BOSTON — The competition for diners’ dollars is heating up this summer on Boston Harbor now that a new dinner boat has docked in South Boston.
The operators of the Yacht StarShip moved the 180-foot dinner boat to Boston last week from its home base of Tampa, Fla. The boat arrived on May 27 at its berth in South Boston next to the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal in time for a soft opening last Saturday.
The Yacht StarShip will compete directly with Entertainment Cruises, the Chicago company that runs the Spirit of Boston and the more upscale Odyssey.
Robert Platner, Yacht StarShip’s vice president of Boston operations, is familiar with his competition: He was a manager of the Odyssey for five years before leaving in 2000. He was involved in non-marine hospitality businesses before returning to the seas with the Yacht StarShip.
Platner said the boat will employ nearly 50 people to start, including 15 who came from Tampa to work here.
Dinner cruises will last about two-and-a-half hours and will cost $85 to $100, although some tickets are available each night at a two-for-one price this summer, Platner said. The boat also offers two-hour lunch cruises.
“We think we’re a restaurant on the water, as opposed to a boat that serves food,” he said.
The Yacht StarShip will stay in Boston through mid-October before returning for the winter season in Tampa and will operate on Wednesdays through Sundays, at least for now. While the boat is licensed for up to 600 people, it can usually accommodate about 400 among four separate dining rooms or 550 on a fully chartered trip for one client, Platner said.
Platner said the boat’s operators hunted around for dock space before settling on a dock managed by the Boston Redevelopment Authority off Summer Street.
The location doesn’t get much foot traffic, but Platner said few dinner cruise tickets are sold to people who walk up to the boat on the night of a cruise. The company is providing free parking at a nearby city garage.
Bob Lawler, general manager for Entertainment Cruises in Boston, said it will be tough for the Yacht StarShip to take much market share away from the Spirit and the Odyssey, especially given the sluggishness of the economy. “We’re two very well-established brands,” Lawler said. “People are watching their money closely. They’re more likely to go with what they know.”
But Platner said this is a good time to invest in Boston’s tourism industry, with a weak dollar driving foreigners here and local residents cutting down on transportation costs. “The economic conditions are going to play into our favor,” he said. “People are going to be sticking closer to home with their entertainment dollar.”