Mardi Gras delays not surprising but still costly for Carnival

A rendering of the Mardi Gras' top deck.
Carnivals Mardi Gras

When Carnival Corp. announced that it was delaying this year’s delivery of the Carnival Mardi Gras, it had a familiar ring.

The Mardi Gras, the first Carnival Cruise Line ship to be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG), joins ships from two other Carnival Corp. brands that also feature LNG propulsion and weren’t delivered on time.

The shipyards involved have blamed the delays on design complexity, troubles with coordinating subcontractors and the size of the ships, which are each intended to carry more than 5,200 passengers.

In each case, the ships are the first in a new class of vessel for their respective lines. All are built on a common platform introduced by Carnival in 2015 and referred to as the Excellence class.

The platform was adapted for the individual needs of Carnival as well as for Carnival Corp.’s two European brands, Costa Cruises and Aida Cruises.

For North Americans, the Mardi Gras will be the first ship to feature the LNG engines, a big technological leap that promises environmental gains and cheaper operating costs, especially with new restrictions on heavy sulfur fuels that start this year.

But going first has never been a formula for smooth sailing in the cruise industry. New technologies frequently have unforeseen problems that need to be ironed out as they move from the drawing board to actual use.

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World’s First Purpose-Built LNG Bunkering Vessel

Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald alluded to that legacy when asked about the delay in a conference call in December.

“The situation is that historically we’ve had occasional delays with prototypes,” Donald said. “But we’re working with the yard and are in the process of negotiating what we need to do to ensure that future delivery is on time.”

That’s not much consolation for passengers on eight Mardi Gras sailings that were cancelled because of the delay.

Those sailings included a debut cruise in Europe, a transatlantic crossing, a New York preview cruise and the first four sailings from the Mardi Gras’ year-round homeport, Port Canaveral in Florida.

More than 40,000 guests have been notified that their plans have been changed. They will get a full refund and a 25% future cruise credit for their troubles as well as assistance with nonrefundable airline and hotel reservations already booked.

Travel agents who sold the cruises will still receive the commissions they earned, Carnival said.

The first sailing, which had been set for Aug. 31, has now been rescheduled for Nov. 14.

Ben Clement, Carnival’s senior vice president of newbuilds, said that despite working closely with shipyard executives to keep the giant ship on schedule, prudence dictated that it be delayed to get it right.

“While we deeply regret disappointing our guests, this change in the delivery date is required to make sure all of the ship’s systems, features and technology will be fully operational so that we can give our guests the vacation they expect,” Clement said.

Carnival will get some compensation from the shipyard, Donald said, but it will be reflected in the ship’s value on the balance sheet, not on the profit and loss statement, so the loss of the eight cruises in 2020 will likely impact earnings.

Clement didn’t go into detail about what issues are making the ship late. But in the previous cases involving Aida and Costa, the shipyards issued statements.

In October 2018, the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany said that it would push back delivery of the AidaNova from Nov. 15 to Dec. 2. It was eventually delivered to Aida on Dec. 19.

AidaNova was the first cruise ship to be powered by LNG, and Meyer Werft said it “required more time for commissioning and testing of this prototype.”

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Costa Smeralda

Another LNG ship built to the Excellence platform is the Costa Smeralda, which was launched Dec. 20 after being delayed twice. The the shipyard, a Meyer Werft-owned facility in Turku, Finland, cited “the high complexity and the sheer size of the ship project” and noted that it was the the first ship in the class to be built at the Turku yard.

The Carnival Mardi Gras is also being built in Turku.

Using LNG for power instead of diesel requires special pressurized steel tanks to keep the gas in its liquid state. For safety reasons, the tanks must be surrounded by void space, requiring about twice as much room inside the ship as tanks for diesel fuel.

The Mardi Gras is being fitted with three steel LNG tanks and four Caterpillar engines. Carnival officials have said that integrating the tanks, piping and bunkering is the biggest challenge in designing LNG ships.

One reason Carnival and other lines are switching to LNG, despite its complexities, is that natural gas is cheaper than oil. Perhaps more importantly, burning it produces little or no sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide, two health-damaging gases in petroleum exhaust.

By some estimates, natural gas also generates about 15% less carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas implicated in climate change.

Of the first four LNG-powered ships ordered by Carnival, only the P&O Cruises ship Iona, due in May 2020, has not suffered a delivery delay.

In addition to its novel powertrain, the Mardi Gras has several other features not attempted before on Carnival ships.

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P&O Iona

The most prominent is an electric roller coaster that loops around the funnel and most of the upper deck of the ship. Called the Bolt, it is being built by Munich-based Maurer Rides and will require extensive testing for issues of vibration, noise and safety, Carnival has said.

The Mardi Gras is also pioneering an atrium that looks out to see from the side of the ship through a glass wall that spans three stories; a report in the Wall Street Journal noted novel structural problems for supporting that area, which would typically be framed in steel.

Costa Smeralda Passes Propulsion Tests

Costa Smeralda

The Costa Smeralda has successfully passed her sea trials carried out with liquefied natural gas (LNG), according to a statement. 

During the sea trials, which began on Nov. 16, the ship carried out a series of tests to verify the correct operation of systems, equipment and engines with LNG propulsion.

“The fueling of cruise ships with LNG is an innovation in which we were the first to believe five years ago, when we ordered the Costa Smeralda, setting an example for the sector which has since been followed by other companies. It is a safe and reliable technology, which is currently the most effective and feasible solution to ensure a significant reduction in the environmental impact of cruise ships in port and at sea,” said Neil Palomba, President of Costa Cruises.

Once the sea trials were finished, the ship returned to Meyer Turku for her final interior outfitting.

The first cruise will depart from Savona on Dec. 21. The itinerary, which will be repeated until May 16, 2020, will include Savona (Saturday), Marseilles (Sunday), Barcelona (Monday), Palma de Mallorca (Tuesday), Civitavecchia (Thursday) and La Spezia (Friday).

Disney Cruise Line’s fifth: Disney Wish

The Disney Wish's stern will feature Rapunzel.
The Disney Wish’s stern will feature Rapunzel.

Disney Cruise Line’s fifth ship will be called the Disney Wish. At its D23 Expo on Sunday, Disney revealed the name of the ship as well as renderings of its stern design and atrium.

Disney described the three-story atrium as “bright and airy, inspired by the beauty of an enchanted fairytale.”

The stern design features Rapunzel with a paintbrush in hand, suspended by her enchanted blond hair. Her sidekick chameleon, Pascal, holds the easel while Rapunzel paints.

“Spirited, smart, curious and — above all — adventurous, Rapunzel embodies the wish and desire to see and experience the world,” Disney said.

The Disney Wish is scheduled to enter service in January 2022.

The Disney Wish's three-story atrium will be inspired by an enchanted fairytale.
The Disney Wish’s three-story atrium will be inspired by an enchanted fairytale.

“There couldn’t be a better name for our incredible new ship because making wishes come true is part of the Disney DNA and is at the heart of so many of our cherished stories,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.

The Wish will be powered by liquefied natural gas. At approximately 144,000 gross tons and 1,250 guest staterooms, it will be slightly larger than the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy.

Also at D23, Disney revealed new information about Lighthouse Point, its second private destination in the Bahamas, located on the island of Eleuthera.

Disney said Joe Rohde, whose work includes the design of Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park in Orlando and the Aulani resort Hawaii, has taken a cultural tour of the Bahamas to meet with local artists and cultural experts.

“The Lighthouse Point site is so beautiful and so full of nature that we want to preserve this and use our designs to call attention to the extraordinary quality of the place itself — a place of natural beauty with a rich and fascinating cultural tradition,” Rohde said. “We will be directly involved in conservation efforts to preserve and protect the environment that creates this beauty, and we will be working with artists of every kind, much like we did with Aulani in Hawaii, to create a unique destination that is rooted in Bahamian culture and imbued with Disney magic.”

Disney said Lighthouse Point guests can look forward to an island experience that celebrates nature and the spirit and culture of the Bahamas.

Disney said Lighthouse Point guests can look forward to an island experience that celebrates nature and the spirit and culture of the Bahamas.

Disney Cruise Line completed its purchase of Lighthouse Point earlier this year, committing to develop less than 20% of the property and build an open-trestle pier that eliminates the need to dredge a ship channel.

Construction at Lighthouse Point will begin after an environmental impact assessment and environmental management plan are reviewed and accepted by the government of the Bahamas, Disney said. The company said construction could begin in 2020 with completion in late 2022 or 2023.