Carnival recovery to focus on ports in drive markets

The Carnival Horizon in Miami. Carnival Cruise Line is putting renewed focus on U.S. homeports.
The Carnival Horizon in Miami. Carnival Cruise Line is putting a renewed focus on U.S. homeports. Photo Credit: Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line will fall back on a tried-and-true strategy when the line eventually resumes service: It will bolster deployment throughout its network of homeports in mainland U.S. drive markets.

The line has always been the leader in U.S. homeport deployment, but it doubled down after 9/11 when many Americans were scared to fly.

When cruise ships sail again out of U.S. ports, all but three of its 23 ships (24, after the Mardi Gras comes on line in February) will be sailing from U.S. mainland ports. One vessel will be based in Europe seasonally and two in Australia.

And even the ships Down Under will rely on the Aussie drive market.

Fred Stein, vice president of deployment for the line, said that two ports outside the mainland U.S. will lose a Carnival ship in the reshuffle: San Juan and Barbados, where passengers had been able to join seven-day San Juan cruises. Stein said the redeployment is directly tied to the effort to “focus more on our drive market business in North America.”

By getting rid of its older and smaller Fantasy-class ships — the Fantasy and the Inspiration are being dismantled, and the Fascination and Imagination are moving into long-term layup — and adding both the 5,282-passenger Mardi Gras and a sister ship to the fleet later, by 2022 Carnival will have fewer ships but more capacity deployed in its North American homeports.

While an increased emphasis on homeport deployment is part of Carnival’s return-to-service strategy, it has long been a major focus for the line. It was the first, for example, to base ships in Tampa, Fla.; New Orleans; Mobile, Ala.; and San Diego. It expanded into Charleston, S.C., and Baltimore as it added new ships to the fleet.

“Historically we have deployed from 18 North American homeports, and that has been very successful for us,” Stein said. “It delivers a lot of drive-market guests. We’re very popular with families — for families of four to buy an airline ticket on top of a cruise is very expensive.”

Coming out of the pandemic, the strategy is even more important, Stein said.

“It makes more sense now,” Stein said. “Not having to get on an aeroplane gives an advantage during the initial startup phase once all the protocols are put in place.”

Among the winners in Carnival’s U.S. homeport strategy will be California, which will get newer and larger ships and departures from more ports. San Francisco will get more options, with Carnival offering its first Alaska cruises from that port. In another first for San Francisco, four-day “long weekend” trips to Ensenada, Mexico, will be scheduled.

In Long Beach, Calif., it will replace two Fantasy-class ships with the Carnival Radiance. The departing Fantasy-class ships were built in the early 1990s, whereas the Radiance will have recently completed a $200 million upgrade.

“On an overall basis, California is growing,” Stein said. “It has a much higher breadth of choices, and we’ve upgraded the hardware significantly.”

On the other side of the country, Fort Lauderdale will lose some capacity in favour of Miami, which Stein notes is only 25 miles down the road, a distance that’s not a significant factor to cruisers.

Carnival’s one ship that sails seasonally in Europe is its only one that will depend on a fly-in market in 2021. Most of those passengers are sourced from North America, Stein said.

“That’s where our strength is and where our largest pool of past guests are from,” Stein said. “And as they graduate through cruising, Europe is a bucket list item. It skews higher to the past guest market.”

Anthony Hamawy, President of Cruise.com, said that the strategy works well for Carnival because of its focus on families and the value-driven market, as well as its long experience and success with homeport cruising.

“We will see a bigger demand for homeport cruise than we will for cruising that requires that extra flight to get to the cruise,” he said. “We’ve seen that in the past. There is some direct correlation now to what happened around 9/11 when people felt more comfortable a little closer to home, being able to park their car and get on a ship.”

And the early, short cruises from U.S. homeports, Hamawy said, are about more than revenue.

“In the near term, everything will be about stepping stones, going back to basics and taking it slow and easy,” he said. “They are not just looking at [these initial cruises] from a revenue point of view. They are looking to show people it’s safe to cruise again. They are looking to change minds and they need to sail out safely and show consumers you’re not going to have outbreaks.”

He did note, however, that Cruise.com has seen a surge in Europe bookings for 2021.

“There are companies like Royal, Princess, Holland America, Celebrity — they are all doing well with Europe,” he said. “People want to travel again. I think things will reopen and this will turn around a lot quicker than people know. Next year looks very strong for international travel.”

To agents’ delight, new cruise ships steaming for the West Coast

The Norwegian Bliss, shown here in a rendering, will make a June debut in Seattle.LONG BEACH, Calif. — For years, agents on the West Coast have pleaded with suppliers to put new cruise ships in ports near their clients. Now they’re getting their wish.

This year, the Norwegian Bliss will make a June debut in Seattle, the first time a new Norwegian Cruise Line ship has been stationed in the West since the Norwegian Star began sailing in Hawaii in 2001.

Next year, Carnival Cruise Line will launch its latest ship, the Carnival Panorama, in Long Beach, Calif., while Royal Caribbean International will move the Ovation of the Seas, just 2 years old, to Seattle.

Together, the three ships will add more than 12,000 new or nearly new lower berths, at least seasonally, to the West Coast market.

“It’s very exciting. There’s been a big need out here for a long time,” said Betsy Geiser, vice president at Uniglobe Travel in Irvine, Calif. “Historically, it’s been older ships and smaller ships. Carnival’s making a big improvement by bringing [the Panorama] here.”

With their proximity to the Caribbean, East Coast ports, particularly Miami and Fort Lauderdale, have long been the default homeports when a new vessel emerges from the shipyard.

In recent years, ports such as New York have also benefitted as fleets grew and lines cultivated new markets.

But in a sense, the West Coast is the cradle of the industry, said John Mast, vice president of marketing for Expedia CruiseShipCenters in Vancouver.

“It’s important to remember that Princess, with that run down to Mexico, sort of kicked off the U.S. cruise industry in many ways,” Mast said.

The California-Mexico itinerary, immortalized in “The Love Boat” television show, is still a mainstay of the market. Carnival plans to enrich Ensenada with new port activities in a bid to make Long Beach one of its biggest hubs.

“I think there’s been a renaissance going on for the West Coast, and I think that Carnival’s investment is a very strong indicator of that,” Mast said.

There are several reasons why the region is enjoying a rebirth, Mast said. One is the recent expansion of the Panama Canal. Before 2016, the cruise industry’s newest and largest ships couldn’t fit through the locks. Now that a wider channel has been opened, it is easier to move most large ships back and forth.

Also, after several years in which European cruise seasons were marred by terrorist activity, domestic ports have become more attractive long-term investments, especially in excursion-rich Alaska.

Mast said the new ships, with their go-kart tracks and Imax theatres, can help attract a younger demographic to Alaska.

“It seems kind of gimmicky to have a racetrack on the roof,” he said, “but the reality is that Alaska is a wonderful summer vacation for families. Families are a huge market. If I know kids, that will immediately get them excited, and we know that kids play a role in forming the vacation choice.”

For agents, the practical impact of having news ships on the West Coast is that they are easier and more profitable to sell.

Anita Pagliasso, president of Ticket to Travel in San Jose, Calif., said, “Cruisers are very excited about something new. It becomes lucrative because the pricing’s always higher when a brand new ship comes out, so the higher the pricing, the higher the commission. It goes hand in hand, I think.”

Pagliasso said the opportunities extended beyond West Coast agents.

“I think some of the feedback I got, even some of the agents in the Midwest, was that [clients] have gone to Florida enough, and they want something different,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for not only West Coast agents to promote these ships but other agents who have clients who have done all the cruising out of Florida and are looking for something new and exciting.”

NCL terminal in Miami to expand

Image result for Norwegian cruise Miami port

Port of Miami

Norwegian Cruise Line will get an expanded terminal at PortMiami by 2020.
Under a proposal approved by the Miami-Dade County Commission, the existing terminals B and C at the port will be combined and a new Terminal B will be built. The two terminals will accommodate two 5,000 passenger ships at a time.
The cost is expected to be about $100 million.
Already, MSC Cruises is renovating Terminal F for the arrival of its MSC Seaside and Royal Caribbean Cruises broke ground in March for a new Terminal A.