For Stewart Chiron, a cruise industry expert popularly known as The Cruise Guy, the news that Royal Caribbean will be leaving the Port of New Orleans in 2015 came as a shock.
"I know about everything in the cruise world," Chiron said by phone. "But I did not know that Royal Caribbean planned to leave New Orleans."
The news came as a surprise to many media outlets as well. Shortly after a story on the decision ran in NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, USA Today and other news sites rushed to cover it.
And yet, anyone with access to the Internet could have discovered Royal Caribbean's plans five months ago, when the cruise line posted its schedules for the 2015 - 2016 season online.
Websites that offer cruise line bookings show that Serenade of the Seas, which has docked at the Port of New Orleans since December 2013, will depart from New Orleans for Boston on April 11.
From there, it will sail to Europe and begin offering seven-day cruises to Russia and Scandinavia from ports in Copenhagen and Stockholm. In November 2015, the ship will then relocate to Ft. Lauderdale and start running 10- and 11-day itineraries to the Caribbean.
In an email, Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Janet Diaz called the move "part of our ongoing global expansion." But she did not disclose whether relocating the Serenade of the Seas was intended to expand the cruise line's existing European fleet or to replace a departing ship.
By examining global cruise ship itineraries, however, Chiron surmised that the Serenade of the Seas will be replacing the Legend of the Seas, a 2,074-passenger ship launched in 1994.
The Legend of the Seas, which is covering Scandinavian, Russian and Norwegian cruise routes this summer, will relocate to Australia next spring before moving on to Southeast Asia.
Chiron said Royal Caribbean's decision to reposition the Serenade of the Seas is the result of not having enough cruise ships to meet an increasing global demand.
"With so many ships being sent to China and Australia, other ships were moved around to compensate," he said. "It's like a game of musical chairs and seasonal ports like New Orleans are sometimes left without a chair when the music stops."
Asia currently holds a 5 percent share of the world's cruise market, according to Cruise Lines International Association, the official trade organization of the cruise industry in North America. But that number is expected to grow substantially as cruising becomes a more popular activity for China's rising middle class.
"Three-hundred million Chinese are projected as potential cruise passengers in the near future -- the equivalent of adding another North America or Western Europe to the cruise market," CLIA said in a recent report on the Asian cruise industry.
Chiron acknowledged that the loss of Royal Caribbean was an unexpected blow to the Port of New Orleans, where the number of cruise ship passengers has risen in recent years. But he stressed that the Port of New Orleans and the city itself were not at fault.
"The cruise industry loves New Orleans," he said. "By no means does this personify a sour relationship between the industry and the port."
"It comes down to how many ships a cruise line has and where they can put them," Chiron continued. "It's easy to imagine Royal Caribbean coming back in 2017."
By Jed Lipinski, NOLA.com
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