Casino onboard Norwegian Breakaway // All photos by Susan J. Young
Just two weeks ago, the CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. annual conference was in full swing on Norwegian Breakaway during two days at sea en route to Bermuda and one sea day returning to New York. The ship was a beehive of activity, both in conference sessions and during free time around the ship as guests enjoyed dining, shows, shops, pools, sports fun, spa activities and, of course, the casino.
But during two overnights in port at Bermuda’s Dockyard, the ship’s large casino was eerily quiet without the sounds and sights of whirling slot machines and money "cha-chinging" or people playing the gaming tables cheering or moaning.
By law, the casino was closed in port within Bermuda. Starting April 1, however, that will change for many ships. New Bermuda legislation, entitled the Cruise Ship (Casino) Act 2013, has passed and will be implemented for the 2014 Bermuda season. Cruise ship casinos may open from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. while on overnight port calls.
“This should be a win-win situation,” says Alan Rosenbaum, vacation specialist, CruiseOne, Johns Creek, GA. “Guests will be allowed to gamble - a popular activity on cruise ships. The cruise lines will get additional revenue and in a competitive market, this should put pressure on reducing fares. And Bermuda will get additional revenue through licensing fees. Everyone wins.”
Norwegian Breakaway docked in Bermuda
Strengthening the Partnership
Cruise tourism brings more than $82 million in estimated annual economic benefits to Bermuda. Yet, this year more than three dozen fewer ship calls were expected – a drop from 163 in 2012 to 128 this year. While some vessels are larger than their counterparts of the past so they carry more guests, the cruise marketplace remains highly competitive with ports jockeying for position and dangling carrots to entice a ship to visit.
Unlike Caribbean islands that are close to other ports of call, Bermuda is isolated. The nearest land mass is Cape Hatteras, NC, about 640 miles to the west-northwest. So in planning future itineraries, cruise lines have to make an "all-in" decision to call there, given the lack of nearby ports.
Explorer of the Seas
During the debate leading up to the legislative action, Shawn Crockwell, Bermuda’s minister of tourism development and transport, cited the importance of sweetening cruise industry partnerships in maintaining competitiveness with other ports of call.
He also told legislators that allowing cruise lines to open their casinos at night would be an economic benefit to both the island, via licensing fees collected, and the cruise lines, via an increase in onboard revenue.
The Royal Naval Dockyard in Bermuda
How It Works?
Here’s a basic summary of some of the law's key features:
• For a cruise ship to open its casino at night (9 p.m. to 5 a.m.) while docked or anchored in Bermuda waters, the itinerary must include at least one overnight in Bermuda.
• If so, it may open its casino if the government approves it for a license.
• License fees will be charged for ships carrying more than 2,000 passengers. Fees increase as the passenger count goes up.
• Bermuda will reward lines with staying power. If ships make a minimum of 15 port calls a year in Bermuda, they’ll be permitted to pay a blanket license fee for the season.
• Ships carrying 2,000 or more passengers that make fewer than 15 annual calls still may open their onboard casino at night during an overnight stay but they’ll be required to pay a permit fee each time they visit.
• To encourage small ships to overnight at Hamilton or St. George’s in Bermuda, cruise ships with fewer than 2,000 passengers won’t be charged a fee for night-time opening of a shipboard casino.
Onboard Revenue Perks
Typically Bermuda itineraries include one or more nights in port. Lines have long requested the ability to keep their casinos open at night, as they’re then able to add to their onboard revenue coffers. Not surprisingly, cruise lines are pleased with Bermuda’s new law.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s (www.ncl.com) President and CEO Kevin Sheehan said the change in law will help enhance the guest experience and encourage more guests to consider a Bermuda cruise.
On the recent Bermuda cruise during the CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. conference, one non-trade high-roller guest was upset as the casino was closed in port, yet she wanted to maintain a certain level of spending to retain her casino loyalty program perks. Clearly, this new law could help her and others who desire more casino play.
Guests of other lines besides Norwegian will also benefit, including Royal Caribbean International (www.cruisingpower.com). Its Explorer of the Seas was docked for multiple days in Bermuda during the CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. conference.
Rosenbaum hopes the new legislation will provide a model for other ports. Only a few destinations allow a similar policy now, among them Aruba, The Bahamas and Gibraltor.
For guests on Bermuda cruises next year, the benefit will vary – depending on whether the line they’re sailing buys the license and opens its casino at night, as well as whether passengers are avid gaming enthusiasts. If so, starting April 1, they might be able to play the slots and roll the dice at night, all in a quest for Lady Luck.