High-rise hotel towers across the New Orleans skyline are unmistakable symbols of the city’s important tourism industry. But another type of symbol pulls up to the docks of the port of New Orleans each week in the form of cruise ships, and this part of the tourism equation has been growing rapidly lately.

Late in 2011, three new and larger cruise ships began calling New Orleans home. Altogether these new additions and another slated for the fall of 2012 will drive the city’s cruise passenger capacity up by 112 percent to a combined 10,158 passengers per voyage coming through the city.

“This is truly the most exciting time ever for cruising in New Orleans,” said Gary LaGrange, President and CEO of the Port of New Orleans.

LaGrange says the port has been working to “regain the trust of the cruise industry” after Hurricane Katrina temporarily forced all cruise operators to relocate.

Port officials market New Orleans as two trips in one for cruise passengers, who get to experience America’s most European city with a taste of the Caribbean and then ship off to the Caribbean itself for their cruise.

“By our calculations, the Port of New Orleans is on track to handle nearly one million cruise passengers in 2012, cementing our place as a top-10 cruise port in the United States,” LaGrange says.

The 2,052-passenger Carnival Elation began sailing year-round cruises to Mexico in November and that same month the even-larger Carnival Conquest, carrying 2,974 passengers, started its own seven-day Caribbean itineraries from New Orleans. They were joined by the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s 3,114-passenger Voyager of the Seas, which is sailing seasonal cruises of the western Caribbean.

In addition to these new ships, Norwegian Cruise Line’s 2,018-passenger Norwegian Spirit sails from New Orleans; this ship is scheduled to be replaced by the newer 2,348-passenger Norwegian Star in the fall of 2012.

To accommodate continued growth, the port has been investing in new dockside infrastructure, including a $17 million renovation to its Julia Street Cruise Terminal and plans for a new cruise terminal at Poland Avenue in the city’s Bywater neighborhood.