Tampa-Yucatan ferry sails again

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CANCUN, Mexico -- The Scotia Prince is back in Mexico.

Portland, Maine-based Scotia Prince Cruises will operate the 1,130-passenger ferry twice a week between Tampa, Fla., and Cancun and Merida from November to May.

This will mark the first ferry service between Tampa and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula since an abbreviated attempt by American Viking Lines, which chartered the Scotia Prince to carry passengers, vehicles and cargo along the same route for two months in 1998.

Meanwhile, Scotia Prince Cruises has been plying the waters between Maine and Nova Scotia, Canada, for the past 33 years, ferrying some 165,000 passengers a year between the two destinations. It will continue to sail there from May through October.

According to Mark Hudson, Scotia Prince Cruises' director of marketing, American Viking's venture failed due to a lack of capital, a late start on the season and too little marketing.

"We suspect we will probably lose money the first year of operation, but as long as the distribution channels we use for the venture are happy with the product, we will consider the service a success," Hudson said. "And we know that the travel agent community will be very important to the success of this product."

The ship will leave Tampa on Tuesdays and Fridays, and Mexico on Wednesdays and Sundays. Each sailing of the Yucatan Express will take about 36 hours.

In addition to passengers and crew, the eight-deck, 485-foot-long ship can haul 220 cars or a combination of cars, tractor-trailers and motorcoaches.

The ship features a restaurant, gambling and duty-free shopping. Seven- to 14-day itineraries are being developed.

Standard commission will be 10%.

Although official pricing and packages still are in the works, Hudson said he expects a typical one-way trip will cost about $100 per person, excluding port charges and meals.

He also said the company soon will launch an advertising campaign that will include the trade, targeting travel agents through brochures, sales calls and trade shows.

If the route is successful, Hudson said the company would purchase a second ship to turn the operation into a year-round schedule.

The Tampa Port Authority is investing $250,000 in upgrades to cruise Terminal 7 to accommodate the new service.

For additional information or reservations, call (800) 442-0551 or visit www.yucatanexpress.com.

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