Princess, SunCruz duel at Port of Palm Beach for day-cruising gamblers

There’s a new rivalry for the day cruise dollar in Palm Beach County.

Dania Beach-based SunCruz Casinos is up and running at the Port of Palm Beach with its 600-passenger SunCruz VI gambling ship. Since late January, the ship has been making morning and evening runs past the 3-mile mark at sea, where the wraps come off 300 slot machines and several dozen blackjack, poker, roulette and craps tables.

That puts it in direct competition with the Palm Beach Princess, established since 1997 in the day cruise niche. It has been several years since two ships battled for the Palm Beach market. Even the operators aren’t sure there’s room for both.

„We hope SunCruz makes an effort to expand the market and not merely cannibalize the existing business,“ said Fran Murray, chief executive of Palm Beach Casino Line, which runs the Princess.

SunCruz said it has contacted past customers who cruised with it when it ran ships from Hollywood and from a municipal dock in Riviera Beach in the 1990s. „We put 20,000 [fliers] in the mail“ last week, marketing director Gary Inks said.

Each line claims some advantages.

Inks said SunCruz offers a bet on its craps table that pays quintuple the amount bet, while the same bet on Palm Beach Princess pays double the amount. He said his ship has a broader range of wagering amounts on its slot machines and table games.

Murray said that the Princess is very competitive, but that the ship offers more than just gambling. The cruise includes an extensive buffet and entertainment, such as a musical revue that changes every six weeks. „It’s well rounded, of high quality and high value,“ he said.

Palm Beach Princess costs more. Standard charges are USD 32 during the week and USD 42 on weekends, although discounts are offered. Inks said SunCruz charges USD 20 weekdays and USD 30 on the weekends.

Both lines have frequent play clubs where regular customers can get complimentary or reduced fares based on trips taken or games played.

Palm Beach Princess is bigger than SunCruz VI and is also a deep-hull ship, which provides stability at sea. SunCruz gets its stability from a catamaran design that features two shallow hulls.

SunCruz VI, built in 1997, is newer than the 43-year-old Palm Beach Princess.

Because it is the established tenant, Palm Beach Princess has more parking for passengers. During the day, SunCruz is limited to 50 self-park slots. Once those are filled, passengers must use the USD 10 valet service. But SunCruz covers the USD 4 difference between valet and the USD 6 self-park fee. The port, in turn, reimburses SunCruz.

„There’s a lot of people who prefer to valet,“ said port director Lori Baer. „So far it hadn’t been an issue.“

Baer hopes the second vessel will boost port revenue. Palm Beach Princess contributes about 15 percent of the port’s USD 13 million in operating revenue.

Ralph Marsh, a retired club manager from West Palm Beach, has tried both ships and said SunCruz suited him, even though he lost money at blackjack. „They treat me like royalty,“ said Marsh, 77, who gets around in an electric scooter.

The addition of SunCruz VI brings to four the number of day cruise ships operating from South Florida ports. At Port Everglades, SeaEscape offers twice-daily cruises to nowhere (USD 37.95 to USD 47.95) and Discovery Cruise Line sails daily round trip to the Bahamas (USD 79.98).

Last time Palm Beach Princess drew a challenger, in 2002, the ship pulled out of the market after seven months. Baer is optimistic that won’t be repeated. „We’re off to a great start,“ she said. „We’re seeing a nice complement to our existing operations.“