MSC Cruises to develop private Bahamian island

MSC Cruises, which is stepping up its focus on Miami and the Caribbean, will create its own private island in the Bahamas for its passengers.

The cruise line announced Thursday that it has signed a 100-year lease agreement with the Bahamian government to convert a former sand extraction island into a marine reserve with bars, restaurants, an amphitheater and other amenities.

The island, to be called Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve, consists of 95 acres and sits 20 miles south of Bimini and 65 miles east of Miami. MSC expects to break ground in March and open the island to guests in December 2017.

It’s an important step for MSC Cruises, a European line that has been trying to build up its presence in the Americas. Most other major cruises lines have a private island — or at least a large private beach — in the Bahamas.

MSC has one ship, MSC Divina, sailing Caribbean cruises out of Miami year-round and will add a second, MSC Seaside, in December 2017 that will be the first ship to call at Ocean Cay on its maiden voyage out of Miami. In addition, two MSC ships sailing from Cuba will call at the island.

MSC said it will spend $200 million “creating a flourishing natural haven from a desert island” but did not release any details about the marine reserve aspect of the development. It said the island will be planted with 80 varieties of native trees and other plants. The island has 11,400 feet of beachfront across six distinct beaches.

The island will have a purpose-built pier so guests can move easily between it and the ship, where all on-board services — including the casino — will remain open while the ship is docked.

Other amenities will include a 2,000-seat amphitheater, zip line, “architecturally faithful” Bahamian village, wedding pavilion, lagoon, a family beach with kids’ restaurant, walking and running paths, bike rentals, shops and restaurants, and a spa and wellness sanctuary for guests of the MSC Yacht Club, an exclusive upscale enclave on each ship.

“This is a natural progression for our company, which is growing very rapidly,” said Pierfrancesco Vago, MSC’s executive chairman. “Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve and its exclusive offerings will be a magnificent extension of our shipboard experiences.”

The development comes as the privately held cruise line, which is based in Switzerland, is investing $5.4 billion in growing its fleet. MSC is building or has on order up to seven new ships that will double its current capacity.