Disney Cruise Line has moved forward with development of a second Bahamas destination.
The Lighthouse Point property on the island of Eleuthera has been purchased by Disney and the government has entered into an agreement with Disney to develop the property, according to a statement made this weekend by Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis,
"The government of the Bahamas is satisfied that it made the best decision in the interest of the Bahamian people, a sustainable future for the people of Central and South Eleuthera and the economic development of the country,” Minnis said in the statement. “The implementation of this project supports the government’s plan of expanding the economy of our country and economic opportunities for our people by promoting development in the Family Islands.”
The statement said Disney’s development of the 700-acre property will amount to an investment of between $250 million and $400 million.
“We are pleased to have finalized an agreement with the government of the Bahamas that will enable us to create new and sustainable economic opportunities for the people of Eleuthera while celebrating the natural beauty and culture of this special place with our guests,” said Disney Cruise Line president Jeff Vahle. “Over the past few months, we’ve spent time in Eleuthera exploring its unique sites and culture, continuing to build relationships with current and future business owners who have an interest in working with us and supporting philanthropic initiatives that benefit children and families.
“We have also been focused on the field work necessary for completing a comprehensive environmental impact assessment and management plan. We expect to complete this work over the next few months in close consultation with the government.”
As part of the deal, Disney is to donate 190 acres of the land including the southernmost tip of the island to the government to become a national park. The donated land has a value of $6.29 million, according to the prime minister’s statement.
The cruise line has operated a private island Castaway Cay since 1998 but will be growing from a four-ship fleet to seven by 2023, so has been pursuing a second private Bahamas destination to support that fleet. Last October, the Bahamas National Economic Council approved Disney’s development plan for the location despite some objections from a vocal environmental group.
The Heads of Agreement says Disney will employ at least 120 Bahamians during construction, and maintain an 80 percent Bahamian workforce as long as they are qualified for the labor needed. After it opens, Disney will employ as many as 150 permanent jobs with health benefits.
The agreement also dictates Disney Cruise Line will provide training for entrepreneurial opportunities for its Bahamian employees.
Once open, the Lighthouse Point destination must allow Bahamian vendors for items like T-shirts and souvenirs as well as other goods and services, plus give Bahamian owners priority for port adventures when ships are in port and employ Bahamian entertainers.
Envisioned to be similar to how Disney’s Aulani resort in Hawaii incorporates local culture, the cruise line will theme the destination with Bahamas inspiration, not only in design, but experiences.
The property will also be open to Bahamas residents, and not segregated to just cruise line visitors.
The Heads of Agreement also stipulates Disney will make some altruistic efforts with the island’s residents, especially focusing on children and families, such as assisting with schools, improving medical facilities and enhancing cultural sites.
Before construction can begin, the government will complete and must approve an Environmental Impact Assessment and Environmental Management Plan, according to the statement.
Also part of the deal is an increase of ship visits to the ports of Nassau and Freeport. The agreement calls for a 30 percent to 40 percent increase to the 2018 numbers.
While deployment of the new ships has yet to be revealed, Port Canaveral officials have stated that they expect at least two of the three new ships to be based initially at the port. Every Disney Cruise Line ship has made Port Canaveral its home port. The two latest, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy sail year-round from the port with Disney Magic and Disney Wonder making seasonal trips.
The cruise line also sails the Caribbean including stops in the Bahamas from Miami, Galveston and will add New Orleans to the mix in 2020. Seventy-five percent of all of Disney’s cruises currently make stops in the Bahamas.
Previous statements from Disney Cruise Line have said the plan for Lighthouse Point would see similar traffic as Castaway Cay, between three and five weekly visits from cruise ships year-round. Plans call for Lighthouse Point to be up and running between 2021 and 2023, in the same window as the arrival of all three of its new ships.
By Richard Tribou, Orlando Sentinel
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