Carnival season: cruises return to US and Caribbean waters

With the no-sail order finally lifted, Carnival Cruise Line is leading the pack as cruises return to US and Caribbean waters. Christine Duffy discusses the future with Anthony Pearce

Carnival season: cruises return to US and Caribbean waters
“The highlight has been seeing our guests and crew so enthusiastic to be back onboard,” says Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line

There was no playbook for the past 17 months, says Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Lines, understatedly describing it as a “challenging” time.

“Pausing an entire industry for more than a year and then restarting with a new set of operating protocols has never been done,” she says. “But I’m very proud of our employees and how we’ve handled these challenges across the shipboard and shoreside teams.

“Beyond the financial issues, we have managed through evolving regulatory and public health guidelines as we worked to take care of fleet and onboard team, and kept our guests updated and enthused for the restart of cruising.”

Although less well-known in the UK than Carnival Corporation sister brands P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises, the name Carnival is synonymous with cruise in the USA: the return of Carnival is the return of cruise. And, of course, even after the most difficult period in the industry’s history, those ever-loyal customers were delighted to get back onboard.

Carnival Cruise Line resumed guest operations from the USA on 3 July with Carnival Vista sailing from Galveston, Texas, followed by Carnival Horizon from Miami, Florida the following day, then the maiden voyage of Mardi Gras on 31 July. By the end of August, the line had eight ships in operation and by October, it was sailing 15 ships – more than half its fleet. All of the Carnival Cruise Line crew is vaccinated and the brand is only operating voyages for vaccinated guests (besides children under 12 and those who are not eligible) until October.

“The response to our cruises thus far has been nothing short of sensational,” says Duffy. “Our guests are so excited to be back onboard to relax with their friends, families and loved ones, as well as to reconnect with their favourite crew members. Our crew are very happy to be working again and supporting their families all over the world. The destinations have rolled out the red carpet for our ships which are providing a much-needed boost to their economies. Even as we adapt to the changing public health situation and evolve our protocols, our guests have been very supportive.”

Looking forward, Duffy says Carnival Cruise Line continues to “innovate in every aspect of our business”, listing some of the latest achievements as Mardi Gras, which features the first roller coaster at sea and is powered by LNG fuel, and the Fun Ship 2.0 ship enhancement programme, which has included new dining, bars and entertainment and improved accommodation. “While the Carnival cruise experience is constantly evolving to keep up with the ever-changing vacation preferences of our guests, one constant is friendly and attentive service provided by our crew who remain the best in the business,” she adds.

With ships back on the water, what is Duffy most looking forward to experiencing again? “I had the chance to be one of the first to ride the BOLT roller coaster on Mardi Gras and I can’t wait to ride it again,” she says. “It is certainly an exhilarating experience – one that our guests are raving about. I’m not much of a thrill-seeker but the adrenaline rush – not to mention the amazing views – of BOLT have me ready to go back time and time again. But since our restart in early July, I have sailed twice, and the highlight has been seeing our guests and crew so enthusiastic to be back onboard.”

Not that long ago, many questioned how cruise could possibly recover from the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but now, with operators like Carnival Cruise Line paving the way to a safe return, cruise may come back stronger than before.

“The future of the cruise industry remains bright,” says Duffy. “I’ve said all along that the silver lining of this pandemic has been the incredible loyalty, patience and dedication of our guests and crew. There is a lot of pent-up demand for cruising and we’re more than ready to provide our guests with the vacations that they have been so patiently waiting for.”

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2021 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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By Anthony Pearce
13 December 2021