Local Business Owners Welcome Carnival Conquest Passengers

Grand Casino officials say when Carnival Conquest sailed into Gulfport Sunday morning it was full. There were 3,500 people on board. Sunday, it set sail with thousands of new passengers and with the high volume of people coming and going has some coast business owners very excited about Sundays.

After months of anticipation Brian and Trudy Gollott packed up their bags for a sail aboard the Carnival Conquest. The Gollotts say they were thrilled to find out their 30 year wedding anniversary celebration would not begin with a drive to New Orleans. Once docked on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, they believe the cruise line will forget all about Louisiana.

"I think once they get a taste of what our port is gonna do for them in Gulfport they're not gonna want to leave. I think they'll love it here and I just think good things will happen for us here," Brian Gollott said.

As a business owner, Gollott is also excited about the possible effect on the local economy.

"I think it will bring a lot of dollars, just baggage handlers, people that are going out to eat in restaurants from the waitresses getting to the food suppliers. I'm a food supplier. We sell seafood all over the Gulf Coast," Gollott said.

Ernest Ulrich wants cruise ship passengers to get a taste of the seafood gumbo served at his downtown Gulfport restaurant.

"They're expecting 3,000 potential customers so if we get 5 percent of that, that's a pretty decent day for us," Ulrich said.

Port City Cafe is usually closed on Sundays but not anymore.

"We welcome any additional business. In the restaurant business it can be a seven day week or job and if it is then, hey, that's part of the restaurant business," he said.

Brenda Wynne of Memphis may be the kind of new customer Ulrich has in mind.With a ship due to come in on Sunday, the Wynne family arrived on Saturday night for a first time visit to coast. They took time to get to know the area by worshiping at a church and eating at local restaurant.

Wynne said "It's a great town. It's very nice and clean and all the people are so friendly. I'd love to come to the beach around here and try that out."

Casino officials expect more people, who come to Gulfport to board the ship, will arrive early and spend more time and money in the local area.

Gulfport Grand general manager Joe Billhimer said: "I think in the coming weeks we'll see more customers coming over a little bit earlier, spending time in the casinos obviously but I think the real benefit is for the future of the community to show that we can handle a ship of this size and bring us a cruise ship permanently."

Gulfport business owners will have to wait until next week to get the full effect of what the new cruise line will mean to the local economy. Gulfport Grand Casino officials say people who got off the Carnival Conquest were immediately bussed backed to New Orleans. The cruise originated in Louisiana and many passengers had their cars parked there.