Beginning next fall, Carnival Cruise Lines will have two cruise ships leaving daily from New Orleans, returning the city to its pre-Hurricane Katrina cruise ship levels.
“I think it’s huge and I think this will probably put us very close to the distinction as the fastest-growing cruise port in America,” said Gary LaGrange, president and CEO of the Port of New Orleans.
In announcing the plans for an additional cruise ship on Wednesday, Carnival officials said two ships currently in Galveston, Texas — the Carnival Conquest and the Carnival Ecstasy — will switch to New Orleans. The Carnival Triumph, currently cruising out of New Orleans, will join a newly christened cruise ship in Galveston in the fall of 2011.
“This announcement . . . is a more special one for us than a lot of other announcements just because we’ve had such a long relationship with New Orleans and are really happy to be part of the renaissance of New Orleans,” said Jennifer de la Cruz, director of public relations for Carnival. The cruise line had two boats positioned in New Orleans in 2004.
There are two other cruise ships operating out of New Orleans, one from Norweigian Lines that just recently switched to a year-round schedule and a Royal Caribbean vessel that makes seasonal departures.
The transitioning of the Carnival ships will take place in two stages, officials said. The Ecstasy will begin daily cruises from New Orleans on Sept. 22, 2011, while the Conquest will begin cruises from the city nearly two months later on Nov. 13.
LaGrange said New Orleans and Galveston are now neck-and-neck in the battle for the title as the top Gulf Coast cruise port.
“I think what’s happening is the city has rebuilt itself, has rebuilt its reputation and visitors are really, really high on coming to New Orleans,” LaGrange said. “The Super Bowl is coming, the Final Four is coming. If you think in terms of a cruise, you’re not going to get the ambience (in Galveston) of what we say is two vacations in one in New Orleans.”
LaGrange said he also is optimistic that financing will be secured within the next year to begin work to renovate the Poland Street Cruise Terminal, providing the room to bring in another cruise ship, perhaps another Carnival vessel.
De la Cruz offered a complimentary, though diplomatic, assessment of the city’s chances.
“I can’t really say what the future might bring, but in any port where we operate from, when things are going well we tend to continue to want to grow the program and add capacity. Whether we will add capacity anytime soon, it’s just to early to say.”
LaGrange said he’s bullish about additional growth in the cruise ship industry in New Orleans. The port recorded 734,000 passengers during its peak year in 2004. The Carnival announcement, plus a potential third cruise terminal, points to an even brighter future.
Barring any catastrophic events, (we’re projecting) we’ll approach – within next 2 years – that we’ll hit 1 million passengers for the first time.”