Carnival to bring megaship cruising back to New Orleans in '09

By Johanna Jainchill

Carnival Cruise Lines will give a much-needed boost to New Orleans' cruise market with a 34% increase in capacity, beginning in November 2009.

Carnival said at a press conference in the Big Easy last week that the 2,758-passenger Carnival Triumph would replace the 2,056-passenger Carnival Fantasy next year.

The Fantasy is slated to replace the 1,452-passenger Holiday in Mobile, Ala. The 23-year-old Holiday would then transfer to Iberocruceros, Carnival's Spain-based sister brand under Carnival Corp.; Iberocruceros operates another older Carnival ship, the Celebration.

The Triumph currently operates out of Miami; it will sail from New York in summer 2009.

In New Orleans, it will introduce seven-day Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries to the line's current offerings of four- and five-day Mexico cruises.

Speaking in New Orleans, Carnival's senior vice president of marketing planning, Terry Thornton, even hinted that a second ship, possibly one of Carnival's newbuilds, could be deployed to the city by 2011.

"It is our goal to get back to a two-ship operation from New Orleans," he said after the press conference. "However, we have some work to do in developing the seven-day business, and the Carnival Triumph options will allow us to do that."

He said that Carnival had not made any decision about where it would homeport the Carnival Magic, which debuts in 2011, and that New Orleans could be an option.

Carnival had considered sending the Triumph to New Orleans in 2007, but decided the city was not ready to support two ships.

"Our biggest concern at that time was the guest sourcing was very concentrated from the close-in drive markets,'" he explained. "There was very little fly-in market, and that is even more important for the seven-day program."

Carnival is now pleased with the Fantasy's and the Holiday's results in New Orleans and Mobile, respectively, Thornton said.

"We believe that both markets are ready for this capacity increase," he said.

The 50,000 more passenger embarkations the Triumph will bring to New Orleans are a welcome addition to the city, which has still not recovered to its pre-Hurricane Katrina cruise traffic levels.

In 2002, New Orleans was the recipient of Carnival's first 110,000-ton ship, the Carnival Conquest. But since Katrina hit, the ships in New Orleans have not been megaship-sized.

Carnival is the only line that operates year-round cruising there today, and Norwegian Cruise Line is the only other company to operate regular service, with winter itineraries on the Norwegian Spirit.

Before Katrina ravaged the city in August 2005, Carnival, NCL and Royal Caribbean International operated regular service from New Orleans.

Thornton said that Carnival's guest sourcing is geographically getting closer to what it was pre-Katrina. "Guests are coming from much broader segments of the U.S.," he said.

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