his year, for the first time, guests on Carnival's 1,452-passenger Holiday embarked in Mobile, Ala., instead of sailing from San Juan.

Brenda Scott, president of the Mobile Convention and Visitors Corp., said she and other tourism officials in the Gulf Coast city were "very excited" about Carnival's foray here.

"Before Sept. 11, we were already on [Carnival's] radar," she said, but now, "they've realized how important the drive market is."

Mobile isn't the only city to get some extra tonnage this year. A flurry of repositioning last fall brought several cruise ships home to roost: Holland America's Amsterdam is out of Europe and into Alaska, Celebrity moved two ships from Europe back to the U.S., and Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Wind will sail in Hawaii instead of Asia this year.

In the effort to stay close to home -- and to offer new and different itineraries -- cruise lines have had to get creative about where these ships would homeport.

blah blah.The result: Smaller, second-tier ports like Baltimore, New Orleans and Norfolk, Va., are winning out.

"Right now, what we're seeing is an expansion into a number of new ports, and if the business demand is there, the cruise lines will give serious thoughts to making them permanent embarkation points," said Jim Godsman, president of Cruise Line International Association. "The demand is there," he added. "There's no question."

Carnival, for example, is sailing from 19 different cities this year. "We're always looking at other ports," said Vicki Freed, Carnival's vice president of sales and marketing. "It makes it more convenient [for cruisers] to get to ports that are closer to their home."

The Holiday operated eight two- to six-day cruises from Mobile in March. Carnival said all the sailings were either sold out or nearly sold out.

Freed said the line was "overwhelmed" by the response to the Mobile embarkations, adding, "We'll be back."

Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean introduced two ships to New Orleans this year. Rhapsody of the Seas began sailing from the Crescent City in February; Grandeur of the Seas will homeport there in the fall.

Dan Hanrahan, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Royal Caribbean, said the Rhapsody's strong bookings fueled the decision to send the Grandeur to New Orleans.

Sister brand Celebrity will begin sailings from Baltimore in March and Charleston, S.C., in December with the Galaxy.

The Galaxy previously used New York as an embarkation point, but the port's closure last September sent the line scrambling for a new location.

"We pulled out of Europe because we've seen, historically, people don't want to travel that far," said Ares Michaelides, vice president of marketing and brand awareness for Celebrity.

"Between the agency community and the drive market, [Baltimore] is a very attractive port for people who want to stay close to home and drive."

Dan Lincoln, vice president of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, said, "We pulled out all the stops: transportation from the terminal to the Inner Harbor, special hotel rates and special discount prices. Travel agents are saying this is selling very fast.

"I think it so impressed Celebrity that they said, 'We should have more cruises from Baltimore on a regular basis.'"

Coast cities vie for vessels

BALTIMORE -- After experiencing a few years of slowly increasing cruise calls, this eastern seaboard city ran aground.

Both American Classic Voyages and Commodore Cruises went bankrupt, and its number of embarkations sank from 14 in 2000 to one in 2001.

But that was before Celebrity Cruises, displaced from New York, came calling. This year, there will be 32 embarkations.

That's good news for Baltimore and its tourist attractions, said Dan Lincoln, vice president of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association.

"The timing is perfect because so much development is going on in the Inner Harbor," Lincoln said. "All of [the businesses] see the increase in cruise lines as a way to anchor development."

Meanwhile, Norfolk, Va., is so dedicated to growing its cruise business that it spent $21 million to expand its pier and hired Stephen Kirkland as cruise marketing manager.

"My job is to talk to the cruise lines, to get them up here," Kirkland said. Its first ship after Sept. 11 was the Carnival Victory -- and it was full.

Suzanne Wallace, director of visitor services for the Charleston [S.C.] Convention and Visitors Authority, said her city had eight ships come in right after Sept. 11. "That boosted the carriage rides, walking tours and plantation excursions."

Vicki Freed, Carnival's vice president of sales and marketing, summed it all up: "[Port cities] love us," she said.

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