Port of L.A. Bounces Back

New NCL,Princess programs expected to revitalize arrivals

By: Theresa Norton Masek

With Norwegian Cruise Line announcing its first-ever Mexican Riviera program and Princess Cruises doubling its Hawaii roundtrips, the Port of Los Angeles is rebounding from the blow it took earlier this year with Carnival Cruise Lines’ move to Long Beach, Calif.

“We originally thought we were going to be down 50 percent but right now we’re looking at probably being down 25 to 30 percent for 2003,” said Chris Chase, marketing manager for the Port of Los Angeles.

The new seasonal programs announced last week by NCL and Princess reflect the growing West Coast cruise trend and will add thousands of arrivals at the World Cruise Center at Los Angeles.

The arrivals will help bolster the center, which still retains its ranking as the No. 1 cruise port on the Western U.S. coast, but estimates its passenger count of 1 million in 2002 to drop to 700,000 to 800,000 this year. “Originally, when Carnival announced it was leaving, we were very concerned,” Chase said.

“But with the large number of new ships coming onboard, the shift to the homeland cruising mentality and having the second-largest population in the country, we were able to leverage that to get more ships.” Travel agents are welcoming the news.

“The more the merrier,” said Rick Kaplan, president of Cruises Only in Culver City, Calif. “The more tonnage we get based on the West Coast, the better it is for West Coast agents.”

Among the recent boosts for Los Angeles, NCL said its Norwegian Star will operate eight-day cruises from Los Angeles starting Sept. 26, 2004, through April 30, 2005.

Princess, which had scheduled three 15-day Hawaii cruises from Los Angeles this winter and eight in 2004 and 2005, said last week that it will now operate 15 departures starting Sept. 21, 2004 through April 19, 2005. The new Island Princess is replacing the Regal Princess.

“Princess is going big in Hawaii,” said Dean Brown, executive vice president of customer service and sales for Princess. “We’ve been incredibly pleased by the response to our first full program of Hawaii sailings this year ... so next season we’ll offer twice as many departures compared to our 2003-04 program.” NCL’s Star, which has been based in Honolulu since December 2001, will operate cruises that go all the way to Acapulco.

The journey will take two days at sea, but the Star’s 25-knot speed makes the itinerary possible.

The Norwegian Star will also call at Zihuatanejo/ Ixtapa as well as the familiar ports of Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas.

The Norwegian Star, which was prohibited from operating a casino while in Hawaiian waters, will get a casino after it leaves the islands next April. Another boost for Los Angeles came when Royal Caribbean International based its newly renovated Monarch of the Seas in Los Angeles year-round to operate three- and four-night cruises.

The line said the Monarch will be joined Sept. 28 by the Vision of the Seas, which will operate weekly Mexico cruises through May 16.

Chase said he would like the Vision, or any Royal Caribbean ship, to remain in Los Angeles year-round for weeklong cruises.

“We’re really trying to work with Royal Caribbean to get a seven-day ship here year-round,” he said. “That’s one of our areas of attack now.” But the Port of L.A. now finds itself competing against Carnival Corp.’s new cruise terminal near the Queen Mary in Long Beach, the new year-round home of Carnival’s Ecstasy and Elation.

The Carnival Corp. family includes Carnival, Princess, Holland America Line and several other brands. “We’re still competing for Holland America and Princess business and Carnival too,” Chase said. “We compete on price, but sometimes it’s just the availability of a berth. We have three cruise berths and they only have one.”

Los Angeles also promotes its latest renovation, a $17-million project completed last September.