Coast Welcomes Cruise Executives To Town - - The News for South Mississippi

Coast Welcomes Cruise Executives To Town

The day-long visit by the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association was considered a crucial step in South Mississippi's quest for a cruise ship.

"This is a big day in Mississippi," Gulfport Mayor Ken Combs told the people who welcomed the cruise industry delegation to town. Combs said it was especially important for the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

That's why Coast leaders gave their special guests the red carpet treatment. Cruise association president Michelle Paige said the area's enthusiasm definitely made an impression on the cruise industry.

"You've empowered us to learn about Gulfport," the FCCA president said. "You empowered us to find out why we should bring cruise ships here."

And so once the pomp and circumstance was over, the fact finding tour started. The cruise executives met with airport leaders. And then they took a bus tour of the Port of Gulfport. At one point, the bus stopped near the Copa Casino. Cruise executives got off and saw the spot the port will turn into a cruise terminal, once the Copa moves into a new barge.

Overall, the cruise executives said they got a good overview of South Mississippi.

But Royal Caribbean vice president Mike Ronan said it may be premature to predict when ships could dock here. "I think it's now a matter of evaluating what the facilities are," Ronan said, "the size vessels that can be handled, and when would it be feasible to bring a vessel."

Ronan thought the earliest a Port of Gulfport ship could be added to a cruise line schedule would be in 2004.

One of the stops the cruise line executives made Friday was at Grand Casino Gulfport. If a ship docks on the coast, a Grand ballroom would be used for passenger check in, until a permanent facility could be built at the port.

By Brad Kessie

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