This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
Carnival Cruise Line has been at the forefront of the cruise industry when it comes to making significant investments in modernising older ships and keeping them productive and attuned to current consumer expectations.
Since launching the Fun Ship 2.0 renovation initiative in 2011, Carnival has invested more than US$2 billion to refurbish more than 20 vessels, adding new deck activities, entertainment, bars and dining options, while also renovating staterooms and increasing capacity. Efforts have ranged from quick refreshes for some ships, to the company’s largest renovation project to date – the US$200 million conversion of Carnival Triumph into Carnival Sunrise in April 2019. A similar relaunch of another 20-year old ship, Carnival Victory, is scheduled for April 2020.
“There are many different reasons to renovate a ship – from an operational standpoint, to refresh of the design (which especially holds true with older vessels), to introduce a new concept, or the combination of all of these factors,” says Lisa McCabe, vice president of revitalisation and hotel refurbishment at Carnival. “Our goal is two-fold: the first is to optimise the ship’s functionality, especially in spaces that are often underused, and second, and equally important, is to add new features for our guests to enjoy.”
While Carnival closely monitors trends in the hospitality industry and listens to the feedback from its guests, McCabe explains that its goal is not to follow current trends. Instead, the company believes it is important to take a long-term view to create a universal design that will remain fresh. “We are not designing boutique spaces that will change in the short term,” says McCabe.
Indeed, Carnival’s recent conversion projects demonstrate this approach. Carnival Freedom underwent a three-week dry docking early in 2019. As part of a general overhaul and while carrying out technical work, Carnival also added new water park features, enhanced the dining options and expanded the retail areas.
“Not all of our ships receive the same degree of revitalisation, but through these projects, we aim to provide guests with an even greater variety of choices that ultimately enhance their vacation experience,” says McCabe.
For the large-scale projects, she explains, Carnival selects ships that have the most potential for a longer lifespan, both on the hotel and technical side.
The recent conversion to create Carnival Sunrise, and the upcoming Carnival Radiance renovation, will be the most extensive efforts focusing on improving how onboard space is used. When these ships were built 20 years ago, they were some of the largest cruise ships in the world, but they have since been eclipsed by larger ships with new amenities. The overhauls are introducing elements popular on Carnival’s newer ships, including the RedFrog Pub, Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse, Cucina del Capitano, casual dining options, new water parks, sports areas and dedicated spaces for children and adults. Passenger flow is also being reworked with several lounge spaces being converted into new accommodations.
The increases in capacity and types of accommodations added vary by ship, but of course, they are all an important element of improving utilisation. “As far as accommodations are concerned, balconies are a sought-after feature, so we will incorporate balconies into existing staterooms, or add brand-new balcony cabins where feasible, depending on the structure of the ship,” says McCabe.
The large conversion projects are increasing capacity by approximately 8%. Carnival Sunrise, for example, was fitted with 2 new Captains Suites and 13 spa cabins, but the majority of the additions are 24 standard outsides staterooms and 65 inside cabins. The same will be added to Carnival Radiance. During the smaller renovation projects, Carnival is focused on creating higher-yielding accommodations, including Captain’s Suites above the bridge that feature large windows and balconies and Grand Ocean View suites.
Extensive planning and multi-departmental efforts go into developing the strategy for each ship’s reconstruction. “We work closely with our internal teams to determine what features can be added to the vessel, both in terms of generating revenue and the venues that have proven popular with our guests,” says McCabe.
In addition, Carnival reviews the general arrangement plans of the vessel to see what areas can be optimised. Safety, of course, is a key consideration, so the company looks at the life-saving capabilities, exit paths and regulatory factors, as well as passenger comfort.
This renovation philosophy is not just limited to the larger ships of Carnival’s fleet. Two of Carnival’s older ships, Carnival Elation and Carnival Paradise which were both introduced in 1998, also underwent significant upgrades in 2017 and 2018. As the youngest ships in the Fantasy class, McCabe says that made them ideal candidates for not only adding 98 balconies to existing cabins (like others in their class) but also for a more extensive overhaul that included a new half deck with 38 cabins, water parks and features ranging from dining and bars to children’s areas.
“We are always looking at ways to enhance our product,” says McCabe. “That includes the major renovation projects.”
At an age when they historically would have been retired, the strategy of renewing these ships to extend their lifespan is proving very successful for Carnival. Through the modernisation of their décor and amenities, Carnival is ensuring its ships remain in step with guest expectations for many years to come.
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