Port NOLA is riding the wave of success

Cruise passenger numbers are continuing to rise as Port of New Orleans strengthens its position as a unique US homeport and destination city

Port NOLA is riding the wave of success
Port NOLA's modern cruise terminals are within walking distance of historic French Quarter landmarks, dining and culture

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Spring/Summer 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Port of New Orleans (Port NOLA), the sixth-largest cruise port in the US, topped one million cruise passenger movements in 2018, marking the fifth consecutive year it has achieved this milestone. The new record of 1.18 million people was a 2.3% increase from the previous year, signalling 10 years of passenger growth and Port NOLA’s increasing popularity as a distinctive US homeport and tourist destination.

“This cruise sector milestone validates Port NOLA as an in-demand cruise port and an important catalyst that contributes to the international tourism and hospitality industries,” says Brandy Christian, Port NOLA’s president and CEO. “With Port NOLA’s commitment to high-level service and the Crescent City’s many attractions, we are confident cruise passengers will enjoy the excitement and convenience of launching their vacation from our unique city.”

Over the course of 2018, 235 passenger ships called at Port NOLA, up from 229 in the same period in 2017, and momentum continues to build. In September 2018, Disney Cruise Line announced that it will sail from Port NOLA in early 2020. The 2,700-passenger Disney Wonder will embark on a variety of Caribbean and Bahamian cruises from New Orleans – marking the first time the brand has homeported in Louisiana.

“Disney has long celebrated the rich stories of New Orleans – from themed experiences in our parks and resorts to films capturing the city’s vibrant music, flavours and culture,” says Jeff Vahle, president of Disney Signature Experiences. “Now we’ll extend that tradition by casting off from the Crescent City aboard Disney Wonder, fusing the unmistakable character of one of America’s most beloved locales with the magic of Disney.”

Carnival Cruise Line will also increase capacity on its four- and five-day cruise programme this year, replacing Carnival Triumph with the 2,980-passenger Carnival Glory on 1 March. Carnival Glory will sail the four- and five-day itineraries until 19 May when she will begin seven-day, year-round voyages. Meanwhile, the 2,980-passenger Carnival Valor will arrive to operate year-round four- and five-day schedules.

“Port NOLA is one of Carnival’s most popular homeports and Carnival Valor and Carnival Glory are wonderful ships that provide a wide array of exciting dining, beverage, entertainment and activity choices,” Christian says. “As demand for cruises continues to grow, our cruise line partners are responding by deploying newer ships with more capacity and amenities.”

Port NOLA welcomed its largest cruise ship to date in 2018 when Norwegian Cruise Line’s 4,000-passenger Norwegian Breakaway arrived in November to sail seven-day cruises until April 2019. This November the vessel will be replaced by her newer sister ship, Norwegian Getaway. Royal Caribbean International returned to New Orleans in December 2018 with the 2,050-passenger Vision of the Seas, which will continue offering seven-day voyages until March.

To accommodate these larger cruise vessels and the increase in passengers, Port NOLA invested US$1 million in its Julia Street Cruise Terminal. It increased facilities for security and added check-in counters for embarkation staff to move guests more efficiently through the terminal.

Port NOLA’s river cruise business also boomed in 2018 as guests travelling along the Mississippi River on the five river boats that homeport in New Orleans set a modern-day record. The port handled 30,298 passenger movements, marking a 23% surge in river cruise passengers.

The American Queen Steamboat Company bases the 436-guest American Queen and the 166-passenger American Duchess in New Orleans, while American Cruise Lines offers inland cruises on the 150-guest Queen of the Mississippi and the 185-passenger America. The company’s 184-passenger American Song, the first modern riverboat in the US on the Mississippi River, also debuted in 2018.

“American Cruise Lines is delighted to introduce American Song from Port NOLA,” says Charles Robertson, CEO of American Cruise Lines. “It is only fitting to see the first modern riverboat in US history debut on the Mississippi – the nation’s most storied and iconic river.”

The line’s second modern river boat, American Harmony, will replace her sister ship, American Song, later this year.

According to Christian, Port NOLA’s success can be attributed to its efforts to market New Orleans as two vacations in one, which resonates with travellers looking for embarkation ports.

“90% of cruise passengers travel from outside of Louisiana and 73% spend a day or two in New Orleans either before or after their cruise,” she explains.

The city of New Orleans saw a 5.7% rise in visitations in 2017, welcoming 17.7 million tourists, according to travel research company D.K. Shifflet & Associates. New Orleans has seen steady growth in tourism since 2009, and tourism leaders said visitation from 2018, the city’s tricentennial year, was trending to another likely increase once the new report is released.

It’s never been easier to get to New Orleans for a cruise. From May, visitors flying to New Orleans will be able to experience a new 35-gate replacement airport terminal. The US$1.029 billion facility will feature three concourses, a new short- and long-term parking garage and a surface parking lot next to the terminal, as well as an economy garage with shuttle service. The approximately 972,000-square-foot airport terminal will also have passenger conveniences, such as a consolidated checkpoint with access to over 40 different food, beverage, news, gift and speciality retail concessions, once they are beyond security.

“Our new world-class airport terminal will be a game changer for our great city and the region,” says LaToya Cantrell, New Orleans Mayor. “My priority is to ensure the new airport meets and exceeds the needs of our residents, our regional neighbours and our visitors when it opens.”

Travellers can also reach New Orleans via Amtrak on daily trains that arrive from around the US, as well as by car on the six major interstates that connect to the Crescent City from across the nation.

Port NOLA’s car parks are within easy access of its two centrally located cruise terminals. The Erato Street Cruise Terminal and Parking Garage has more than 1,000 covered and secured parking spaces, which are on top of the terminal and offer seacap luggage assistance. Meanwhile, the Julia Street Cruise Terminal Complex has designated port parking adjacent to the terminal with seacap luggage assistance.

“With demand for cruising from New Orleans growing, more cruise passengers will experience the vibrant sights and sounds of the ‘Big Easy’, adding a unique dimension to their cruise experience from our premier destination port,” concludes Christian.

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Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson
Friday, May 17, 2019