You might think that a city with its own Carnival Museum, like Mobile, Alabama, would be a good bet for Carnival Cruise Line.
However, Carnival pulled out of Mobile five years ago, citing poor financial results. This year, the line decided to give the city another try, returning this week for at least a year with one of its oldest ships, the 2,056-passenger Fantasy, to offer 4- and 5-day cruises to Mexico.
The move will bring at least 100,000 visitors over the next year to Mobile, which has many of the same charms as New Orleans, and a lot to offer anyone who wants to tack on a pre- or post-cruise stay.
Take that Carnival Museum, for example. While New Orleans has the most famous and well-attended Mardi Gras in the United States, the Carnival celebration in Mobile pre-dates it and claims to be the oldest in the country. Like New Orleans, Mobile was in French and Spanish colonial territory until being annexed by the U.S. in 1813. There are many antebellum homes and seven historic districts within Mobile recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.
The No. 1 tourist attraction in Mobile, according to TripAdvisor, is the USS Alabama, a World War II battleship that became a museum after it was retired in 1962. It is about three miles from the cruise terminal.
New since Carnival last sailed from Mobile is the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum. Opened in 2015, the five-story attraction has more than 90 exhibits based on the Gulf of Mexico, and is walking distance from the dock.
Also new since 2011 are a Duck amphibious vehicle tour; an historic trolley tour; and a Mobile River/Port of Mobile boat tour from WildNative Delta Safaris that will run only on cruise departure days.
And baseball fans know Mobile’s minor league ballpark is named after native son Hank Aaron, but may not know that it hosts a Christmas light pageant in the off season.
Stacey Hamilton, vice president of marketing and communications for Visit Mobile, said the agency’s Very Important Cruiser program provides discounts to almost twenty attractions to anyone that shows a boarding pass.
Mobile is also trying to liven things up on Sunday for cruisers staying overnight before Monday departures.
Hamilton said Visit Mobile is working with the Mobile Arts Council and the Downtown Mobile Alliance to host an arts and crafts market in the historic Cathedral Square and has asked downtown area shops, museums and art galleries normally closed on Sundays to open on those days.
“We’ve branded this ‘Sunday Funday’ and will promote this heavily as a reason to come to town on Sundays and have some fun,” Hamilton said.
All of these additions helped make Carnival’s decision to return to the city.
“Since we were in Mobile in 2011, the Mobile officials have done a tremendous job of creating thousands of new jobs and business investments in the region,” said Terry Thornton, senior vice president of itinerary planning at Carnival.