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More companies offering cruises as incentives

More cruise companies sailing from New Orleans

Ten bars and lounges, three swimming pools — one featuring a 115-foot long waterslide — a children’s play room, duty-free shops, full casino gambling, a health and fitness program, two dining rooms, a casual poolside eatery and complimentary 24-hour pizza, ice cream and room service.

No, this is not a description of what Destin, Key West, Ft. Lauderdale or other resort towns have to offer. These are just a few of the amenities of the Holiday, a 1,452-passenger cruise ship of Carnival Cruise Line. Its deployment in April, combined with the upcoming November debut of the largest “Fun Ship” ever constructed, the 2,974-passenger Carnival Conquest, from New Orleans in late 2002, could bring Carnival’s yearly passenger loads from the New Orleans port to 275,000. That’s an increase of more than 250,000 guests annually compared to the line’s first full year of service there in 1995.

The Celebration, now in Galveston, Texas, was the first ship brought in by Carnival, followed by Carnival’s Inspiration, which will be moved to Galveston upon the arrival of the Conquest.

Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas will dock in New Orleans November 2, 2003, for seven-night cruises leaving on Saturdays. The company plans to keep the ship in New Orleans until May 3, 2004.

And Crystal Cruise Lines has also jumped on the bandwagon. They are offering an 11-day Caribbean cruise from New Orleans, followed by a 14-day cruise out of New Orleans on Dec. 22.

Also operating passenger ships from New Orleans in the future will be Delaware North Cos. (DNC), the winning bidder for American Classic Voyages’ steamboats Mississippi Queen, American Queen and Delta Queen. The Buffalo, N.Y.-based holding company paid $80 million for the three ships at an auction in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware on May 6.

The sale will be finalized when it gets federal regulatory approval, which is expected soon. In the meantime, the Delta Queen Company will continue to operate the steamboats.

New Orleans a popular port

Needless to say, New Orleans is becoming a hotspot for passenger vessels. In fact, ships leaving New Orleans have the higher occupancy rates of those leaving any other port in the nation, said Vickie Greenlee, president of For Travelers Only in Jackson. Greenlee, who also serves as president of the Southeast chapter of the American Society of Travel Agents, has seen the number of travelers taking cruises increase exponentially, especially since Carnival began offering four- and five-day cruises from New Orleans.

“The New Orleans market has done very well, I guess because we have such a large population around,” Greenlee said. “Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana are a large drive market for the New Orleans port, plus the people who like to fly in and stay a day or two and then take the cruise. It’s a good destination to cruise from.”

And with the deals on four- and five-day cruises, many companies are rewarding their employees with cruises as incentives.

“Before they could only send them to New Orleans or Mobile,” Greenlee said. “This is a much better reward. This is an exciting vacation they’re now able to offer for incentive trips that people might not do on their own. It’s opened a whole new avenue of incentive trips.”

Rae Anne Ryan, certified travel consultant and president and owner of Travel Affiliates in Gulfport, said prices on five-day cruises on the Holiday start at as little as $220 per person based on double occupancy for an interior cabin, plus port charges and government taxes and fees of $136.04. Tipping, which is standard on Carnival, runs about $49 for a five-day cruise. The total package is just $405.04.

“I think you’ll agree this is a pretty amazing vacation value,” Ryan said.

Coleman Miller, president of Family Mortgage Company Inc. and the president of the Mississippi Mortgage Brokers Association, has already rewarded two of his employees with four-day cruises out of New Orleans.

“The incentive wasn’t that expensive in comparison to other incentives,” Miller said.

Miller has offered incentives to his sales team since 1992 when he opened for business. Last quarter he offered a string of pearls to his top employee.

“It’s a way, rather than putting a plaque on the wall, to say thank you,” Miller said. “The incentive to me is the way to go.”

Miller said offering incentives like cruises gets employees out of a rut.

“They look at the dynamics of a job a little bit differently,” Miller explained.

Not all cruises, however, may be appropriate for incentives depending on the price. Mississippi River steamboat cruises, for example, have historically been more expensive than cruises headed into international waters. According to Ryan, that is because they are U.S.-registered ships and have to abide by U.S. labor laws.

The Delta Queen Company, though, offers domestic cruises for the most discriminating tastes. The company offers three, four, five and six day cruises ranging from $275 per person for a three-day cruise to as much as $4,180 per person for eight-day cruises-price is determined by cabin type and length of stay.

No matter what the budget or taste, there is no arguing that there are plenty of cruises to choose from. Ryan, for one, is thrilled to have so many cruise ships leaving from New Orleans. In the future, even Gulfport may have a cruise line leaving from its port.

“Wouldn’t that be nice?” Ryan asked.

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.


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