This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2016 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed
The Port of New Orleans topped one million cruise passengers for the second year running in 2015, marking the fifth consecutive record year for cruising from the ‘Big Easy’.
With attractions for the whole family, such as antebellum architecture, swamp tours, world-class museums, premium shopping and over 1,000 five-star restaurants, it’s no wonder more and more people are choosing to launch their cruise vacations from New Orleans.
Meeting growing demand for cruises from the city, Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line are strengthening their commitment to the port, homeporting newer and larger ships in New Orleans.
The port’s two modern cruise terminals currently host three homeported cruise ships. Carnival Cruise Line offers a wide variety of itineraries, with Carnival Elation sailing year-round and offering four- and five-day itineraries from New Orleans. Carnival Dream also sails year-round, offering seven-day itineraries at destinations throughout the Caribbean.
In April 2016, Carnival Cruise Line increased its capacity for four and five-day itineraries by 34% when Carnival Triumph replaced Carnival Elation. In addition, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Dawn sails seasonal seven-day cruises from November through to May from the Julia Street Cruise Terminal.
Carnival carried a record 400,000 passengers from New Orleans in 2015, and estimates that in 2016 it will welcome its three millionth passenger at the Port of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Carnival resumed service in New Orleans in October 2006, and has gradually increased its capacity from the ‘Big Easy’, expecting to carry a record 450,000 passengers in 2016.
Norwegian Cruise Line has also signed an agreement that will keep at least one Norwegian cruise ship sailing seasonally from New Orleans until 2018, with an option to extend the deal.
As New Orleans establishes itself as a desirable destination as well as a leading homeport, the port is drawing increased cruise line commitment and port calls through 2016 and beyond. When Holland America Line’s Westerdam cruise ship called at the port’s Julia Street Cruise Terminal in October 2015 for its maiden voyage to New Orleans, the cruise ship marked the first of a busy year for unique cruise ship calls through 2016.
“New Orleans is an international destination and cruise lines see it as an attractive call on their itineraries to market to potential passengers,” says Gary LaGrange, Port of New Orleans president and CEO. “Unique cruise ship calls have a big impact on the local economy, as thousands of passengers at a time, who are often international, have the opportunity to explore everything New Orleans and the surrounding area has to offer.”
AIDA Cruises’ AIDAvita returned to New Orleans in November 2015 for the first of 11 overnight calls in a period leading up to December 2016. P&O Cruises has had a significant presence in New Orleans in 2016 as well, with Oriana making three overnight calls and Oceana and Azura each making one overnight call at the Julia Street Cruise Terminal. In addition, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa called at the port in April 2016 and Europa 2 will call at the port in October 2016. Azamara Club Cruises will also bring Azamara Quest for a two-day call in October 2016.
Furthermore, the Port of New Orleans is fast becoming the river cruise capital of the US. American Cruise Lines has added a second riverboat, the 150-passenger American Eagle, which will be homeported in New Orleans. Along with the company’s Queen of the Mississippi vessel, the American Eagle will offer various eight-day itineraries on the Lower Mississippi between New Orleans and Memphis, Tennessee. The port is also the homeport to the American Queen Steamboat Company’s 436-passenger American Queen, the largest steamboat ever built.
It has never been easier for visitors to launch their Caribbean cruises from New Orleans. Six major interstates lead to the city from all points of the nation, and AMTRAK has daily trains arriving from around the country. An upcoming airport expansion will make cruising from the city accessible to even more visitors from across the US. The Louis Armstrong International Airport expansion plan includes building a new 30-gate terminal with three concourses, to be completed just in time for the City of New Orleans’ 300th anniversary.
In 2015, the airport set an all-time record high in total passenger numbers with a barrage of new airlines, and non-stop regional and international destinations. The airport currently has 14 airlines providing service to 52 non-stop destinations, including international itineraries to Panama City, Panama; Cancun, Mexico; and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. A new trans-Atlantic air service will make it more convenient for European cruise passengers to sail from New Orleans. The German airline Condor plans to begin seasonal non-stop service from New Orleans to Frankfurt starting summer of 2017.
“Ideas are already being exchanged between our existing cruise lines and potential cruise line clients about strategically using the new air carrier to introduce European cruise passengers to the concept of ‘two vacations in one’ by embarking in New Orleans,” says Don Allee, director of cruise operations at the Port of New Orleans.
Last year, Copa Airlines began non-stop service between New Orleans and Panama City, giving foreign travellers from dozens of destinations in Central and South America and the Caribbean an opportunity to cruise from New Orleans.
“This is truly the most exciting time ever for cruising in New Orleans,” says LaGrange. “The expansions and new offerings solidify New Orleans as a favourite destination for the cruise industry and one of the fastest growing cruise ports in the US.”
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