Welcome back, Carnival.
The city of Mobile officially returns to the cruising business with the inaugural sailing of the Carnival Fantasy on Wednesday.
The 2,056-passenger vessel, sold out for its initial five-day voyage to Mexico, is set to leave the Alabama Cruise Terminal at 4 p.m. The five-day excursion will include stops in Cozumel and Progreso before returning to Mobile.
City officials expect the ship to arrive between 6-7 a.m. It departed Miami on Monday.
“At long last (Wednesday), we’ll have a cruise ship,” Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “If you see some strangers walking the sidewalks or checking into hotels, please show them some of that Mobile hospitality.”
The city has a day of events planned to welcome back Carnival Cruise Lines following a five-year hiatus. The last vacation voyage to leave the Alabama Cruise Terminal was the Carnival Elation in 2011.
“It will truly be a great moment for all of south Alabama when we see the Carnival Fantasy enter the Mobile River,” Stimpson said.
Stimpson will officially open the newly renovated terminal with a ribbon cutting at 10:20 a.m.
The terminal received $4.1 million in improvements and enhancements over the past year. More than half of that investment came from the state, and almost all of the work will be completed in time for Wednesday’s event.
Said Sheila Gurganus, general manager of the cruise terminal: “The city of Mobile can be very proud of what you’ve all done.”
A special invitation-only event and reception will take place around 11 a.m. Among the events is a charity competition featuring Stimpson, Carnival President Christine Duffy and Carnival Fantasy Captain Palomba Bruno. The competition will benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Southern Alabama and Feeding the Gulf Coast.
In addition, there will be a traditional maritime plaque exchange between cruise line and port officials.
A public send-off for the cruise ship will occur at 4 p.m. at Cooper Riverside Park.
Stimpson, meanwhile, is encouraging Mobile area residents to take a cruise during the 13-month initial agreement between the city and Carnival.
A longtime local travel agent predicts the inaugural cruise to be “45 to 50 percent” filled with Mobile area residents.
“While (Wednesday) will be a day filled with celebration, our work must continue if we’re going to maximize this opportunity,” he said. “If we all work together, it’s exciting to think where we can go as a community.”
Carnival left Mobile in 2011 amid company concerns for raising prices of its Mobile cruises, hindering its cash flow from the region.
Carnival officials, however, have said that the Carnival Fantasy cruises out of Mobile have be selling well. The company has scheduled 84 sailings out of Mobile through the end of November 2017.
Lawrence Specker contributed to this report.