NEW YORK -- Back in the 1970s, when New York was still a leading cruise port, Jacqueline Wolfer set sail from the Big Apple to the Bahamas on Home Line's Oceanic.

"And it was wonderful," said Wolfer, now the owner of International Cruises and Tours Fifth Avenue here. "People dressed up; women were in gowns and furs."

Agents here say they've long championed the return of cruises from New York to the Bahamas and the Caribbean. And now, the cruises back: For 2003, Norwegian Cruise Line is offering seven-day cruises to the Bahamas and Florida on the Norwegian Dawn, and Carnival Cruise Lines is selling eight-day cruises to the Caribbean.

"It's been long-awaited and much-needed," said Wolfer. "People want to go out of New York. They don't want to fly."

"It's the smart thing to do; there's a huge market here," agreed Greg DeClemente, executive director of Valerie Wilson Travel. "It gives folks another opportunity to experience a cruise. The convenience is wonderful."

For years, New York was an active transatlantic cruise port, and mid-century ocean liners from Holland America, Home Lines, Norwegian America Lines, Cunard and Italian Line, among others, also sailed eight- to 18-day cruises to the Bahamas and the Caribbean.

But by the early 1970s, the transatlantic market had faded, air/sea programs were expanding and Miami was fast becoming the focal point of the industry.

According to an analysis prepared for Travel Weekly in 1974, the number of cruise ship departures from New York fell from 433 in 1970 to 389 in 1973. Cruise departures from Florida, meanwhile, shot up to 805 from 589 in the same time period.

By the mid-1980s, the majority of New York cruises no longer sailed to places like Barbados and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, but plied shorter routes to Canada and Bermuda, as they continue to do today.

DeClemente said the new cruises evoked for him a feeling of nostalgia.

"It brings back a little of the romance," he said. "In the West Side passenger terminal, there's a great picture of about a dozen cruise ships lined up one after the other."

Nostalgia aside, the longer itineraries offered from New York are more examples of the cruise lines' recent push to offer additional U.S. embarkations with a lot of drive-market appeal.

Both Carnival and NCL have touted home-market cruising; NCL is offering departures from 11 North American cities; Carnival is offering 17.

Cruise line officials said they were thrilled by the response from retailers.

"We've had a lot of e-mails and phone calls saying this is the best thing we've ever done," said Andrew Stuart, NCL senior vice president of sales and marketing.

NCL has been operating cruises to the Bahamas on the Norwegian Sea for the past two years. But the speed of the Norwegian Dawn will enable the line to make twice as many port calls, making a New York berth an "irresistible" choice, Stuart said.

Joan DiPietro, Carnival's vice president of strategic marketing, said New York agents want more variety in their close-to-home departures.

"To be able to provide a different alternative is a fabulous opportunity," she said. Plus, she added, the [Carnival] Legend "is brand-new, and New Yorkers like what's new and cutting edge."

The Legend will offer eight-day cruises, calling in San Juan; St. Thomas/St. John; and Tortola/Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

The Norwegian Dawn will make calls in Nassau and the line's private island in the Bahamas, plus Miami and Port Canaveral, Fla. Both ships will operate from New York between May and October.

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