Image: Queen Elizabeth 2
Alex Brandon  /  AP
The Queen Elizabeth 2 sails on the Mississippi River as she prepares to dock at the Port of New Orleans Julia Street terminal on Monday.
updated 11/27/2006 11:50:48 AM ET 2006-11-27T16:50:48

The Queen Elizabeth 2, one of the world’s most luxurious cruise ships, arrived an hour before dawn for its first New Orleans stop.

It was a port call — nobody was joining or leaving the cruise, but the 1,778 passengers had more than 12 hours to tour the city as part of a 28-night Caribbean round trip from Southampton, England.

“These ships are important for the port,” said Chris Bonura, a spokesman for the Port of New Orleans. They come at less-than-peak times for cruise wharfs, supplementing the city’s home-ported cruise ships, he said.

The QE2 arrived about 5:30 a.m., 2½ hours earlier than scheduled, but passengers didn’t leave until about 15 minutes before the scheduled 8 a.m. arrival.

That sort of delay is standard, because U.S. Customs paperwork doesn’t start until the ship arrives at the dock, Bonura said.

A study done for the port before Hurricane Katrina found that cruise ships added about $220 million and 2,800 jobs to the local economy. Port president and chief executive officer Gary LaGrange has said the port was on pace to become the fifth-largest cruise port in the country.

Three cruise lines and four ships were home-ported in the city before the storm. Two, Carnival Cruise Line’s Fantasy and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Sun have returned in the last several months. The Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas will return in December. Carnival’s Triumph will debut next year.

Miami-based Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise operator, also owns the Cunard luxury line, currently comprising two ships: the QE2 and the Queen Mary 2, currently the world’s largest and most expensive cruise ship. A new liner, Queen Victoria, will debut in December 2007.

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