How new cruise ships could bring more tourists to Louisiana’s River Parishes

How new cruise ships could bring more tourists to Louisiana's River Parishes

An agreement between landowners and American Cruise Lines has cleared the way for Mississippi River cruises to start docking in Vacherie and sending passengers on excursions to attractions in St. Charles, St. James and St. John the Baptist parishes.

If all goes well, the cruise ships should start docking near the St. James-St. John parish line in a few weeks, said Jay Robichaux, executive director of the Louisiana River Parishes Tourist Commission.

For several years, River Parish tourism officials have been trying to get a dock built in Vacherie at the site of an old ferry landing. A stop at Oak Alley plantation has been part of the American Cruise Line itinerary along the Mississippi River, but the ships dock in Ascension Parish and passengers are taken by the plantation by bus, so tourists don’t get to see much of the area. In 2019, officials estimated the cost of building a dock would be in the $3 million to $4 million range. 

But the new ships American Cruise Lines has introduced over the past few years don’t need a dock to unload passengers. The ships edge their nose to land and passengers exit from the front. “They can dock on a flat surface,” Robichaux said.

Robichaux put the cruise line in touch with the families that own land at the Vacherie site and an agreement was reached.

Now that the ships will be stopping in the River Parishes, tourism officials are working out potential sites for passenger excursions.

They’re looking at a variety of area attractions including swamp tours, Zip NOLA in LaPlace and area plantations. “They’re really impressed with how much stuff we have out here,” he said.

While there aren’t any estimates on the economic impact of what becoming a cruise destination will mean for the River Parishes, officials said it will provide a boost to an area that was hard hit by COVID and Hurricane Ida. According to the Cruise Line International Association, the average passenger on river cruise ships is 72 years old and spends $128 at each shore stop.

“This will introduce St. James Parish to the country and the world,” said St. James Parish President Pete Dufresne.

Tourism officials still want to build a dock to allow more cruise ships to stop in the River Parishes. Robichaux said he’s talked to the Port of South Louisiana about putting up some money for a dock. 

“This will get us moving in the right direction,” he said. 


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