Disney Cruise Line's go-ahead to develop a second private port in the Bahamas follows Disney's abandonment two years ago of a plan for a private port on Egg Island on the north end of Eleuthera, an island about 75 miles east of Nassau.

The new development, dubbed Lighthouse Point, would be on the far southern end of Eleuthera, only a couple of miles from where Princess Cruises operates its Princess Cays port.

Unlike the Egg Island project, the land at Lighthouse Point is privately held and was for sale. Disney has a purchase agreement with the current property owner.

Conservation plan helped Disney land second Bahamian port

Still, Disney had to persuade the Bahamian Cabinet that its proposal had more to offer than one put forth by a coalition of conservation groups that had been formed to derail the Disney effort.

A statement from the conservation group, Lighthouse Point Partners, called the government's decision "regrettable."

"Unlike the sustainable proposal of the Lighthouse Point Partners, the government, in this decision, is perpetuating a failed model, with limited spend by cruise passengers on the island of Eleuthera compared to stay-over visitors, with no chance of Bahamian ownership of the core enterprise," the statement said.

Lighthouse Point, named for a tower at its tip, covers 700 acres. The government said Disney agreed to donate 190 of those acres for conservation or a national park, which likely helped the government justify its decision to choose Disney's proposal over the coalition's. 

In addition, a Cabinet statement said the approval had been conditioned on low-density development and sustainable design, public access and the restoration of historical and cultural sites.

A flyer distributed at meetings in Eleuthera to build support for Disney's plan said an "open trestle pier" could potentially minimize dredging and that walkways will use "stilt-type design to further limit the impact on the land."

About 100 acres of salt ponds on the property will be left undisturbed, it said.

The flyer said the guest experience will be rooted in local stories, just likes Disney's Aulani resort in Hawaii.

"We are excited to reach this important milestone," said Jeff Vahle, president of Disney Signature Experiences, which includes Disney Cruise Line. He added that the company will now work on detailed plans with the government.

Ongoing construction will increase Disney's fleet from four to seven ships by 2023, with much of the total capacity expected to sail from either Port Canaveral or PortMiami.

Disney's existing private port, Castaway Cay, lies on a 1,000-acre island about 120 miles northwest of Lighthouse Point. It has a $38 million annual economic impact and employs about 150, the same number of staff that will be needed in Eleuthera, according to the flyer.

Disney said "more than 100" Lighthouse Point construction jobs will be created as well as opportunities for tour operators and vendors. The company said it plans to work with locals on a training and skills program.

The population of Eleuthera is about 11,000.

The Cabinet statement said the economic impact of Castaway Cay on the Bahamas has been "significant." It also noted that an opinion poll found that 60% of Eleuthera residents favor Disney's plan.

Disney's bid to double up on private ports comes as other lines are improving their private ports or building new ones, such as Ocean Cay, the MSC Cruises project on Bimini.

The spread of private ports has some worried that guest spending will stay with the cruise lines and not the Bahamas, but in its statement, the Cabinet said that with the development of the Eleuthera project "an increase in port calls to Nassau is also projected."


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