Ship Ahoy

Carnival Glory marks the return of ocean cruise ships to Port of New Orleans

ILLUSTRATION BY TONY HEALEY

Jennifer Gibson Schecter was once a tourist in New Orleans herself and is now proud to call NOLA home. She also writes the Wednesday Tourism Blog on BizNewOrleans.com.

In March 2020, global cruise line operations shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, causing major job losses and negative economic impacts to the tourism industry and port cities worldwide. This month marks the return of oceangoing cruise ships to New Orleans with the Carnival Glory set to sail a seven-day itinerary departing the Port of New Orleans (Port Nola) on Sept. 5.

Carnival Cruise Line implemented its restart plan in July with five vessels under sail, gradually increasing to 15 through the fall. It is operating its cruises with a 95% vaccination rate for passengers.

“The decision to sail with vaccinated voyages was a difficult one to make, and we recognize this is disappointing to some of our guests, especially the many families with children under the age of 12 who we love to sail, and who love to sail with us,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line in a press release. “It’s important to remember that this is a temporary measure given the current circumstances. In consultation with our medical experts and advisors, we’ve determined this plan is in the best interests of the health and safety of our guests, crew and the destinations that we bring our ships to.”

Carnival Cruise Line has long served Port Nola and prior to COVID-19, it accounted for approximately 80% of the port’s 1.2 million passenger movements in 2019. Other cruise lines homeporting in New Orleans prior to the pandemic include Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, and riverine cruise lines American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Company.

Port Nola’s cruise business was severely impacted by the pandemic. According to Jessica Ragusa, communications manager at Port Nola, there were 338 missed ship calls, which resulted in missing an estimated 1.5 million cruise passenger movements. As of publication, Port Nola has lost an estimated $21 million in direct cruise revenue.

Cruises are integral to the tourism industry of New Orleans, and to the entire state. Ragusa said 98% of the calls made to Port Nola are homeports, where the ships take on provisions, fueling, maintenance and business services from local businesses. This activity results in new money injected into the state economy.

Port Nola’s 2019 Economic Impact Study reported that 90% of its cruise passengers hail from out of state and 73% spend one or two nights in New Orleans before or after their cruise. This generates 306,000 hotel room nights annually and additional spending in area restaurants, shops and cultural attractions.

The cruise industry operating out of Port Nola accounts for over 9,000 jobs in Louisiana as well.

“There is a strong network of hardworking men and women who rely on and contribute to the cruise industry — from the river pilots who navigate those cruise ships up and down the river safely, to the hospitality industry workers, the wait staff, bartenders, etc. who provide customers with services to enjoy our city before and after their cruise, to those greeting our guests at the cruise terminal as they arrive and ensure passengers make it onto the ship seamlessly. We want to take the opportunity to recognize the importance of the cruise industry and all those Louisiana citizens who make it work,” said Ragusa.

With many unknowns, especially regarding variant strains of COVID-19, Port Nola leadership is continuing to work closely with the Centers for Disease Control, cruise line partners and elected officials to adapt operations and develop new safety protocols for its guests, crew and community.

Port Nola has reasons to be optimistic. River cruise sailings from American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Company resumed in March 2021 with reduced capacity and strict COVID protocols beyond the federal recommendations. And in long-awaited news, Viking Cruise Line is scheduled to begin river service from New Orleans in the summer of 2022, marking the company’s first North American homeport. As of publication, Port Nola also anticipates welcoming the Carnival Valor on Nov. 1, 2021; the Norwegian Breakaway on Nov. 21, 2021; and the Disney Wonder in February 2022.

“As we all know, when things start to get back to normal, Louisiana will continue to be a place where visitors from all over the world will keep coming back to experience our unique people and culture,” said Ragusa.

Cruise guests are encouraged to monitor their cruise line’s webpages directly for updates and announcements. To learn more about cruising from Port Nola, visit portnola.com/cruise.