Starlite Cruises will be adding a fourth ship to its U.S. fleet next summer, sailing two- and five-day cruises from Tampa. The 960-passenger ship, to be called Rainbow, is under construction in Greece. It formerly sailed as the Santa Rosa. Only two-weeks ago, Starlite's Tropic Star began one-day service from Miami.
Starlite only entered the U.S. market late last year, launching one-day service from San Diego. This past summer, Starlite also initiated a seven-day cruise program from La Paz, Mexico, with the 600-passenger Empress.
Beginning October 5, however, the Empress will be repositioned to operate seven-day cruises between San Diego and Puerto Vallarta. According to Marketing Manager, Kevin Weisner, flying passengers to La Paz was causing passengers "stress" since a tourism infrastructure is not really in place there. Weisner said that passengers will spend less time traveling with the new turn-around ports since Starlite draws heavily on the San Diego market for passengers.
In addition, Starlite can now supply the ship in San Diego rather than transporting provisions to La Plaz and therefore plans to lower its prices, according to Weisner.
New ports for the Empress include San Diego, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Manzanillo, Acapulco, and Puerto Vallarta.
In the one-day market out of San Diego, Starlite battled With California Cruise Lines, which was leasing a ship from Sea Escape. That vessel has since been withdrawn from service.
Starlite's Tropic Star, however, ran into a number of roadblocks with the U.S. Coast Guard prior to sailing. According to Commander Robert Ross, Executive Officer of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in Miami, the major issue was that Starlite calculated the capacity of the Tropic Star to be 1,152 passengers, which was higher than the Coast Guard's calculations.
Since the Tropic Star is a one-compartment ship, the U.S. Coast Guard requires that on short international voyages beyond 20 miles of the U.S. coast - such as the Bimini sailings - there have to be enough life boats for 70 percent of the passengers and life rafts for 30 percent. On voyages within 20 miles, such as Starlite's cruise to nowhere, 30 percent are required to be accommodated on life boats and 70 percent on rafts. According to Ross, Starlite was planning on operating with 30 percent on life boats on voyages beyond 20 miles, which is the calculation for a two-compartment ship rather than a one-compartment ship. Solas rules are stricter on one-compartment ships than two compartment, since there is a greater chance of the spreading of flooding, should it occur.
Ross said that he had to change the capacity numbers to 1,052 passengers on cruises to nowhere and 757 to Bimini. At that point, Starlite had fulfilled Solas requirements an received a Coast Guard control verification certificate. According to Jerry Butcher, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Starlite, the line had originally only planned on carrying 840 passengers on cruises to nowhere and 500 to 550 to Bimini, therefore Butcher said that the Coast Guard changes had no effect on Starlite's marketing and financial plans.
Starlite is owned by the Lelakis Group of Greece headed up by Anthony Lelakis. Lelakis also owns two of Regency Cruises' vessels and runs marine operations for that line.
Through a subsidiary company, Rainbow Cruises, Lelakis has also been attempting to acquire control of Regency. Rainbow holds a 32.5 percent interest in Regency.