The Port Of New Orleans itself is ready to handle cruise traffic, said J. Robert Jumonville, director of cruise and tourism. "When our tourism base comes back and the airlift comes back, we'll be fully back," he said.
The Norwegian Sun is slated to return to New Orleans on October 15, followed by the Fantasy on October 26 and the Grandeur of the Seas on December 2. In addition, the Golden Princess will be sailing three cruises in December to "test the market," according to Jumonville.
The Julia Street Cruise Terminal complex suffered some roof damage from Hurricane Katrina, while the city and the surrounding areas were devastated. In fact, Jumonville said, the cruise terminal suffered more damage from subsequently housing emergency workers.
In addition to the two Julia Street terminals, 1 and 2, the new Erato Street Terminal is slated to be completed on September 15. Also on the drawing board are plans to convert a cargo area at the Poland Avenue Wharf into a new terminal. Meanwhile, there -will be a temporary facility there to handle the Golden Princess.
The port is able to turn two big ships around at the same time, Jumonville said, adding that the Camival Conquest and the Norwegian Dream used to be in port on the same day. He said that the Conquest typically had 3,700 passengers onboard.
In 2004, New Orleans reported 734,643 passengers and 181 calls and was on its way to break the 800,000 mark in 2005 when Katrina struck, Jumonville said. Still, 579,000 cruise passengers came through the port last year.
"From a tourism point of view, we are almost back to normal, except for the airlift," Jumonville said.
Meanwhile, in nearby Mobile, the Holiday resumed her regular year-round service of four- and five-day cruises on March 27. "We suffered only some minor flooding," said Al St. Clair, director of the Mobile Cruise Terminal. "We were completely cleaned up Thursday after Katrina."
The Holiday, which started up in October 2004 and holds 1,452 passengers, double occupancy, had consistently been running with 1,640 before Katrina, and is now averaging 1,658 passengers on each cruise, according to St. Clair. And the parking lot averages 430 cars for each cruise, he said, noting that he is tracking license plates, showing that passengers drive from Indiana, Illinois and Ohio, among other states.
"We are aggressively seeking a second and third ship," St. Clair said. "The Carnival contract is up for renewal in mid-July, but they are booking beyond that, so we assume they are staying for the full duration of the three-year agreement. We would also like to have a seven-day ship or a mirror image of Carnival's 5-5-4 day program."
In Gulfport, however, the clean-up effort is likely to take two years, according to A l Hopkins of the Gulfport Cruise Task Force. Airlift, however, is back - and will be 115 percent in August of what it was before the storm. $30 billion is being poured into renovating the properties that where damaged and new developments, Hopkins said, noting that Gulfport will have 10,000 hotel rooms by the end of the year and 30,000 by 2010.
"We are closer to blue water," said Hopkins. "We have the airlift and once we finish the infrastructure, we'll be ready for a cruise ship." He is also counting on passengers being attracted by the casino, entertainment and leisure facilities in Gulfport, as well as retail shopping outlets. Gulfport had 23 million visitors in 2004.