New Orleans cruise passenger visits up nearly 40% last year

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The Port of New Orleans welcomed 737,000 cruise passengers in 2011, a nearly 40% increase over the previous year, port officials said.

Three ships began homeport deployments in New Orleans last fall.

In November, the 2,052-passenger Carnival Elation began operating year-round, four- and five-day cruises to Cozumel and Progreso, Mexico.

The 2,974-passenger Carnival Conquest returned to New Orleans, replacing the Carnival Triumph, to sail seven-day Caribbean cruises year-round.

And Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas, a 3,114-passenger cruise ship and the largest to homeport in New Orleans, began sailing seasonal, seven-day Caribbean itineraries.

The three vessels joined Norwegian Cruise Line’s 2,018-passenger Norwegian Spirit, which sails seven-day Caribbean itineraries.

“We are experiencing tremendous growth in our cruise industry,” said Gary LaGrange, port president and CEO. “New Orleans is a hugely popular cruise port, and cruise lines are taking notice and investing larger and newer ships in their New Orleans itineraries. This year we will be knocking on the door of the 1 million passenger mark.”

In 2011, the direct economic impact of the cruise industry on New Orleans was estimated at $132.1 million, or $937,000 per ship call, according to a statement from the port.

Economic impact studies determined the industry contributes more than $226 million to Louisiana, supporting more than 3,000 jobs.

Follow Donna Tunney on Twitter @dttravelweekly.

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