August 21, 2001
Tampa, New Orleans and Galveston may never rival Miami and Port Everglades as cruise port meccas but Royal Caribbean’s announcement that it will base ships in all three cities during the winter 2002-2003 cruise season gives these Gulf metropolis’ a boost. This is an expansion of Royal Caribbean’s first test drive, which occurs this winter. Rhapsody of the Seas will sail western Caribbean itineraries, in two-month stints, from Tampa, New Orleans and Galveston. The big fuss about today’s announcement is that the cruise line will expand its presence in the following winter season not only by giving each city a ship of its own but also by home porting the vessels in that market for the entire winter season. Nordic Empress will sail from Tampa (November 2002 - April 2003). Grandeur of the Seas will base in New Orleans (November 2002 - April 2003). And Rhapsody of the Seas will operate out of Galveston (December 2002 - March 2003). Itineraries will hit the usual western Caribbean hot spots -- Grand Cayman, Cozumel, the line’s private island -- with a few interesting additions, such as Belize City, Progresso (Mexico) and late night (or overnight) stays in Key West. Royal Caribbean’s strategy is one pioneered a few years ago by Carnival which, in an effort to reach what is called the “drive-to” market (i.e. seasonally base ships in ports near big population bases), created seasonal alternatives to the usual Florida ports. Carnival has already established a presence along the Gulf of Mexico but other occasional "home ports" are Charleston, S.C. and Norfolk, Va. Numerous cruise lines, including Carnival, Holland America, NCL and Celebrity operate Bermuda and/or Canada/New England itineraries out of New York City.