By Timothy Boone and Ted Griggs. Advocate.com
"The last several years we’ve been gradually increasing our capacity in that marketplace, and we’re continuing to do that. Hopefully, we can continue to do that in the future.” GERRY CAHILL, Carnival CEO
The Carnival Sunshine is set to arrive at the Port of New Orleans on Sunday, the latest new vessel to provide service to the country’s fastest-growing cruise ship port.
The Sunshine, which can carry 3,002 passengers, will replace the Conquest, which could carry 2,984 passengers. The arrival of the new Carnival ship comes about a month after the 2,376-passenger Norwegian Jewel started its seasonal service to New Orleans. On Dec. 12, the Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas will start calling on the Crescent City for seasonal journeys. The 2,490-passenger ship will replace last season’s Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas, which could carry 3,114 passengers. The Serenade is smaller than the Navigator, but it is a “newer ship with more bells and whistles,” said Matt Gresham, a spokesman for the Port of New Orleans.
Gary LaGrange, president and chief executive officer of the port, recently said that New Orleans wasn’t even on the industry’s map but is now the sixth-busiest cruise port in the country.
New Orleans accounts for 5 percent of all cruise ship embarkations in the U.S., according to the Cruise Lines International Association Inc., an industry trade group. Since 2009, the number of passengers sailing out of New Orleans has more than doubled from 235,000 to 488,000 in 2012.
Port officials are working on a capital improvement project that will open the doors for even larger cruise ships to dock in New Orleans. Design and engineering work is halfway completed for the $30 million, 130,000-square-foot Poland Avenue terminal. The new terminal, set to open in October 2015, will handle ships in the 4,000-passenger range but be able to accommodate vessels as large as 6,000 passengers.
The impact of the cruise industry can be felt across the New Orleans economy. Research conducted in 2012 estimates that more than 60 percent of passengers had an overnight stay in the city before or after their cruise, said Kelly Schulz, a spokeswoman for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. The average stay was just under two nights and the average amount spent was $556.
Passengers who stayed in New Orleans before or after their cruise spent an estimated $51.3 million, Schulz said. Of that, $27.5 million went toward lodging and $8.3 million was spent on food and drinks.
According to LaGrange, cruise industry-related spending in Louisiana is responsible for creating 7,548 jobs.
The Sunshine continues Carnival’s long-term strategy of gradually increasing the size and capacity of ships based there, Chief Executive Officer Gerry Cahill said.