Ferry: A high-speed way to make Grand entrance

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NEW YORK -- Grand Bahama-bound travelers will get another transportation option come fall with the scheduled Nov. 1 return of daily, high-speed ferry service from the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area.

New market entrant Bahamas Florida Express promises two-hour travel times between Port Everglades, Fla., and Grand Bahama Island via a 900-person, 320-foot, high-speed ferry leased from Bay Ferries of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, which provides similar service each summer between that Canadian province and Maine.

The only competing ferry service is a daily, five-hour-plus day cruise from Port Everglades to Freeport, which is operated by Discovery Cruise Lines aboard its 1,210-passenger Discovery Sun.

George Bradley, vice president and chief marketing officer at Bahamas Florida Express, said his firm's fully commissionable, roundtrip fares of between $129 and $189 per person will be about 40% cheaper than air fares on the same route.

And Bahamas Florida Express also will offer a 40% discount for children ages 3 to 17 through Dec. 18; lower Fun Day Fares of about $99 roundtrip are in the works.

Daily departures to Grand Bahama will leave Port Everglades' Terminal One at 4 p.m., with return trips from Freeport that arrive in Florida at 9:30 a.m.

Attractions aboard the ferry will include a TV and movie lounge, a casino, a cafe, a bar and a duty-free gift shop.

Although commission levels had not been determined at press time, Bradley said agent pay "would be very generous."

"Every rate we ever offer will be totally commissionable, and there will be an incentives scale based upon performance," he said. "We certainly are going to market to everyone who's tourism-related, including tour operators and travel agents."

Despite two failed past attempts at high-speed service on the same route by other ferry operators, Bradley said Bahamas Florida Express stands a better chance thanks to its high-tech equipment -- which travels at 50 mph -- and recent market developments.

"We're benefitting from the facts that Starwood Resorts put its Westin and Sheraton flags on Our Lucaya, where a new casino is going to open at about the same time that we begin operations; that the Royal Oasis [Golf Resort and Casino] has undergone a renovation program; and that the Bahamian government is promoting us," he said.

"In addition, Americans are looking to travel a little closer to home, and the proximity of the Bahamas to the U.S. works very much in our favor."

Bahamas Florida Express also is exploring the possibility of several trips weekly between Florida and Nassau, according to Bradley.

Agents looking to book the new boat will have to sit tight, however, as Bahamas Florida Express won't have its call center and Web site -- to feature online booking -- up and running until early September.

To contact reporter Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to [email protected].

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