Nov/Dec 2011 Issue
New Orleans Gets Shipshape
New Orleans is one of those special American city destinations—the kind where the mere mention of the name conjures the wonder of memories ready to be made. The mind’s eye races to see the images of Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street, plates full of great Cajun food, Andrew Jackson on his rearing horse and more.
It is one of those special American cities that seems could thrive without promotion. The Southern hospitality calls year-round, as does the river that made it great. Even the disaster of Hurricane Katrina—which knocked the New Orleans to its knees—has become a footnote that now stands as more of a confirmation of the city’s character than a black mark against its attractiveness.
And like its fellow special American city destinations, New Orleans is adding even more to its repertoire by taking advantage of what birthed the city in the first place—the water. Throughout its history, New Orleans has been a major port, benefitting from its access to America’s midsection via the Mississippi River and to the world via the Gulf of Mexico. Cargo ships from all over have long lined the city’s piers, and trade still thrives in the port. But pleasure cruises also are becoming a big-time industry. In fact, economic impact studies show cruising contributes $226 million annually to the local and regional economy, and it supports 2,800 jobs.
A Fleet of Fun
The 2,052-passenger Carnival Elation sailed in first and began its year-round, four- and five-night cruises to Cozumel and Progresso, Mexico. The ship replaced the Carnival Ecstasy, which replaced the Carnival Triumph in September.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s 3,114-passenger Voyager of the Seas was the next to appear in port. Voyager will sail seasonal seven-day western Caribbean itineraries, and it will be home-ported in New Orleans during the winter cruise season of November to April. It is the largest cruise ship ever to home port in New Orleans.
Another Carnival Cruise Lines’ vessel, the 2,974-passenger Conquest, completed the trio of new New Orleans arrivals. It will offer year-round, seven-day itineraries to both the Eastern and Western Caribbean. With Conquest, Carnival will have two ships home-ported in New Orleans for the first time since Hurricane Katrina.
The new trio joined Norwegian Cruise Line’s 2,018-passenger Norwegian Spirit, which sails seven-day, Western Caribbean cruises. In the fall of 2012, the Norwegian Spirit will be replaced by the newer and larger 2,348-passenger Norwegian Star.
“This is truly the most exciting time ever for cruising in New Orleans,” said Port President and CEO Gary LaGrange. “We have worked hard to regain the trust of the cruise industry following the events of 2005. By our calculations, the Port of New Orleans is on track to handle nearly 1 million cruise passengers in 2012, cementing our place as a top 10 cruise port in the United States.”
Carnival’s two cruise ships will homeport at the Erato Street Cruise Terminal and Parking Garage, which opened in the fall of 2006. Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean will share the new Julia Street Cruise Terminal—which is currently nearing the end of a $17 million complete renovation.
New Orleans’ waterborne excitement will not be limited to the popular cruise lines in 2012, LaGrange said, as inland cruising on the Mississippi River will return. American Cruise Line is set to debut a new sternwheeler, the Queen of the Mississippi, in June, and Travel Dynamics International will begin sailing its 257-foot Yorktown coastal ship from New Orleans in November. In April, the Great American Steamboat Co. will return the American Queen to New Orleans, and Blount Small Ship Adventures will begin sailing inland itineraries aboard the Grande Caribe in March.
The surge of cruise activity is not coincidence. New Orleans Convention and Visitor Bureau and port officials launched aggressive, multiyear public relations and marketing campaigns through travel professionals and cruise lines to ensure the cruising public knew New Orleans’ tourism infrastructure is better than ever. And, city officials are not resting on their laurels. Plans are under way to further expand cruise capacity with a third cruise ship terminal at the Poland Avenue Wharf.
Pre- and Post-part Capital
Without doubt, New Orleans’ diverse offerings and relaxed island-like vibe make it perfect place from which to set sail. But there is more to the city’s cruising appeal—value. The city boasts many free or nearly free attractions, dozens of live music clubs with no cover charge and amazing meals for all budgets and tastes. Plus, cruise passengers are always offered the latest deals for pre- and post-visits to the Big Easy so they can extend your vacation a day or two without breaking the bank, including discounted hotel rates, free parking and transportation, and special coupons for some of most-visited hotspots.
Special consideration from one of the nation’s special city destinations? Sounds about right from a one-of-kind place such as New Orleans.
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