Music and golf fans in New Orleans have firmly established events this weekend in Jazz Fest and the Zurich Classic, but organizers of the U.S. Navy’s Navy Week nevertheless expect thousands of visitors to head to the riverfront for a firsthand look at six ships that will arrive in New Orleans starting Thursday.
NOLA Navy Week, which last came to the city three years ago and won’t be back until at least 2018, runs through Monday, offering tours of naval ships from the United States, Canada and England, as well as fireworks, a seafood cook-off, Navy band concerts and community service projects.
The ships bring with them about 2,700 sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen. Most of them will remain onboard to conduct tours and man their posts, but about 1,100 will be on leave to experience the city and participate in three days of community service projects, such as building homes, beautifying parks and planting trees.
Navy Region Southeast spokesman Steve Strickland said New Orleans is a popular destination for servicemen and women because of its food, entertainment and culture.
“They’re very excited about coming to visit,” he said. “We’re all excited about coming to New Orleans and showing the citizens from this area the latest technology and the great sailors who are our first line of defense.”
The U.S. ships coming to the city are the USS Wasp, the USS Cole, the USS James E. Williams and the USCGC Dauntless, while Canada will be represented by the HMCS Athabaskan and England by the HMS Lancaster.
Free tours are available for groups on Friday and Monday morning, while the general public can tour any of ships during the morning and afternoon throughout the event. A schedule of available tour times and other information can be found at nolanavyweek.com .
The cook-off will be held at Spanish Plaza from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, pitting the ships’ culinary specialists against Louisiana chefs.
NOLA Navy Week also includes lectures at the Historic New Orleans Collection, Navy Brass Band performances and a gala for executive officers at the National World War II Museum.
The city is putting on a fireworks display on the river at dusk Monday.
Mark Romig, CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., said New Orleans is a great fit for Navy Week because it’s a port city with a strong military history.
He said the Navy contacted the Landrieu administration in 2010, hoping the city could host the Navy Week tour in 2012 because that was the bicentennial of the start of the War of 1812, considered the founding of the modern-day Navy.
Romig said the city expects to host the event again in 2018. “We see it as an ongoing process,” he said.
He said that three years ago, bad weather dampened attendance on Saturday, but 10,000 visitors passed through one of the ships on Sunday, breaking a record.
“It was great, and that is one of the reasons we’re back,” Strickland said.
Strickland said he expects between 3,000 and 5,000 people a day to tour the amphibious assault ship Wasp, the largest of the ships in port.
Romig said the city hasn’t done any specific studies on Navy Week’s economic impact, but the ships will restock their provisions while they are here, and the sailors on liberty will undoubtedly spend dollars locally.
“It’s a wonderful treat for servicemen and women,” he said.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.