Disney inks deal for second private cruise destination in Bahamas

The Disney Fantasy at Castaway Cay.
The Disney Fantasy at Castaway Cay.

Disney Cruise Line has won preliminary approval from the Bahamian government to build a destination for its ships on the southern tip of the island of Eleuthera, about 75 miles east of Nassau.

The approval, which was opposed by conservationists, came from the Bahamian cabinet. A final agreement must be negotiated between the government and Disney, and the Bahamian Parliament must sign off.

The project has been named Lighthouse Point, after a historic lighthouse on the property. Disney has a purchase agreement with the current owner to buy the site, a government statement said.

Plans call for the project to be finished sometime between 2021 and 2023. It would be the second private destination operated by Disney in the Bahamas. The first, Castaway Cay, opened in 1998 and is a frequent stop for Disney's four ships.

A pending expansion would increase the size of Disney's fleet to seven ships by 2023.  Disney recently reached agreement with PortMiami to place two ships there, one operating year-round on short cruises starting in 2023 and a second operating seasonally on seven-day itineraries in 2024. Port Canaveral officials have said they expect two of the three new ships to be based there initially.

A Cabinet statement said that the economic impact of Castaway Cay on the Bahamas has been "significant." It noted that that an opinion poll showed 60% of the residents in Eleuthera support Disney's plan.

Conditions to the deal cited by the Cabinet include low-density development and sustainable design, public access, and the restoration of historical and cultural sites.

The Cabinet also stipulated that Disney integrate Bahamian cultural and artistic expression into the design of the site and partner with the community to do training and professional development programs.

Eleuthera has a population of about 11,000.

Disney expects Lighthouse Point to sustain about 150 full-time jobs when it opens. After it buys the land, Disney has also agreed to donate 190 acres to the Bahamas for conservation and a private park.

Disney would become the only cruise line with two private destinations in the Bahamas.

In a statement, Disney Cruise Line president Jeff Vahle said, "We are excited to reach this important milestone and look forward to working with government and the people of the Bahamas to create new economic opportunities while preserving the natural beauty of Lighthouse Point.

"In the short term, we are focused on reaching an agreement that is mutually beneficial for the Bahamas and our company, as well as moving forward with an environmental impact assessment and environmental management plan."

Lighthouse Point Partners, a coalition that opposed Disney's project as a land grab, said it was disappointed.

"It is regrettable that the government of the Bahamas has capitulated to the demands of Disney Cruise Line to develop a private cruise port on Lighthouse Point in South Eleuthera," a statement said. "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 stayover visitors, with no chance of Bahamian ownership of the core enterprise."

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