NEW YORK -- Cruising's unprecedented capacity growth in the last 10
years has led operators to expand itineraries beyond the segment's
But the growing number of ships operating from U.S. Gulf Coast
ports can be linked to several factors, only one of which is the
rapid expansion of cruise fleets.
Cruise deployment at three such ports -- Galveston, Texas; New
Orleans, and Tampa, Fla. -- accelerated last month with
announcements of expanded service from the industry's largest and
second-largest suppliers, Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean
Next December, Carnival Cruise Lines will expand its presence in
New Orleans, the largest of the ports, by bringing in its newest
ship, the 110,000-ton Carnival Conquest, for year-round western
The New Orleans deployment of the 2,976-passenger Conquest,
under construction in Italy, will increase Carnival's capacity in
the Crescent City by 45%. Carnival currently serves New Orleans
with the 2,052-passenger Inspiration.
"Carnival's growth in New Orleans has been phenomenal," said Bob
Dickinson, Carnival's president. He said Carnival's decision to
deploy its largest ship there "speaks volumes to our confidence in
expanding this important cruise market."
Carnival will deploy a second ship in Galveston for a year-round
series of cruises to Mexican ports beginning in August 2002.
Carnival launched service from Galveston last September with the
1,486-passenger Celebration, which offers four- and five-day
cruises to Cozumel and Calica, Mexico.
In less than 10 months, said Port of Galveston officials,
Celebration has hosted nearly 100,000 vacationers, and every cruise
has sailed at 100% capacity. Next year, Carnival will offer three
departures a week from Galveston, with an expected annual passenger
load of 240,000.
Finally, Carnival's expansion plans in New Orleans and Galveston
will lead the line to increase its capacity at Tampa.
Beginning next December, Inspiration (which will leave New
Orleans upon Conquest's arrival) will re-position to Tampa to offer
year-round western Carib- bean cruises. Inspiration will replace
Sensation, which will continue to sail from Tampa but will move
from weekly western Caribbean cruises to four- and five-day voyages
beginning Aug. 25, 2002.
Sensation, in turn, will replace Jubilee, which will reposition
to Galveston. Sensation's redeployment represents a 38% capacity
increase for that program.
In all, Carnival expects to carry 293,000 guests a year from
Cruising's second-largest operator, Royal Caribbean, is also
expanding its service along the Gulf Coast.
Earlier this year, the line launched its first regular Gulf Coast
series, with six-, seven- and eight-day cruises departing from
Tampa, Galveston and New Orleans aboard the 2,000-passenger
Rhapsody of the Seas.
Beginning next year, Royal Caribbean will expand its deployment
in the region with a second ship, the 1,950-passenger Grandeur of
Grandeur will replace Rhapsody of the Seas on seven-day western
Caribbean itineraries departing from New Orleans and Tampa.
(Passengers have the option of embarking and disembarking at either
Meanwhile, Rhapsody will sail regularly from Galveston on a new
The industry's increased focus on the Gulf Coast comes during
the biggest fleet-building cycle in cruise history.
But the Gulf Coast capacity increase slated to begin next year
is due as much to changing consumer travel patterns and the cruise
lines' desire to develop new passenger markets as to capacity
Locating ships outside the traditional cruise ports in south
Florida makes the vessels accessible to a broader range of
first-time cruisers because potential vacationers across the
southern and southeastern U.S can easily reach ports like
Galveston, New Orleans and Tampa by car. Many of these new
passengers are reluctant to fly to Miami or Fort Lauderdale to, in
effect, try out an unfamiliar vacation form.
"If you look at Tampa, New Orleans and Galveston, you have a
wide range of people to draw from who will drive into the port,"
said Bob Wall, owner of Vacations at Sea in New Orleans. "It's a
very common thing in this part of the country to drive to Houston
to see a sporting event or to Orlando."
Indeed, as in other Gulf Coast ports, vacationers in and around
the New Orleans region have reacted enthusiastically to having a
large, modern cruise ship within driving distance, said Wall.
"People are very excited," he said. "Most of the time [New
Orleans] gets the 'second-hand rose' ships. We moved very quickly
to book groups when Carnival announced Conquest would home port
here, and already the first sailing is sold out for group