Royal Caribbean International announced that in 2011 it will make New Orleans a homeport for the Voyager of the Seas, the largest cruise ship ever to call New Orleans home. The announcement is expected to generate an additional 165,000 cruise guests per year for New Orleans.

The Voyager of the Seas is a 1,020 foot long ship that has capacity for 3,114 guests based on an occupancy rate of two guests per state room, but the ship can cater to as many as 3,838 guests. It will offer seven-night Western Caribbean cruises from New Orleans departing on Saturdays.

Royal Caribbean will make 24 calls from New Orleans during the winter cruise season between November 2011 and April 2012. The cruise line has committed to New Orleans for the 2012-2013  winter cruise season as well, and it will have three one-year options to continue calling New Orleans into the future.

The decision marks the return of Royal Caribbean to New Orleans after an absence of 3 years. The cruise line positioned a cruise ship in New Orleans from 2002 until Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Following the storm, Royal Caribbean completed one winter cruise season in New Orleans from Dec. 2006 to April 2007, but then decided to deploy some of its resources to other parts of the world.

“Royal Caribbean International looks forward to returning to New Orleans in winter 2011,” said Adam Goldstein, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International. “New Orleans is a vibrant city that will offer vacationers another convenient Gulf Coast port to embark on a memorable Royal Caribbean cruise. We are pleased to be back.”

“This is like being reunited with an old friend and a trusted business partner,” said Gary LaGrange, president and CEO of the Port of New Orleans. “We never gave up hope that we could lure Royal Caribbean back to New Orleans, and we continued to keep company officials up to date on the opportunities available here.”

When Royal Caribbean returns to New Orleans, it will base its operations at a newly renovated Julia Street Cruise Terminal. A $12 million project to convert two smaller terminals at Julia Street into one large terminal is under design. The improvements also include the installation of a new, climate controlled gangway. About $8.5 million of the construction project at the Julia Street Cruise Terminal comes from Louisiana’s Port Priority Program and the remainder will come from the Port. The improvements to the cruise terminal are expected to be completed in the Summer of 2011.

“The cruise industry is an integral part of Louisiana’s tourism sector,” said Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu, who is Louisiana’s top tourism official and is mayor-elect of New Orleans. “Bringing Royal Caribbean back represents another milestone in our recovery. The Voyager of the Seas gives visitors another opportunity to experience Louisiana’s vibrant culture before or after setting off on their cruise.”

The move by Royal Caribbean is the latest in a string of good news about cruising from New Orleans. Norwegian Cruise Line recently announced that it would shift from seasonal cruises to year-round cruises from New Orleans starting in Nov. 2010. In November 2009, Carnival Cruise Lines replaced the Carnival Fantasy with the Carnival Triumph, which holds 34% more guests.