High-speed ferry to sail passengers from Miami to the Keys
By Frank Norton
Adding to South Florida's travel options, Miami-based startup Florida Express is to launch a high-speed ferry next month to zip people in and out of the Keys faster than they can drive.
The daily roundtrip service is to start Nov. 24 aboard the Island Rocket II, a 65-foot catamaran slated to cruise up to 50 mph between Miami's Bayside and Dinner Key and Islamorada's Holiday Isle.
The roughly 70-mile journey is to take about 90 minutes and cost $89 roundtrip ($300 unlimited use for the year), said Mark Rosandich, president.
The company also hopes to extend high-speed service to Key West via an Islamorada link in the coming months, he said.
"There are a lot of people down here who want to either escape Miami for a day or two or visit here from the Keys," he said. "If you're haulin' butt on the Intracoastal with the water and sun and mangroves and a glass of wine or a beer in hand, why would you want to drive?"
The high-tech vessel can carry 149 passengers and offers open-deck or inside rides. Mr. Rosandich said he expects to run full capacity on weekends and 50% to 75% full Monday through Thursday. "The biggest challenge will be the weekdays," he said.
Round-trip fares include a continental breakfast, beach towels and beer and wine at a pay-bar.
The company is targeting tourists, locals and group business travelers who are frustrated with long drives and traffic snarls on US 1, Mr. Rosandich said. They plan to post a billboard where Florida's Turnpike meets US 1 that reads "Next time take the ferry."
He said while $89 might seem pricey to some, the all-year pass offers frequent riders an affordable and faster alternative to hitting the road.
The company is a spin-off of Ohio-based Island Express Boatlines, a river and lake tour operator that runs catamaran trips on Lake Erie.
"What we're trying to provide people down there is an alternative for tourists, residents and group travelers on both sides who don't want to drive through a swarm," said Duane Ohly, managing partner at Island Express. Mr. Rosandich said the new company plans multiple roundtrips Fridays and Sundays.
Though the South Florida spin-off will operate independently, Island Express will retain a minority stake in the company and supply marketing expertise as well as the Island Rocket II through a long-term lease-buy contract.
That deal has kept Mr. Rosandich's start-up costs at under $100,000, he said. Though the business is not capital intensive, Mr. Ohly, the financial expert likened it to an airline, with relatively huge operating costs from fuel and crew payrolls. He said the fuel alone is expected to cost $500 to $700 per day.
We expect to gross between $900,000 and $1.2 million in the first year, Mr. Ohly said, and break even in January.
Designed by Miami-based Air Ride Crafts Inc., the $1.2 million Island Rocket II worked commercially on Lake Erie last summer. Since then, it has made its way to New York via the Erie Canal and is bound for Miami in a week or two, Mr. Ohly added.
"This boat offers a very calm ride on the Intracoastal so riders can enjoy the marine ecosystem," said Mr. Ohly, "which is probably the finest body of water in the US."