New Orleans Cruising Gets Bigger

Carnival Cruises Lines’ 2016 capacity in New Orleans will jump 34 percent with Carnival Triumph (shown here) and Carnival Dream sailings.
Carnival Cruises Lines’ 2016 capacity in New Orleans will jump 34 percent with Carnival Triumph and Carnival Dream sailings.

Big Easy cruising is evolving with new vessels and new diversions for guests.

The Port of New Orleans is a hot ticket for many cruisers. For the first time in its history, in 2014 the port’s cruise passenger totals soared to 1,014,325, an increase of more than 2.6 percent over 2013.

On the big-ship side, Carnival Cruise Lines will expand its cruising capacity in New Orleans by 34 percent in spring 2016 when it replaces Carnival Elation with the larger Carnival Triumph. Together, Carnival Triumph and the Carnival Dream are expected to carry a combined 450,000 guests from New Orleans annually, the most of any cruise line.


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Carnival Triumph will shift from Galveston to New Orleans to launch year-round four- and five-day cruises to Mexico starting April 4, 2016. Four-day cruises will depart Thursdays and call at Cozumel while five-day cruises will depart Mondays and Saturdays and visit Cozumel and Progreso. Carnival Triumph will also offer a three-day cruise roundtrip from New Orleans April 8-11, 2016

In December, the Port of New Orleans also renewed a successful relationship with Norwegian Cruise Line, assuring the continuation of that line’s seasonal cruise voyages from New Orleans. The new four-year berthing agreement with three one-year options will assure that at least one Norwegian cruise ship will sail during the winter Caribbean season from New Orleans through 2018. Norwegian Dawn sailed from the port this past winter season and will return again to New Orleans in November.

Myriad pre- and post-cruise hotel options in New Orleans include the newly renovated Le Méridien on Poydras Street.
Myriad pre- and post-cruise hotel options in New Orleans include the newly renovated Le Méridien on Poydras Street.  

Other lines make port calls at the city. Among them, Holland America Line’s Westerdam makes a port-call on October 27.

River-wise, the biggest news is that Viking River Cruises has chosen New Orleans as its first North American home port; it will begin sailing the Mississippi River from New Orleans in late 2017. Over the next three years, the company will invest more than $100 million per ship to build six ships that will operate on the Mississippi River (two will be deployed for each of three consecutive years).

In April, American Cruise Lines also expanded its options at New Orleans, launching the 150-passenger American Eagle; it’s the firm’s second newly built vessel that’s home-ported in New Orleans and will offer eight-day itineraries between New Orleans and Memphis. The Queen of the Mississippi has been sailing from the port since 2012.

In addition, American Queen Steamboat Company once again will operate the American Queen, the biggest paddlewheeler on the Mississippi, from New Orleans starting in January 2016.

Another development? In late March, the historic Delta Queen, previously “laid up” after a stint as a docked hotel ship in Chattanooga, sailed down the Mississippi en route to a Houma, LA, shipyard. Repairs and maintenance are currently under way by investors who are part of the newly revived Delta Queen Steamboat Company. They plan to re-launch the vessel for Mississippi cruising.

However, they do need a Congressional exemption for certain federal maritime operational requirements. If granted, that exemption would allow Delta Queen to operate again for overnight cruising as a historic vessel, possibly as early as 2016. The vessel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is classified as a National Historic Landmark.

Horse-and-carriage tours are still a popular way to explore the French Quarter.
Horse-and-carriage tours are still a popular way to explore the French Quarter.

Trends for New Orleans cruise travel? When clients book an ocean or river cruise from New Orleans, increasingly they’re staying overnight in town to see the sites. Research by the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau shows that nearly 91 percent of cruise visitors stay in New Orleans pre- or post-cruise.

In addition, increasingly, cruisers are staying longer on a pre- or post-cruise stay — 2.5 nights on average. That’s up from an average of two nights during the period from 2011 to 2013. So what’s new for them to see and do?

Certainly, the National World War II Museum has proven a top attraction for cruise visitors. Its new 31,000-square-foot “Campaigns of Courage” pavilion opened in December. It uses digital technology, personal stories and artifacts to show the experience of the average American fighting the war. “Road to Berlin: European Theater Galleries” is the first exhibition to open in the space, while “Road to Tokyo: Pacific Theater Galleries” will follow this year.

For families, the Audubon Zoo has opened the 750-foot Gator Run lazy river as part of its Cool Zoo splash park. Visitors can float their way around the exhibits in the heat of summer. The new feature includes two sand beaches and water cannons. The park also opened a new ropes course with ladders and bridges earlier this year; travelers can expect zigzag swinging beams, crisscross angled rope ladders and bridges with spaghetti hand lines and cargo nets.

Shoppers might head for the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk, which reopened in 2014 following a $70 million-plus renovation and 50,000-square-foot expansion. Cruise visitors access the mall by elevator from the Julia Street Cruise Terminal to Riverwalk’s top-floor food court.

On the cultural side, the city’s historic Saenger Theatre reopened its doors last fall after a $53 million update. The original 1927 design was restored and the original finishes and color schemes were re-created. New theater seating, more concessions, lounge areas and updated technical systems were added. In addition, the Orpheum Theater, a 1921-era theater in New Orleans’ theater district, is undergoing a $13 million renovation and will reopen this fall.

For clients seeking a place to stay overnight, here are some recent changes on the hospitality front to take note of. After a $29 million renovation, the former W Hotel on Poydras Street is now Le Méridien Hotel, with new rooms, an updated lobby and the new restaurant LMNO. The 188-room Aloft New Orleans Downtown, an HRI Lodging property, opened in March.

Hyatt Regency New Orleans is offering a 15 percent discount for pre- and post-cruise stays if agents use the corporate code CR00685.

The Wyndham New Orleans - French Quarter completed a multi-million-dollar renovation, which included 374 guest rooms as well as the building’s exterior and improvements to the parking garage. The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery, formerly the Ambassador Hotel, has opened in the Warehouse District. Following renovations, it now has 167 rooms with exposed brick walls and hardwood floors.

The hotel is named for the E.J. Hart & Company chandlery that served the port in the 19th century. Chef Nina Compton, a rising culinary star, will open her first restaurant at the property this summer; she fell in love with New Orleans during the filming of “Top Chef Season 11.”

Also on the culinary side, Antoine’s Restaurant, the birthplace of Oysters Rockefeller, is celebrating 175 years of French Creole culinary traditions with special events and new menus. Emeril’s New Orleans, the original flagship restaurant of Chef Emeril Lagasse, is celebrating 25 years in New Orleans with events, “Throwback Menus” and a trio of dinners.

Volunteers continue to help restore homes damaged in Hurricane Katrina. For cruisers who seek to “give back,” Camp Restore connects volunteers with more than 80 local nonprofits, churches and schools. It recently welcomed its 25,000th post-Katrina volunteer to New Orleans.

As the summer season kicks off, cruisers are headed back to New Orleans, a port that attracts a sizable amount of drive-market customers, as well as West Coast cruisers. This year and beyond, they’ll have new cruise options on both the ocean and river side, plus a lot of new features in New Orleans for pre- and post-cruise stays.

Iconic French Quarter balconies are a must-see for anyone visiting New Orleans.
Iconic French Quarter balconies are a must-see for anyone visiting New Orleans.


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