June 22, 2001
In what’s good news for travelers living in easy proximity to the Gulf of Mexico (or those who consider ports like Tampa, New Orleans and Galveston a refreshing change from the usual Miami and Ft. Lauderdale), both Carnival and Royal Caribbean pledged today they not only will continue to operate Western Caribbean itineraries from those locales but also will increase capacity. In both cases, the hype concerns the winter cruise season of 2002/2003 -- a year and a half from now. Why announce them now? Both cruise lines have just opened bookings through that time frame. For instance, Royal Caribbean is adding Grandeur of the Seas to that mix -- it’s taking over the Tampa and New Orleans departures from Rhapsody of the Seas, which will focus numerous winter sailings out of Galveston. Carnival tops that with the announcement that its newest-biggest-ship, the 110,000 Carnival Conquest will homeport in New Orleans with year-round Western Caribbean itineraries beginning December 1, 2002. Still it’s a great coup for New Orleans, considered to be a “regional” port. As to claims from both cruise lines that these ports allow them to offer more variety in Western Caribbean itineraries (from the traditional Key West, Jamaica, Cozumel, Grand Cayman trips) well, yes -- and no. They’re still dominated by the usual ports-of-call though there is a smattering of more exotic locales, like Belize City and Progresso, Mexico.