Carnival Cruise Line’s return to Mobile with the largest cruise ship to sail out of the 19-year-old Alabama Cruise Terminal means the crowds are coming.
Steve Aderholt, 62, will be making the trip to Mobile from Millbrook, about a 2-hour and 45-minute drive south.
And then there’s David and Lynn Mosley of Mobile. The two plan to walk about two miles from their home in the Oakleigh Garden Historic District, where they will board the ship on Friday.
“The Mobile port is so well organized, and they get the guests on and off the ship real quick,” said David Mosely, 70, who estimates that he and his wife have been on 50 cruises total, 30 from the Mobile port.
No matter the distance or backgrounds, the city is eager to welcome back the cruise passengers to Mobile. The Carnival Spirit will make its inaugural voyage on Friday. More than 2,100 passengers – the equivalent to the population of Elberta in Baldwin County – will pack into the ship and set sail on an eight-night voyage to the Bahamas.
“We are getting a newer ship with new itineraries,” said Joe Snowden, executive director of administrative services with the City of Mobile. “This is an exciting time for Mobile.”
‘Ships are full’
Indeed, it’s an exciting moment for the downtown businesses that miss the cruisers when they are gone. And over the past 15 or so years, the downtown businesses have organized their hours to accommodate the influx of visitors arriving for a cruise.
“When I started here 15 years ago, there were no restaurants opened on Sunday and Monday nights,” said Fred Renfrey, director of economic development with the Downtown Mobile Alliance. “But we started seeing enhanced hours. The market is responding and gets creative quickly.”
The cruising industry is responsible for an estimated 35,000 room nights in Mobile on an annual basis. The Carnival Spirit will be operating seasonal – from October to May – before it sails to Alaska for summer sailings. The Spirit is set to be in Mobile for at least the next five years.
“We’re cruising to the Bahamas, the Western Caribbean and on six to eight-day itineraries that we’ve never had before,” said David Clark, president & CEO with Visit Mobile. “It’s a good, quality ship. It’s the best ship we’ve ever had.”
Mobile leaders are angling to make an impression. The goal is to restore year-round cruising out of Mobile with the larger ships that Carnival Cruise Line is operating. The older, smaller ships that operated out of Mobile – namely, the Carnival Fantasy, which sailed from 2016-2020 – have since been sent off for scrap.
The objective is to fill the cruise ship while its sailing from Mobile, and at a competitive price at a time when the industry is experiencing a post-pandemic surge. According to a report by the Cruise Lines International Association, cruise passenger volumes are expected to reach 106% of 2019 levels in 2023, with 31.5 million passengers sailing. By 2027, that number is expected to climb to 39.5 million passengers globally.
“The ships are full,” said Steward Chiron, a longtime cruise industry analyst who goes by “Steward the Cruise Guy.”
“Americans are traveling with a vengeance right now,” Chiron said. “They just can’t get away quick enough.”
Carnival is enjoying a financial comeback from the lulls of the pandemic. The Miami-based corporation’s nine brands had full ships during the third quarter of 2023, and the company delivered a profit of over $1 billion, and record revenue. The ships, according to the company, were 109 percent full. Cruise ship occupancy is calculated by having two people in each stateroom, bringing a ship to 100 percent.
“The Florida ports, Galveston, and New Orleans are doing very well,” Chiron said. “We’re hoping to see a strong response from people sailing out of Mobile.”
‘Uptick from reservations’.
The downtown businesses are hoping Mobile reaps the timing of the cruising boom.
T.P. Crockmier’s, a downtown bar and restaurant, was the host venue for Aderholt and about 25-30 other cruisers on Thursday during a meet and greet event organized on social media.
“The main thing is people will get together and talk about the cruise and what they are doing,” said Aderholt.
Aderholt will also be selling the final coins that he and his significant other, Lisa Johnson, designed and have available to sell. The $20 commemorative coins highlight the first sailing of the Carnival Spirit from Mobile. There are only 100 of them, he said.
“Once they are gone, they are gone,” Aderholt said. “You can get a T-shirt. But a T-shirt wears out. These are made of heavy brass.”
Aderholt arrived Thursday and stayed overnight at the Renaissance Mobile Riverview Hotel, a popular hotel for cruisers.
Kent Blackinton, general manager of the hotel, said he anticipates a bump up in business when the cruisers like Aderholt arrive before the ships depart. But he’s hopeful that the longer itineraries – six days or more – will mean the cruisers will be tempted with staying overnight when the ship returns.
“I hope with the different itineraries and demographics, you might seem some post-cruise stays,” he said.
Margo Gilbert, general manager of the Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa, said her hotel is already ahead of reservations compared to last year when the Carnival Ecstasy was sailing briefly in Mobile.
“As soon as the (Spirit) was announced we saw an uptick from reservations coming in,” Gilbert said.
First impressions are also at stake.
“When you get that amount of people in downtown Mobile, and that many people in the area in general, you don’t know if that traveler is on a board of directors for a company that may want to bring their company (to Mobile) for a convention or to come back on vacation. That’s a couple thousands of opportunities we can take advantage of as a city to bring more business in.”
The hotel activity isn’t just for downtown Mobile. Activity spills out into the Eastern Shore of Baldwin County where the Hampton Inn & Suites in Daphne will get cruisers especially once the hotels in downtown fill up.
“There has been an impact after they closed a five-year deal with the Spirit,” said Jim Pappas, the hotel’s general manager.
The hotel offers park and ride packages for cruisers, similar with what is offered at the hotels throughout Mobile.
And the Daphne hotel offers a bit of a tourism attraction itself – it’s a short walk to D’Olive Creek, where it’s not unusual to spot an alligator.
“People love it,” Pappas said.
First published by Alabama.com. Read the full article here.