Cruising Back to the Big Easy

Signaling New Orleans' continuing recovery, Norwegian Cruise Line (www.ncl.com) and Carnival Cruise Lines (www.bookccl.com) enthusiastically cruised back into the Big Easy last month, with Royal Caribbean International (www.cruisingpower.com) planning to sail back in December. With regular cruise service, tourism revenue is again flowing into the city, and agents have new options for selling Gulf of Mexico cruises.  Susan J. Young

The first to return was Norwegian Cruise Line in mid-October with its 1,936-passenger Norwegian Sun. That ship operates roundtrip western Caribbean voyages with calls at Cozumel and Costa Maya (Mexico), Santo Tomas De Castilla (Guatemala) and Belize City.

"New Orleans was a very, very strong port pre-Katrina, and I don't see any reason why it can't come back as strongly," Andy Stuart, CLIA's chairman and NCL's executive vice president of marketing, sales and passenger services, told Travel Agent. "Overall, we're very pleased at the response thus far. We've been keen to get back as quickly as we could."

Pre-Katrina cruises from New Orleans represented 40 percent of the business for New Orleans-based Vacations at Sea. Owner Bob Wall sees "the arrival of the cruise ships as a psychological shot in the arm for the community." While Wall says the per diems the lines are now charging for New Orleans cruises are fairly low right now, he also sees evidence that business is picking up.

One plus for cruise clients is the port's new $37 million, 90,000-square foot Erato Street Cruise Terminal with 1,000 new parking spaces. While the public may question the rebuilding of tourism infrastructure when serious devastation still plagues many residential areas, tourism is a superb economic engine. It can inject millions of badly needed dollars into the region, money the city, state and local businesses desperately need in order to rebuild. The Port of New Orleans says that before the hurricane, cruising generated $226 million in local spending.

Many travelers drive five or six hours to New Orleans for their cruise. It's a huge drive market, says Stuart. Air-wise, New OrleansInternationalAirport has regained more than two-thirds of its pre-Katrina flights. Stuart reports that NCL hasn't had any problems with airlift.

Carnival Cruise Lines' 2,056-passenger Fantasy began year-round four- and five-day cruises from New Orleans to Mexico's Yucatán region on October 26. Carnival's four-day cruises now depart every Thursday and visit Cozumel. Fantasy's five-day cruises depart on Monday and Saturday and visit both Costa Maya and Cozumel.

Starting December 2, Royal Caribbean's 1,950-passenger Grandeur of the Seas will start sailing from New Orleans on seven-night western Caribbean cruises that visit Grand Cayman, Costa Maya and Cozumel. Prices begin at just $399 for an interior cabin. Those cruises continue through April 7, 2007.

Carnival Fantasy in the Port of New Orleans on October 25

On September 2, 2007, Carnival will become the only cruise line to operate two ships year-round from New Orleans, when Fantasy will be joined by the 2,758-passenger Carnival Triumph. The two ships will carry 320,000 passengers annually. Carnival Triumph's seven-day Caribbean itineraries will visit Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios (Jamaica) and Cozumel, or alternatively, Cozumel and Progreso (Mexico), plus Belize.

In November 2007, NCL will replace the Norwegian Sun with the 1,966-passenger Norwegian Spirit, offering seven-day western Caribbean cruises through April 2008. Port calls will include Belize City, Santo Tomas de Castilla (Guatema-la), Costa Maya and Cozumel.

New on the Menu

In other cruise news, Travel Agent has learned that agents can expect celebrity chef Charlie Palmer to introduce 40-50 new dishes to Seabourn Cruise Line's menus in 2007. And exclusive to Travel Agent, we've learned from Holland America Line about new Pinnacle Grill menu options. The first is a savory butternut squash soup with caramelized apple and fried sage, grilled diver scallops and frozen soufflé glacé Grand Marnier. The second features smoked salmon tartare, rack of veal with roasted vegetables and chocolate wafer tart with anise crust. The Pinnacle Grill surcharge was raised to $30 per person, but, for many clients, the cuisine and its presentation are worth the price.

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