Reporting David Sutta
FORT LAUDERDALE (CBS4) – Driving past Port Everglades you can’t miss the colorfully awkward ferry boat now sitting at terminal one.
The Balearia Bahamas Express is the latest venture to connect South Florida with the Bahamas.
“We think it has real opportunity, and not to just Freeport and the Bahamas today but down the road to Cuba when that market opens,” said Port Everglades Director Phillip Allen.
The ferry is replacing a now defunct Discovery Cruise Line. After 22 years, Discovery officially closed up in October.
Allen is confident Balearia will succeed where Discovery couldn’t.
“Discovery was established as a gaming, a daily gaming ship. That market is no longer there but the transportation market we think has an opportunity to grow,” Allen said.
Balearia, a highly successful ferry company from Spain, has done well in the Mediterranean region. They will offer a duty free shop, cafe and a casino to its 463 potential passengers departing Fort Lauderdale. This is there first venture into the United States.
The trip to Bimini will take an hour and a half and about two and a half hours to Grand Bahama. That’s half the time it took the day cruise ships. The price appears to be spot on, under fifty dollars each way. The ferry is schedule to depart six days a week at 10 am from Fort Lauderdale and return at 10 p.m. from Grand Bahama.
Pilar Lecha, the area manager with Bahamas Express explained they will be quite different from Discovery.
“It’s not a day cruise,” said Lecha. “It’s transportation to enjoy the island.”
Bahamas Director of Tourism David Johnson is excited about the access but more so about the exposure for Bimini.
“This puts Bimini on the map really. Grand Bahama has had service over the years. Bimini has never been a destination beyond personal or private travel,” Johnson said.
Up until now Bimini has only be accessible by private boat or plane and there was good reason for that.
“The only time I’ve ever been there was like 20 years ago on a four-seater plane and there wasn’t much there,” Jay Taylor with Hotel411.com told CBS4’s David Sutta.
Ferries have been attempted before in South Florida, including one that connected with Key West. Balearia hopes with the combination of passengers, cargo, casinos, and possibly one day cars they may have more success.
Taylor with 411hotels.com has had incredible demand for day cruises to the Bahamas. He believes the ferry could fill the void with Discovery bowing out and then some.
“If it is marketed well, and has the look and feel of vacation, and the costs are kept down this will continue. The market is here,” Taylor said.
The Bahamas Express will start service on December 9th, roughly two weeks. As for Bimini they hope to launch service early next year. For more information go to ferryexpress.com