Cruise lines eye alternate U.S. home ports

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NEW YORK -- Florida, and Miami, in particular, has always been the shining star among cruise ports. In 2002, some other Southern ports will become more prominent players in the cruise market.

Carnival Cruise Lines has been leading the way by tapping Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans as departure points for spring voyages. The line's 1,452-passenger Holiday will start a series of five- and six-day western Caribbean cruises from Mobile in March. Two-night cruises to nowhere are on the agenda, too. Carnival also plans to homeport two vessels in New Orleans next year.

Following its Mobile stint, the Holiday will move to New Orleans for a series of year-round Caribbean cruises. The new program of four-, five-, 10- and 11-day voyages will start April 6. The Crescent City also will be home to the 2,976-passenger Conquest when it debuts next December.

This represents a significant capacity increase compared with Carnival's current New Orleans-based ship, the 2,052-passenger Inspiration. When the Conquest debuts, the Inspiration will move from its New Orleans home to Tampa for western Caribbean sailings. However, one of its ports of call will be the Crescent City.

Royal Caribbean has its eye on New Orleans, as well. From Nov. 2 through April 12, 2003, the line's 1,950-passenger Grandeur of the Seas will sail from the port. This will more than triple the number of cruises Royal Caribbean will make from New Orleans from seven this winter to 25 in the 2002-2003 season. The timing is ideal for the port, which completed a $7 million expansion of its Julia Street Cruise Terminal this summer.

Charleston, S.C., also will receive an influx of visitors as part of a new Celebrity itinerary. The 12-day cruise aboard the 1,870-passenger Galaxy will depart from Baltimore and visit Charleston, before heading to the western Caribbean. The Galaxy is scheduled to sail from Baltimore for a series of 11- and 12-day cruises from March 25 to Nov. 21.

Many small-ship operators routinely visit Southern ports on their itineraries and will continue to do so in 2002. Clipper Cruise Line offers an eight-day voyage called Antebellum South Along the Intracoastal Waterway. From March through December, the Nantucket Clipper will visit Jacksonville, Fla.; Cumberland, Jekyll and St. Simons islands and Savannah, Ga., and Beaufort and Charleston, S.C.

American Canadian Caribbean Line offers a similar itinerary called Colonial Intracoastal Waterway aboard the Niagara Prince in March. The line also has longer itineraries that run between Florida and Rhode Island with plenty of Southern ports in between.

RiverBarge Excursion Lines sails such itineraries as Delta South and Cajun & Creoles aboard its River Explorer.

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