Carnival Cruise Line nears end of future-proofing journey

As the US-based cruise operator’s decade-long fleet renewal programme nears completion, Charlie Bartlett asks president Christine Duffy what lessons she’s learned

Carnival Cruise Line nears end of future-proofing journey
Christine Duffy discusses what she’s learned over the decade-long fleet renewal

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Carnival Cruise Line is nearing the end of a busy decade-long fleet renewal project, which will conclude with the 2020 refurbishment of Carnival Victory. Comprising both newbuilds and top-to-toe renovation projects, it has been “the most extensive fleet revitalisation in the cruise industry”, according to company president Christine Duffy. 

In late March, Fincantieri delivered Carnival Horizon, the second ship to join Carnival’s Vista Class alongside sister ship Carnival Vista. Offering capacity for up to 3,916 guests, the new vessel shares many of her sister’s attractions, including the Dr. Seuss-themed waterpark Seuss at Sea. “She’s been a huge hit with children and families,” Duffy says. “Carnival Horizon has many of the popular features that introduced on Carnival Vista, such as our IMAX Theatre, SkyRide and new dining concepts like Seafood Shack.”

The ship has several of her own unique features too. “We took the opportunity to expand our great relationship with Food Network chef Guy Fieri and introduce a new food and beverage concept called Smokehouse Brewhouse, which serves the ‘real deal’ barbecue, along with four new craft beers brewed onboard,” says Duffy. “There’s also an expanded Bonsai Sushi dining outlet, which includes our first-ever Teppanyaki restaurant. Feedback from our guests, crew and the industry has been extremely positive.” 

These newbuilds are just the latest in a long line of changes that Carnival have been making to its fleet. “Our fleetwide transformation has been 10 years in the making and will culminate in 2020,” says Duffy. “We want our guests to know that they can count on a high degree of consistency and quality offerings across all our ships and homeports, and we’ve seen that our guests are loving our focus on offering them an outstanding variety of fun, entertainment, dining and beverage and relaxation options. We’ve been investing at unprecedented levels and the measures we’ve taken are driving higher results in guest satisfaction, passenger yields and onboard revenue.”

Duffy has also been focusing on identifying new ways to encourage Carnival staff and crew to engage with the brand. In particular, she aims to encourage women in the company to take up more senior roles. “Carnival recently kicked off a Women’s Leadership Initiative to bring together women leaders and help empower them to grow professionally,” she says.

“Earlier in my career, I founded Meeting Professional International’s Women’s Leadership Initiative to address the limited number of women holding executive leadership positions in the travel industry,” Duffy adds. “I’m also a member of The Committee of 200, an organisation of successful women business leaders working to advance women’s leadership. The cruise industry is much further ahead than other segments of the travel industry. Bringing me on as the first woman president of Carnival was a major shift for the industry and now we have a few other women presidents leading cruise lines that you didn’t see five years ago.”

As part of her campaign to improve direct interaction with staff and customers, Duffy has personally visited Carnival Horizon, Carnival Vista and all 24 of Carnival’s Fun Ships since becoming company president in 2015.

“It’s the people who really make Carnival successful, so I wanted to visit every ship and make a human connection with people at all levels of the organisation,” she explains. “I announce to all the crew that I’m there and I visit all the areas, including the laundry and galleys. I connect with our team members to understand the business from their perspective. It’s incredibly important to make the time to hear from our people on the front line.”

Speaking to both crew and passengers is essential in actively promoting the engagement of staff in the company’s achievements. “It’s given me a lot of insight into the company,” says Duffy. “I continue to visit our ships regularly. I’m always getting suggestions from our crew on how we can improve guest satisfaction and ensure the crew are happy, since the ship is their home away from home. Every crew member must understand that every single interaction they have with our guests is important, even if the guests don’t see them.”

This is particularly true for non-customer-facing staff, such as those working in the ships’ laundry rooms. “I wanted to empower them to interact directly with our guests,” Duffy says. “They now deliver the dry cleaning or laundry with personal handwritten notes thanking the passengers for choosing Carnival and wishing them a great cruise.”

Having crew interact with guests yields tangible benefits for customers. “After talking to the crew and seeing their passion and enthusiasm, I have a greater appreciation for why our guests love Carnival so much,” Duffy explains. “For them, what matters is real authenticity. It’s nice to get a letter from the president of Carnival saying: “I hope you had a great time and come back again.” But what’s more meaningful is getting a note from the camp counsellor about how your child helped another child who had fallen down, or what a great personality your child has.”

Next up on Duffy’s list of priorities is Carnival Panorama, the third Vista-class vessel, which is due for delivery later this year. “[She] is on her way to completion – we will have her coin ceremony later this fall and take delivery of her at the end of October 2019,” says Duffy. “We will be doing something a bit different with Carnival Panorama as she will be coming direct to the US and to Long Beach, California specifically where she will be the first new ship we’ve launched on the West Coast in more than 20 years. 

“Being homeported year-round in Long Beach is part of our overall commitment to the West Coast and complements other things we are doing there, such as an exciting development project in Ensenada [Mexico] that will provide guests visiting the destination with an unparalleled, one-of-a-kind dining and retail experiences ashore, along with unique attractions; and we also just announced that we are returning to San Diego in 2019 with Carnival Miracle.”

In 2020, Carnival will also launch the first of two new LNG-fuelled ships, which are part of its long-term strategy to comply with the International Maritime Organization’s new 0.5% sulphur cap and imminent carbon dioxide emission requirements. LNG vessels emit 20% less carbon than vessels operating on conventional fuel oils. “Our ships will be the first LNG-powered ships in North America,” says Duffy. “We are working diligently on them at the shipyard in Turku, Finland and are excited to celebrate the steel cutting for the first ship later this fall. These will also be the largest ships in our fleet, so we are planning many innovations and exciting features.” 

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Friday, December 14, 2018