(7:20 p.m. EDT) -- Norwegian Cruise Line's plan to add a second private port to its holdings took a giant step forward Wednesday, when the company announced the purchase of 75 acres in southern Belize.
Called Harvest Caye, the new destination -- comprising two adjoining islands -- will have an “eco-friendly” focus, according to a release from the company, which will spend $50 million on the project. It will include a floating pier, island village with raised-platform structures, a marina, a lagoon for water sports and a beach. The line also plans a transportation hub to run shore excursions to the mainland. The project could be completed by 2015, pending necessary approvals, company spokeswoman AnneMarie Mathews said.
The purchase marks Norwegian's revamped attempt to build a port in Belize. In June, the Belize government turned down a proposal to build a cruise ship terminal on Crawl Caye because of the possible environmental impact, according to TravelPulse.
Harvest Caye had already been approved for resort development, the company noted. According to Norwegian's news release, Belize's Prime Minister Dean Barrow said the country wanted to “decentralize cruise tourism” from Belize City -- which receives as many as nine ships a week during peak season -- to reduce overcrowding.
In the memorandum of understanding with the Belize government, Norwegian agreed to adhere to the country's environmental standards, employ locals during construction and create a hiring program for Belizeans who want to work on its ships. Once Harvest Caye opens, those people will have preference for staff positions, the company said.
Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Kevin Sheehan said the line expects to “bring four times as many guests to Belize” once Harvest Caye is complete. “In our quest to continuously look for new and exciting destinations for our guests, we plan to develop a cruise destination focused on sustainable design and eco-friendly principles that will retain the natural beauty and local culture of this tropical paradise,” he said.
--by Chris Gray Faust, Destinations Editor