Carnival expects Panorama’s cooking classes to sizzle

T1125CULINARY2_HR

Occupying 1,350 square feet on the Panorama’s Deck 4, the Carnival Kitchen will feature nine cooking stations.

Will guests who pick their vacation primarily for fun find it in a classroom? Carnival Cruise Line is about to find out. The line’s newest Fun Ship, the Carnival Panorama, will be it’s first to have a culinary studio for cooking classes.

Occupying 1,350 square feet on Deck 4, the Carnival Kitchen features nine cooking stations designed for 18 students per class. With its debut, Carnival becomes the first contemporary cruise line to offer a full-time space for cooking instruction.

To date, culinary arts centres have been more common on ships that sail for premium or luxury lines, which tend to have longer, more global itineraries that involve more sea days than mass-market lines. In addition to catering to the desire for enrichment and engagement, the luxury lines’ culinary centres provide guests with something to do while their ship is travelling on long ocean legs between ports.

However, Carnival’s voyage model is the opposite: short cruises sailing from domestic ports with frequent stops.

Cyrus Marfatia, the cruise line’s vice president of culinary and dining, said he’s confident that a culinary centre can succeed, in part thanks to the line’s experience with its 16-person Chef’s Table on other ships.

“When we started, we used to do it twice a week, and maybe the second [session] wouldn’t even fill up, and that’s only 16 seats,” Marfatia said. “Now we find that on ships like the Horizon and Vista, we do six days a week and there’s always a waitlist.”

That growth resulted in revised thinking about the concept.

“We felt there is a lot of natural demand for people to deal with food and learn food, so we thought of it as ‘Why not? Why not try it?'” he said. “And we were pleasantly surprised, because when we opened it up for reservations, it was very, very positive, and it had limited awareness.”

The Carnival Panorama is scheduled to launch Dec. 14 and sail seven-day, roundtrip itineraries to the Mexican Riviera from Long Beach, Calif. Marfatia said there are three sea days on the itinerary, providing a fair chance to sample the Carnival Kitchen.

On sea days, Carnival plans to hold up to three one-hour classes during the day plus a two-hour evening session that combines a class with dinner. The day classes are $30 per person, the evening ones are $59.

On port days, the $30 buys a two-hour combined class and lunch, a little extra incentive for those who feel they might be missing something by not going ashore, Marfatia said. There is also a two-hour dinner class.

Marfatia said that because of the types of foods they will be making, guests won’t get bored. Classes come with fun course titles such as “Bake Shop & Pie Town,” “Tailgate Party” and “It’s an Ice Cream Kind of Day.”

“We have a pie-making class. We have an entertaining class, pizza. All of these are fun things to do,” said Marfatia, who added that the format is also family-friendly. “So fun and education kind of come together.”

Carnival has tapped Juliana Barrera, a Colombian chef who has worked at Carnival for several years, to run the program. In addition to teaching, she will enlist guest chefs drawn from Panorama’s diverse galleys who are experts in ethnic specialities such as Indian or Mexican.

A course titled “The Orient Unknown” may be taught by a Thai or Indonesian chef, Marfatia said.

“If there is a sushi-making class, a chef from Bonsai will come and visit,” he said, referring to the name of the line’s sushi bar.

Culinary studios took off about a decade ago with their inclusion on the Oceania Cruises newbuilds Marina and Riviera. But the 4,000-passenger Panorama is triple the size of those ships, so if the classes prove popular, they may be oversubscribed.

Marfatia said that if the sea days sell out, Carnival would consider adding more classes on port days.

Carving out dedicated space for culinary instruction is taking a bit of a chance, Marfatia admitted, because real estate comes at such a premium on a cruise ship. On other Carnival ships, sometimes even the Chef’s Table is held in a dining room annexe or in the library.

Customer research so far suggests the classes will find an audience.

“We’ll learn as we go along, and one of the strengths of Carnival is that we are able to implement and make changes on the fly,” Marfatia said. “So we’re not going to be stuck in something that doesn’t work.”

Two cruise lines regroup after Caribbean setbacks

The Norwegian Sky in Havana in a 2017 photo.

Norwegian Sky outside Havana Port, Cuba.

Two cruise companies affected by sudden upsets in the Caribbean and Bahamas region are slowly regaining their footing.

For Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH), the big blow was the abrupt end to U.S. cruises to Cuba in June. NCLH had bet heavily on Cuba’s reopening, scheduling not only short cruises on its contemporary Norwegian Cruise Line brand but longer visits by its two premium brands, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

As detailed in a conference call with investors, the U.S. government decision to shutter Cuba with no advance warning hit NCLH third-quarter earnings big-time.

“Given the suddenness of the termination and the lack of lead time we had to make any meaningful fleet redeployment changes, the third quarter bears the largest negative earnings impact from the Cuba travel ban,” said Frank Del Rio, the company’s CEO.

The hit was more than $47 million.

Overnight, high yielding routes to Cuba for the Norwegian brand turned into low-yielding routes to the Bahamas. And several months later came Hurricane Dorian, which made its own dent in NCLH’s earnings through cancelled sailings and reworked itineraries.

Del Rio said Norwegian plans to redeploy half of its Bahamas capacity to higher-yielding areas such as Alaska, the eastern Mediterranean and Asia, and will slowly get out from under the Cuba aftermath.

Even more impacted by Dorian than Norwegian was Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, whose only destination is the Bahamas.

It suspended its two-day sailings to Grand Bahama for most of September, filling in the time by providing much-need relief and evacuation services.

The silver lining, of sorts, is that Dorian forced Bahamas Paradise into a new market, Nassau, which was not much affected by the storm. It now runs one of its ships from West Palm Beach to Grand Bahama and the other to Nassau.

Bookings for Nassau started slow, said Francis Riley, senior vice president of sales and marketing, but are now on par with those to Grand Bahama. Part of the attraction is the Cruise & Stay program where guest can vacation for two or four nights at one of four Nassau hotels:  Atlantis, The Melia, the Comfort Suites Nassau or the SLS Baha Mar.

Bahamas Paradise has a similar program in place on Grand Bahama with the Lucayan, which has reopened, and the Viva Wyndham, which plans to reopen Dec. 10.

Unlike Norwegian, Bahamas Paradise doesn’t have plans to go elsewhere, and it is busy selling the Bahamas to Canadians and New Yorkers, who have just started getting the frosty temperatures they can look forward to until next spring.

Norwegian Alters Cuba Itineraries, Quantifies Financial Impact

Norwegian Cruise Line ship in Havana
Norwegian Sky cruise ship in Havana Cuba. (Photo by Brian Major).