Hotard Coaches to add cruise ship service

Hotard Coaches will begin offering on Jan. 2 regular bus service between Baton Rouge and the Port of New Orleans tied to cruise ship departures.

The bus company plans to pick up cruise ship passengers from the Home Depot on Highland Road and from its yard at 37180 La. 30, Geismar, said Julie Chalmers, director of sales and marketing for Hotard.

Cost for the roundtrip bus service is $50 a person.

Chalmers said Hotard started the bus service in response to the increasing cruise ship traffic out of New Orleans.

“We’ve gotten a lot of phone calls that we haven’t in the past,” she said.

Since 2009, the number of passengers sailing out of New Orleans has more than doubled from 235,000 to 488,000 in 2012.

Four ships call on New Orleans: the Norwegian Jewel, which can carry 2,376 passengers; the Carnival Sunshine, which can carry 3,002 passengers; the Carnival Elation, which carries 2,052 passengers; and the 2,490-passenger Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas, which is set to arrive Thursday for seasonal journeys.

The Sunshine will leave New Orleans in April and head to Port Canaveral, Fla. Its replacement will be the even larger Carnival Dream, which can carry 3,646 passengers.

While passengers will not be able to leave their vehicles parked in the Home Depot parking lot while they are on a cruise, they will be able to stay parked at the bus yard.

Plans are for the buses to leave Baton Rouge at noon and Geismar at 12:30 p.m. on days when cruise ships are sailing out of New Orleans. This will put the passengers arriving at the docks between 1:30 p.m. and 2 p.m.

Hotard will also launch a similar service east of New Orleans, with buses picking up cruise ship passengers in Gulfport and Ocean Springs, Miss.

“Hopefully, we can expand this as more and more cruise ships dock in New Orleans,” Chalmers said.

That could involve adding bus service to Lafayette.

The service is scheduled to go through December 2014, since cruise lines do their ship schedules a year in advance.

While Hotard hasn’t started seriously promoting the cruise ship service, Chalmers said there has been interest in the buses. She said 11 people have signed up to take the bus to get to a February cruise.

“A lot of people go on cruises in a big group, so it’s nice to go all together and not have to worry about getting family members to drop you off,” she said.