Ports & Terminals

Port Of New Orleans Cruise Business Back To Pre-COVID Levels

Before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the cruise industry around the world to a complete halt, cruise business in the Port of New Orleans was booming. In early 2020, larger ships were making New Orleans their home port, Disney was just beginning its inaugural season sailing from the Big Easy, and river cruising was up 15 percent year-over-year.

Long known for its bulk, breakbulk and container cargoes, New Orleans in 2020, thanks to its passenger cruising growth, was even exploring the feasibility of adding another cruise terminal.

Then COVID hit, and mass travel, including cruises, ground to a stop.

But that was four years ago, and passenger cruising is long since back. In 2023, the Port of New Orleans finished the year with close to 1.2 million cruise passenger movements, which completed the port’s cruise comeback from COVID.

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“The cruise business has rebounded in New Orleans, and cruise line partners are confident in our Port NOLA cruise market,” Port NOLA President and CEO Brandy Christian said. “This is really encouraging as our cruise business drives tourism and contributes significantly to the hospitality industry. We want to thank all our cruise line and hospitality partners as we work together to make cruising out of New Orleans two vacations in one.”

This year, Carnival is marking its 30th year cruising from New Orleans, and the company homeports two ships year-round in the Crescent City. According to Port NOLA, Norwegian Cruise Line has just signed a five-year extension for sailing from New Orleans, with a new ship, the Norwegian Getaway, set to replace the Breakaway in October. Disney returned to New Orleans in January, and Royal Caribbean will follow suit in November. Port NOLA also lays claim to being the home port for nine river cruise vessels, including the Viking Mississippi, which began sailing from New Orleans in 2022.

Besides the total number for 2023, the port also set a monthly passenger record last year, logging 155,225 passenger movements and 29 cruise vessel calls in March 2023. The previous monthly record of 154,409 passenger movements and 31 vessel calls was set in February 2020, just days before much of the world shut down because of COVID-19.

Port NOLA also touted the region-wide economic impact of its cruise business, with 90 percent of cruise passengers traveling in from out of state and 73 percent of passengers spending at least an extra day in the New Orleans area either before or after their cruise. That translates to 300,000 hotel room nights in New Orleans for the year and an economic impact of more than $125 million.

“New Orleans is one of the most popular pre- and post-cruise destinations in the country, which is a tribute to our excellent partners at the Port of New Orleans as well as the work of our team at New Orleans & Company,” said Walter Leger III, president and CEO of New Orleans & Company. “Travel drives our economy, but visitors don’t just show up. In a highly competitive marketplace, travelers have choices, and we have to earn their business through aggressive sales and promotion. We are pleased to work closely with the port, the cruise lines and travel advisers to ensure that extremely loyal cruise passengers are selecting to sail from New Orleans instead of competitor cities.”

And while the New Orleans river cruise lineup will be altered since American Queen Voyages ceased operations, Kimberly Curth, press secretary for the port, said the impact will be minor on the availability of river cruises from the Crescent City.

“We continue to see strong demand with our river cruises, including America’s first Viking cruise that was built right here in Louisiana and began sailing from Port NOLA in 2022,” Curth said. “The news regarding American Queen Voyages is disappointing, but it does not, however, reflect the increasing demand for river cruising from the Port of New Orleans. The number of AQV sailings from New Orleans was minimal, so this certainly leaves the door open for another cruise line to offer more sailings and new vessels.”

Besides the Viking Mississippi, American Cruise Lines (ACL) maintains a fleet of three vessels on the Mississippi River, including the American Melody, American Symphony and American Heritage.