After bowing out of the local market more than a year ago, Princess Cruises has decided to resume weekly trips again out of the Port of Los Angeles.

Beginning in late September, the cruise line will return to L.A. with a weekly seven-day voyage to the Mexican Riviera, an excursion that it hasn't offered on a regular basis since early 2000.

The company will launch the sailing season with the 1,950-passenger Sea Princess, a 77,000-ton ship built in 1998. But in March, the cruise line will replace the Sea Princess with the new Star Princess, a $450 million ship being built at an Italian shipyard. During the summer months, the Star Princess will sail to Alaska.

"We think this is a strong market for us," said Denise Seomin, a spokeswoman for the line.

Princess Cruises, which first served the Southern California market in the 1960s, pulled out in early 2000 to concentrate on its winter Caribbean cruises out of Miami and its summer Alaskan cruises out of Vancouver, British Columbia. Occasionally it would operate a cruise to Mexico out of Los Angeles, but it hasn't been offering weekly cruises to that area since February 2000.

The move in part reflects increased competition among cruise lines operating out of Miami.

Slower bookings

"All these companies are looking at new ports outside of Florida," said Dean Gianoukos, an analyst with J.P. Morgan & Co. "Carnival is leaving out of Texas now. Cruise lines are leaving from Seattle, New York, Boston and Mobile, Alabama. This takes away the air time from the trip and saves money. I imagine Princess is reviving the Mexican Riviera (Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas) to eliminate the fly time and to make the trip more affordable."

The move also comes at a time when a declining economy has slowed bookings aboard ships. Princess Cruises, the world's third-biggest cruise ship operator, had a fourth-quarter loss in 2000 of $3.4 million, compared with net income of $44.3 million during the like year-earlier period.

The economic slowdown comes at an inconvenient time for cruise lines that are ramping up and adding new ships to their fleets. Princess Cruises currently operates 10 ships but will have 12 in its line-up by May 2004.

"Right now there is a huge glut of cabins on the seas," said Rhonda Holguin of Montrose Travel, which specializes in booking cruise line trips. "Also, the American public is still a little hesitant to travel on a ship because they are afraid they will be bored and there is not enough to do."

The cruise industry is trying to resolve that. The new ships have new amenities such as ice skating rinks, rock climbing walls and elaborate spas. The 2,600-passenger Star Princess will have a wider selection of restaurants, an on-board wedding chapel and a 24-hour Internet caf & #233; with 25 computer stations.

The return of Princess Cruises is another bit of good news for port officials looking to enhance Southern California's status in the cruise industry. Currently, the Royal Caribbean and Carnival lines each sail two ships a week to Mexico.

In addition, Miami-based Carnival plans to break ground in a week on a cruise ship terminal out of Long Beach next to the Queen Mary. By next year, Carnival will be sailing one ship out of Long Beach and one out of Los Angeles.

Cruise operators long have complained that the port, located in San Pedro, is ugly and caters primarily to cargo containers and oil tankers. In response, the port earlier this year announced it would spend $10 million to revamp its cruise terminal, which was expected to be completed by the time the Star Princess arrived in March.

But the port has delayed the bidding process, pushing the terminal project back six months. The port is trying to meet the city's requirements for contracting with minority and women-owned businesses.

Instead of being finished in March, the cruise terminal will be unveiled in September 2002.

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