Port tops 1M cruise passengers _lowres

Photo provided by the Port of New Orleans -- The 2,340-passenger Norwegian Dawn is among four cruise ships that sail out of the Port of New Orleans..

The number of passengers who went through the cruise ship terminals at the Port of New Orleans topped 1 million for the first time in 2014.

Port officials said the passenger total was up 2.6 percent for the year, setting a new record for the fourth consecutive year. New Orleans ranks as the sixth-largest cruise port in the U.S. by the Cruise Lines International Association.

Gary LaGrange, port president and CEO, said the number of passengers has increased 180 percent since 2001, the year New Orleans began to seriously market itself as a premier cruise destination. LaGrange credits the rapid growth in activity to a number of factors, such as an improving economy that caused more people to have the money to take a cruise and the fact that New Orleans has a lot of attractions.

“People can come down here from North Dakota or Illinois and spend 2½ nights in New Orleans and get a cruise on top of that, so it’s like getting two vacations,” he said.

Port officials said studies have shown that more than 80 percent of cruise passengers in New Orleans are from out of Louisiana. Sixty percent of the out-of-state guests spend an average of two nights in New Orleans. Those passengers and shipboard crew spend about $75 million in New Orleans.

Direct cruise industry expenditures pump $406 million into the Louisiana economy, support more than 8,100 jobs and account for $323 million in total income.

Four cruise ships are homeported in New Orleans: the 3,646-passenger Carnival Dream, the 2,052-passenger Carnival Elation, the 2,340-passenger Norwegian Dawn and Royal Caribbean’s 2,476-passenger Serenade of the Seas. Royal Caribbean has said the Serenade of the Seas will be leaving New Orleans in April.

LaGrange said the loss of the Serenade of the Seas will not have much of an effect on the 2015 passenger totals at the port.

“That ship normally comes in here for November, so we’re only missing out on five or six weeks,” he said.

While it will be a challenge to top 1 million passengers in 2015, LaGrange said the port has a good shot at doing it. “We’ve seen an uptick in ports of call ships that visit New Orleans for one, two or three days at a time,” he said.

Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.