A new cruise company named Pride Cruise Lines has purchased the 568-passenger Atlas from Epirotiki Lines for about $12 million and is awaiting Federal Maritime Commission approval to begin a one-day operation from Gulfport, Miss., before Feb. 15.
The start-up cruise line, which also signed a letter of intent to operate a one-day vessel from Galveston, Tex., after Sept. 1, also plans to operate either a five- or a seven-day itinerary to Cancun once a month from Gulfport on the renamed Pride of Mississippi sometime in early spring.
Principal Terry Green said that Pride Cruises has already reflagged the vessel from Greek to Bahamian registry and hired Mako Maritime Management Tours Inc. of Miami to act both as ship broker and to manage all shipboard operations for the year-round venture. While Green said that Pride Cruises had placed a deposit on the 460-passenger, 9,000-ton Jupiter and was expecting to position that vessel in Gulfport, he noted that the cruise line's original plans were dashed when the 28-year-old vessel sunk off Pireaus last fall when it was rammed by an Italian cargo ship.
Green said that Pride Cruises then returned to Epirotiki and purchased the 38-year-old, 16,000-ton Atlas and was scouring the ship market at presstime to purchase a second vessel to be homeported in Galveston.
Green said that the Atlas was expected to arrive in Gulfport on Jan. 14 and that workers had been recarpeting the casino and public lounges and repainting the vessel during its transatlantic sailing from Pireaus. He noted that the vessel will continue to carry up to 700-passengers with both upper and lower berths and that the ship will be able to carry up to 1,000-passengers on the one-day operation.
The fledgling cruise line had already paid the surety bond that the Federal Maritime Commission requires for all cruise passenger vessels with more than 50-passenger berths, Green said, and was awaiting FMC-approval so it could start promoting in the Gulfport area.
An FMC spokesman confirmed that Pride Cruises had applied for FMC certification and said final approval was possible by Feb. 1 if the cruise line meets FMC requirements to protect passengers for all payments for cruises not yet performed.
Pride Cruises plans to spen about $1 million to promote the new venture during its first year of operation, Green said, and was expecting to hire an unnamed marketing director and about 16 in reservations this week. He stressed that the cruise line was eagerly awaiting FMC certification because it was barred from accepting any bookings or from any specific advertising or promotions until the FMC approved its surety bond application.
Green said that the other three principals in the new cruise venture are William S. "Si" Redd, Richard Carter and William M. Dougall and that all four of the owners have "roots" in the Gulfport area. He acknowledged that none of the owners had previous cruise or travel industry experience and said that the start-up venture hadn't done any formal market study before launching Pride Cruises.
Green said that Redd and Dougall were both formerly involved in the casino gambling business in Las Vegas, Reno and Atlantic City and that Green owned the three restaurant Catfish Shak chain in Louisiana and Texas. He added that Carter had helped manage the restaurants and had also previously worked in the entertainment industry.
Pride Cruises will charge $59 per person on one-day, 10-hour sailings between Monday and Wednesday, Green said, and $79 per person on the two-a-day, six-to-eight-hour cruises between Thursday and Sunday and all bookings will be commissionable to travel agents. He said that the cruise line had signed a one-year lease with the Port of Gulfport for land to operate a parking lot that will park some 500 cars adjacent to the former cargo pier m the downtown area.
A spokesman for the Port of Gulfport said that the port is charging Pride Cruises $2.50 for each passenger that sails on the vessel and is already spending between $550,000 to $700,000 to convert a one-story shed into a cruise passenger terminal. He said that the 17,000 square foot facility will have a 30-foot ceiling and that the port was in the process of creating a snack bar, lounge and sitting area.
While Europa Cruise Line recently repositioned the 270-passenger EuropaStar from nearby Biloxi after a Judge ruled it was operating illegally in Mississippi waters, Green maintained that the EuropaStar's real problem was that its smaller size forced the vessel to operate within the protection of the state's Barrier Islands.
Green asserted that the Pride of Mississippi won't face similar operational problems because the vessel "is much larger and has stabilizers" and will be able to open its casino within 75 minutes of departure because it's only 16 miles to the High Seas from Gulfport.
Green also said that he believed that the Gulfport area was "an excellent place to set up a cruise operation because there are about 3-1/2 million people within a 30 mile 'drive radius' and there's no cruise operation between here and Florida." He conceded that "we still have a lot of work to do" to set up the projected five- or seven day, once-a-month itinerary to Cancun and to try to develop air packages for possible one-way sailings to the Yucatan.
Chairman Sylvester Gardiner of Mako Maritime, who said that his firm arranged the sale of the Atlas for "around $12 million" through the Interstate Bank of Houston, will manage all ship concessions and will operate the ship with a total crew of about 200. He said that Capt. Bernard Carlson is American, that the officers and deck and engine crew will number 35, and that an international staff of 70 will oversee the buffet-style dining room.
Gardiner also said that the 500,000 square foot casino will have 200 slot machines, 10 blackjack tables, and roulette and crap games and that Mako Maritime is studying the possibility of operating sit down dining room service if the ship operates one longer cruise each month. He also noted that the Pride of Mississippi will have have two outdoor and one indoor pool a health spa and a 350-seat theater.
A spokesman for Eprrotiki line confirmed the sale of the Atlas and said that the ship had traditionally operated either seven- or 14-day winter sailings in the Caribbean market and seven-day summer cruises in the eastern Mediterranean. He said that Epirotiki had owned the former Ryndam and Waterman since 1973 and that the ship's sale would have no impact on the positioning of the cruise line's other 10 vessels because no sailings were scheduled for the Atlas either this winter or spring.