In a sign that New Orleans really is making progress, the city's port authority has been preparing for the return of cruise ships this month.
Its first post-Katrina call will be, as we reported on our news ticker yesterday, the return of RiverBarge's 198-passenger River Explorer. That barge vessel will return to the Big Easy on December 19. The 600-passenger Delphin Renaissance will spend New Year's Eve and New Year's Day in New Orleans. After a slight January slump, embarkation visits begin again, starting with P&O's 2,600-passenger Arcadia, which will be in port from February 9 - 11. Swan Hellenic's 600-passenger Minerva II pops in for a day call on February 22.
Otherwise, says Chris Bonura, a spokesman for the Port of New Orleans, the city will have to consider its normally busy fall-through-spring season an unavoidable disappointment thanks to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. However, cruise lines that had planned to homeport vessels there this year are already announcing concrete plans to return to regularly scheduled itineraries next autumn. Among them? Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas, NCL's Norwegian Sun and Carnival's Sensation. Interestingly, Carnival has not committed to returning Carnival Conquest, which is now housed in Galveston indefinitely, to the Big Easy though it does plan to resume weeklong New Orleans-based voyages at some point.
In the meantime, much of the tourist district is back in business. Bonura says that the city's historic French Quarter, its garden district, much of Uptown and most of the riverfront neighborhoods didn't flood at all. Among the attractions and restaurants that have reopened are Emeril's Restaurant, the Cafe du Monde, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, K-Paul's Restaurant and St. Louis Cathedral. Among the hotels in operation are the Hilton Riverside, the Sheraton on Canal Street, the Marriott, the Bourbon Sonesta, Holiday Inn Select and the Omni Royal Orleans.
According to Bonura, "The real big opening for tourism will coincide with Fat Tuesday, the culmination of Carnival-related events that take place from February 20 - 28" -- though he does say that Mardi Gras this year will be a bit more low-key than last.
We will, as always, keep you posted on new developments and would love to hear from folks who either live in New Orleans or who plan to travel there in the near future about their experiences. Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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New Orleans Readies for Cruise Ships
December 13, 2005