Passengers onboard both ships may disembark Sunday or spend one more night onboard and disembark Monday morning. Passengers scheduled for the next cruise onboard Elation may board between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday; passengers scheduled to sail on Conquest may board between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday.
"Our top priority was to keep a safe distance from the storm while we waited for the river to re-open," Carnival Cruise Lines President and CEO Gerry Cahill said in a news release. "We are pleased to be able to get our ships back into New Orleans earlier than what was originally anticipated as the storm was moving towards the coastline. We apologize to our guests for the inconvenience caused by Tropical Storm Karen and we extend our appreciation to all of the officials and maritime partners in New Orleans who have worked with us throughout to manage the situation as smoothly as possible."
(11:45 a.m. EDT) -- Tropical Storm Karen, which is bearing down on the Gulf Coast, has forced Carnival Cruise Lines to make itinerary changes for two of its ships that homeport in New Orleans.
Port of New Orleans authorities shut down traffic to the Mississippi River in anticipation of the storm, expected to make landfall Saturday night into Sunday morning. As such, Carnival Elation and Carnival Conquest remain at sea, unable to return to port as scheduled.
Elation, which originally was to return Saturday to New Orleans instead will arrive Monday. Likewise, Conquest, which was supposed to reach the port Sunday, will also arrive Monday.
According to a news release from the Port of New Orleans, passengers onboard both ships "are being kept apprised via announcements and letters delivered to their cabins and are being provided the ability to make complimentary phone calls."
Conquest and Elation are safely away from the storm, according to the release.
Passengers who were scheduled to leave Saturday on Elation on a five-night Western Caribbean cruise instead will leave Monday on a three-night "Fun at Sea" cruise. To compensate for the shortened itinerary, Carnival is refunding 50 percent of the cruise fair, offering a 50 percent discount on future three- to five-night cruises, refunding government fees and taxes, adjusting gratuities to reflect the shorter cruise and refunding all prepurchased shore excursions.
Passengers booked Sunday's seven-night Eastern Caribbean sailing on Conquest now will leave Monday on a six-night Eastern Caribbean cruise that will skip Freeport, The Bahamas. Conquest still will visit Key West, Florida, and Nassau, The Bahamas. To compensate, Carnival is providing a one-day prorated refund of cruise fair, refunding government fees and taxes for the missed Freeport stop, adjusting gratuities to reflect the shorter cruise and refunding prepurchased shore excursions for Freeport.
Passengers who don't want to sail the altered itineraries can request refunds or future cruise credits, according to a statement from Carnival.
Because of the nature of the storm, authorities are unable to determine precisely when they will reopen the Mississippi River. Once its reopened, it will take the ships about eight or nine hours to reach the port.
All itinerary changes are "tentative," and Carnival will provide an update Sunday.
According to the Carnival statement, additional staff will be deployed to New Orleans to help passengers on the affected cruises.
--By Colleen McDaniel, Managing Editor