Mississippi River cruises set to dock in Baton Rouge for first time in a year
BATON ROUGE - On Tuesday morning the American Jazz, a river cruise ship, will dock in downtown Baton Rouge, becoming the first ship to bring passengers to the capital city since the COVID-19 pandemic brought cruise liners to a halt.
American Jazz is expected to dock Tuesday at 7 a.m., and the American Duchess riverboat is scheduled for Saturday. Both ships will have fewer passengers amid coronavirus restrictions, but business owners downtown are thrilled to welcome them.
"It's fun dealing with them," Fred Taylor of Poor Boy Lloyd's said. "I like to pick on them and play with them, and they enjoy it too."
From March 2020 through the end of the year, 145 river cruise dockings were canceled in Baton Rouge, according to Visit Baton Rouge.
With many downtown employees still working from home, Taylor says the passengers from these ships will provide a much-needed boost like they had before the pandemic took hold.
"Last year we had nothing," Taylor said. "This is only a plus. A cruise ship is [a] plus. Anything we get from them is a plus."
Taylor acknowledges the past year has been difficult for the po'boy shop but is choosing to see the return of cruise liners as a step forward.
"We [are] all trying to catch up now," Taylor said. "Everybody [is] trying to catch up right now, and it important, right now, to have something positive."
Including the American Jazz and the American Duchess, 100 riverboat cruises are expected to stop in Baton Rouge during 2021. Tourism officials, like Paul Arrigo of Visit Baton Rouge, say this group of passengers, spend at least tens of thousands of dollars a year in museum and attraction tickets, meals, and merchandise. They're hoping these first ships to return will begin to pour dollars into businesses, who need them badly.
"At a time when need it, at the locations that we need," Arrigo said, "Certainly the attractions, the museums, and the hotels have felt the pandemic as negatively as any other industry. Certainly now bringing that back to these museums and attractions is big news."
Ahead of the American Jazz's docking, Taylor is looking forward to once again teasing out-of-town guests, but he's also optimistic this will be the beginning of a return to normal for his iconic eatery.
"We missed out on parades, we missed runs, we missed events down here," Taylor said, looking back on 2020. "This is only a plus, and hopefully, thank God, something's coming back. I don't know."
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