stir­rup Cay in the Ba­hamas in 1977. NCL plans to open its lat­est, the “eco-friendly” Har­vest Caye in Belize, in Novem­ber as part of $400 mil­lion in up­grades to ships and shore fa­cil­i­ties.

The walled-off ports aren’t al­ways a respite from the real world. In Jan­uary,

Royal Caribbean Cruises sus­pended a stop of its Free­dom of the Seas in Labadee, its pri­vate port in Haiti, af­ter lo­cals protest­ing the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion sur­rounded the ship in small boats. And not ev­ery cruiser wel­comes the trend. “I felt cooped up in a very con­trived and care­fully con­structed piece of land,” says Abi­gail Jones, a blog­ger who vis­ited Am­ber Cove last year. “I felt as though I wasn’t in the Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic, be­cause ev­ery­thing was com­pletely Amer­i­can­ized.”

Car­ni­val is fac­ing op­po­si­tion from some res­i­dents of the Ba­hamas over its plan to build a pri­vate stop that could sup­plant tourist traf­fic from nearby Freeport. While Car­ni­val and other lines say they hire lo­cals and buy re­gional goods, the com­pany-run fa­cil­i­ties can steal busi­ness from nearby mer­chants and restau­ra­teurs, says JeanPaul Ro­drigue, a ge­og­ra­phy pro­fes­sor at Hof­s­tra Univer­sity in Hemp­stead, N.Y., who stud­ies the in­dus­try. “The cruise lines have been very good at cap­tur­ing that rev­enue for them­selves, and less goes to the lo­cal econ­omy,” he says.

But un­like step­ping off the boat into a port filled with cargo ships, beg­gars, or de­vel­op­ing world chal­lenges, the fa­cil­i­ties de­liver what many cus­tomers ex­pect on is­land va­ca­tions. “They want the Caribbean as they imag­ine it to be,” says Giora Is­rael, Car­ni­val’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent for global port and desti­na­tion de­vel­op­ment. “They want to send a selfie on a snowy day so ev­ery­one en­vies them.”

The bot­tom line MSC Cruises is de­vel­op­ing a $200 mil­lion pri­vate is­land in the Caribbean, part of an in­dus­try push to pro­vide the per­fect va­ca­tion.

Am­ber Cove in the Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic fea­tures bars, shop­ping, zip lines, a wa­ter slide, and a re­sort pool

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