PHOTO: Carnival Cruise Line commemorates the expansion of the Long Beach terminal. (photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line)
In a surprise move, Carnival Cruise Line just unveiled that it would be homeporting its upcoming new vessel
—the 2019 Carnival Panorama—on the U.S. west coast year-round from Long Beach, California.
This is major news because such a deployment hardly ever happens, though it certainly should.
To give a clear sense of how infrequently Southern California is the base for a brand new cruise ship, it’s the first time Carnival has opted for it in two decades. I was on site at the newly expanded Long Beach terminal over the weekend to hear the news from Carnival President Christine Duffy firsthand, and I was both astonished and delighted.
Norwegian Cruise Line got the ball rolling in part when it announced it would be introducing its upcoming Norwegian Bliss in Alaska. However, it is only going to be there for a few months per year, alternating to the Caribbean in the off-season. In between, it too will be making several stops in Los Angeles for Mexican Riviera roundtrips from the port of San Pedro.
Helping, of course, is a resurgence of interest in Mexico itself. Carnival has always remained committed to the region: Even during the downturn, the brand was sending its Carnival Imagination and Carnival Inspiration on short getaway cruises to Ensenada and its Carnival Miracle farther south on weeklong voyages.
Now that the company has expanded its Long Beach terminal, it has replaced the Miracle with the larger Carnival Splendor for 2018 and will again swap out for the even bigger Carnival Panorama in 2019.
Previously, the east coast was predominantly earmarked for new vessels with hand-me-downs eventually making their way west. The recent Carnival Vista will move to Galveston as this year’s new Carnival Horizon comes to Miami. So if anything, it was expected that California might be next to get the Vista the year after with the Horizon shifting to Texas if the Panorama had gone to Florida.
Instead, the Panorama is going to Los Angeles. I’ve always believed that passengers interested in the latest ships would follow wherever they go—not just to the world’s cruise capital of Miami—and it would seem Carnival agrees.
Best of all, it might only be the start of a trend.
Carnival is also working on an Ensenada development project set for completion in 2020. Very few details have been revealed thus far, but it is said to be a unique dining, retail and attraction complex too, “make Ensenada one of the West Coast’s premier destinations,” according to Carlos Torres de Navarra, Carnival’s vice president, strategic and commercial port development.
Knowing how much vacant space exists pier-side in the Mexican port, that could potentially foreshadow a Grand Turk- or Amber Cove-type environment complete with the likes of a Margaritaville, swimming pool and waterslides immediately off the ship. (If nothing else, one can at least dream.)
It’s also not just Carnival that could follow suit. Plus, only Long Beach and San Pedro as homeports and Mexico and Alaska as destinations have thus been discussed off the west coast. Within the broader Carnival Corporation, Holland America Line is dedicated to departures from my hometown San Diego, with the brand leaving for Hawaii as well. Additional corporate cousin Princess Cruises also features the Cali coast from San Pedro.
These and other companies that call on California (like the Disney Cruise Line) could surely expand west with ever new ships as their fleets continue to grow. Already looking good for the future, cabin categories are selling out on Norwegian Bliss’ L.A. departures.
Should such demand sustain, I predict more fresh ships will follow and start a trend accordingly.