As another cruise line returns, New Orleans port hopeful for rebound

The Port of New Orleans is optimistic for a rebound in the cruising sector for 2022, as another major cruise line docks on the Mississippi River.

The Carnival Glory and the Norwegian Breakaway docked on Nov. 21 before setting sail from the Port of New Orleans. Photo courtesy Port NOLA

The Norwegian Breakaway arrived Nov. 21, joining the Carnival Glory and Valor, which resumed cruising this fall. A news release from the port said the Breakaway’s return “signaled the start of a big comeback for cruise ship operations.” Their absence since the industry halted operations in March 2020 has cost the port millions of dollars in revenue.

In September 2021, Carnival was the first to revive ocean-going cruises that have continued to steadily jumpstart business. With Disney Cruise Line slated to resume cruising in February, Port NOLA is predicting 285 sailings throughout the 2022 calendar year and anticipating nearly one million passenger movements.

That’s still below pre-pandemic levels. Port NOLA had been on track to hit 1.4 million passenger movements in 2020. Demand for cruising reached 1.2 million cruise passenger movements in 2019 – a record-breaking year.

A fourth major cruise line that calls on the port, Royal Caribbean, has not announced a return date.

Cruise lines operating from the port have COVID-19 vaccination, testing and mask requirements, and most ships industrywide are sailing as less than full capacity in order to encourage social distancing. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends that all passengers be vaccinated before boarding a ship. Some of the strictest requirements have come from Disney Cruise Line, which announced this month that all passengers ages 5 and older must be fully vaccinated beginning in January.

“We are pleased ocean-going cruises are resuming and joining the successful restart of river cruises nine months ago,” Brandy Christian, president and CEO of Port NOLA, said in the news release. “Cruises from the (Port) are critical to the state and regional economy.”

In pre-pandemic times, the port would have projected $18 million in cruise revenue for fiscal year 2021, said Jessica Ragusa, port spokesperson. The port’s revised budget was $1 million, and revenues ended up totaling just $403,000.

River cruises have been one of the fastest growing sectors of Port NOLA’s business in recent years. Passengers traveling along the Mississippi River on the six riverboats homeported in New Orleans set a modern-day record of over 31,000 passenger movements in 2019. American Queen Steamboat Company and American Cruise Lines restarted trips from the port in March 2021.

Overall, Christian said cruise passengers comprise over 300,000 hotel room nights, with passengers spending more than $125 million in the city.

New Orleans is the sixth-largest cruise port in the country.