Norwegian Cruise lines to berth in New Orleans year-round


November 1st, 2010
Norwegian deepens ties to Crescent City

Sunday, October 31, 2010

By Jaquetta White

When the Norwegian Spirit drops anchor at the Port of New Orleans next month, it will mark a new era in the company’s relationship with New Orleans, one that will be marked by increased promotions and could lead to more or larger vessels making the city their home port.

Norwegian Cruise Line, popular for its “freestyle cruising” model, will base the Spirit in New Orleans for 18 straight months beginning Nov. 14, shifting from a schedule that had until now only put the vessel here for the six-month winter season of November through April. It would then move to Boston for the other half of the year.

Now, the 2,018-passenger vessel will call New Orleans home year-round, at least through the remainder of its contract, which expires in April 2012.

“What it does is it gives consistency to the market place,” said Charlotte Lawson, business development manager for Norwegian in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.

Top executives from the company were in town last week meeting with local travel agents to promote the longer New Orleans cruise schedule.

Lawson said the company decided to build on its New Orleans service because it found that guests like to travel out of New Orleans because they enjoy staying in the city a few days before or after their visit. The Port of New Orleans’ investment in the newer Erato Street Cruise terminal to complement its original Julia Street terminal was also a draw, Lawson said.

“The port facilities are phenomenal,” Lawson said. “To homeport here made sense.”

Bookings have been “very strong all the way through April,” Lawson said. “We’re trying to do a better job of marketing in the summer.”

With the vessel now scheduled to be in New Orleans during the height of festival season, Lawson said Norwegian plans to tie in some of its marketing to those events to attract travelers, particularly international travelers, who want to extend their time here. The cruise line has partnered with several French Quarter hotels to offer incentives such as discounted hotel rates and parking to cruise passengers.

Cruises that piggyback on the New Orleans experience are also on the agenda, Lawson said. For instance, Norwegian is planning a jazz cruise for next November and a cooking cruise to follow it.

Norwegian also is in a period of expansion. The privately held company is preparing to issue about $250 million worth of stock in an initial public offering. The Miami-based company also has two new ships in production, one to be unveiled in 2013 and another in 2014. That expansion means New Orleans could get a larger vessel in a few years or a second ship, Lawson said.

Norwegian operates a seven-day cruise that departs New Orleans on Sundays and stops in Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico; Santo Tomas De Castillo, Guatemala; and Belize City, Belize. The schedule will remain the same when the ship’s stay is extended, except that Guatemala will be replaced by Roatan, Honduras, in 2011.

With the addition of an “exotic” location like Honduras, which is not on traditional Western Caribbean travel itineraries, Lawson said, Norwegian is hoping to reach out to frequent cruise passengers and well as first-time cruisers.

Before Hurricane Katrina, four ships traveled from New Orleans, including two year-round Carnival Cruise Lines vessels and one ship each from Norwegian and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. The latter were both seasonal.

The Norwegian expansion means New Orleans has two cruise lines offering year-round cruising. Carnival Cruise Lines’ Triumph now operates four-, five-, and seven-day cruises throughout the year.

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