April 15, 2003
It looks pretty definite: Carnival Conquest, now in its sixth week of using Gulfport as a temporary homeport, likely has six more to go. "We had said at the time [of the switch from New Orleans] it will be a minimum of six and maybe as many as 12 weeks," says Carnival spokesman Tim Gallagher. "The biggest issue is that we have to be sure, based on river forecasts -- the height of the river -- that we don't return to New Orleans prematurely." In fact, nature's unpredictability could potentially result in Conquest keeping its Gulfport hub a few voyages beyond. "There is a chance for that," Gallagher says, "if the forecast for a rising river extends beyond the original 12 week period." At this point, the last planned Gulfport-based departure/arrival concerns the Conquest's May 25th sailing. Gulfport, despite the inconvenience for passengers who are flying in to New Orleans and then have to be transported, has been, by and large, a successful experiment, Gallagher says. "The only issues we've really had in Gulfport are weather issues -- fog, high winds, storms -- and some of those we may have had in New Orleans anyway. The people of Gulfport -- and the whole tourism infrastructure have knocked themselves out to make it work and it's worked well." Tourism honchos in Gulfport, which until Conquest's arrival had no regular cruise ship callers, have been actively courting cruise lines. Gallagher's assessment that "Gulfport getting a cruise ship -- dedicated on a seasonal basis -- is just a matter of time" has nothing, however, to do with keeping Conquest there permanently.