Keeping itineraries fresh and fun for Carnival Cruise Line

Managing 5,000 sailings and ensuring they appeal to both loyal and new customers is challenging. Ugo Savino explains to Susan Parker how the brand delivers guest satisfaction

Keeping itineraries fresh and fun for Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Cruise Line

Ziplining is just one of the many activities guests can participate in while sailing around the Caribbean with Carnival

By Susan Parker |

Carnival Cruise Line is a different company from the one Ugo Savino, director deployment and itinerary planning, joined 17 years ago but its commitment to constantly monitoring – and improving – the performance of its itineraries, programmes and ships remains the same. 

“For us, the main drivers are the profitability of the programmes and guest satisfaction, the latter of which is extremely important to us,” says Savino. 

“We seek to troubleshoot and fine-tune itineraries on a regular basis. Sometimes it is a matter of adjusting the port sequence and the port time, and sometimes it is necessary to change the itinerary altogether to meet the standard we expect. We are committed to ensuring our itineraries are always fresh, new and fun because that is what Carnival is all about.” 

In the past couple of years, a different challenge has arisen, following new and larger tonnage joining the fleet and some of the smaller ships departing. “This forced us to look at the [existing] details to determine whether the right deployment decisions have been made,” says Savino, noting that his team regularly talks with travel agents, past guests and new-to-cruise travellers to survey what Carnival calls the “health” of the destinations. “We try to understand the demand for different destinations, if they have a core value and, based on past performance, we try to adjust our deployment.” 

Carnival weighs up several practical factors when making itinerary decisions. For example, it will not tender its large ships, so it requires ports with sufficiently big berths to accommodate them. The availability of fuel bunkering is another consideration.  

When it comes to its three new LNG-powered Excel-class ships, Carnival has put a great deal of work into making sure they are supported by LNG bunkering in the US homeports of PortMiami (Carnival Celebration), Port Canaveral (Mardi Gras) and, most recently, the Port of Galveston (Carnival Jubilee). All three were the first to bunker using LNG in each port, following significant investment from Carnival. For example, Terminal 25 in Galveston underwent a $53 million upgrade. The brand is not stopping here, however. “We are looking for opportunities to find LNG capability elsewhere,” says Savino. 

Carnival Cruise Line Celebration Key

Located on the south side of Grand Bahama island, Celebration Key will open in 2025

Carnival is also investing in new destinations, including Celebration Key, which is due to open in July 2025. This is the first time the brand has built its own private destination. “We have more than 550 sailings open on 18 ships from 10 US and one transatlantic homeport (Barcelona in Spain),” says Savino. “We want as many people to enjoy it as possible.” 

Built on Grand Bahama in partnership with The Bahamas, Celebration Key is just one example of Carnival’s increasing collaboration with the communities it visits. “We always try to cooperate and reach out to local destinations, when necessary and possible, to explain both the value we bring to those communities and what we do onboard the ships to minimise our environmental impact,” says Savino. “We try to ensure we are welcome guests in the communities we visit. This requires a proactive approach.” 

Collaboration also helps the brand to tackle possible port congestion issues, which is crucial for a cruise line operating a fleet of 27 ships sailing 1,500 voyages worldwide annually. 

“We have at least three years of inventory open at any one time, meaning we are managing almost 5,000 sailings,” says Savino. “If you add ports of call and homeports, we are talking about roughly 18,000 to 19,000 calls at any one time.” 

He explains that Carnival must “start thinking about congestion in a different way”. “It is becoming very difficult to properly secure the ports we need, and sometimes miscommunications happen. It is a challenge. It is part of the conversation we are having with the communities. We’re trying to find ways to make the process more efficient and effective.” 

Carnival is one of many operators facing these challenges and asking ports to publish calendars. “I don’t need to know who else is visiting, I only need to know if there is an available berth,” says Savino. “Conversations with local authorities in destinations are vital. I’m confident there are solutions, but it is not a homogenous playground – different regions have different issues.” 

The regulatory environment can also impact itinerary planning. “Some regulations are going to affect the way we do business, and we will have to adjust,” says Savino.  

While Carnival fully supports initiatives aimed to preserve and protect the environment, Savino explains that new regulations may mean the brand is unable to operate in a region as its primary aim is to offer the best possible itinerary whatever the circumstances. 

“This could mean that one destination is replaced by another but what is important is that the itinerary we put out there is appealing,” he says. “We don’t sell ports, we sell itineraries. This set of destinations must be packaged in the Carnival way and appeal to guests, so they continually come back and make us successful.” 

Carnival Cruise Line

“We are committed to ensuring our itineraries are always fresh, new and fun,” says Savino

To retain these loyal passengers, Carnival has been diversifying its portfolio of destinations over the past couple of years. “We need to give them more and new reasons to stay with the brand,” explains Savino. 

An example of this is the Carnival Journeys programme which includes visits to places the brand has not usually been to. “It started a few years ago as a test and we now have more than 100 journeys sailing from 20 ports, including Singapore; Sydney and Brisbane in Australia; and US homeports,” says Savino. “They are very popular and the reason we have gone from a handful to more than 100 in that time is because of the demand those sailings are generating.”  

Another trump card Carnival has played is to open its entire inventory for 2026 earlier than ever before, which has proved successful. “Since people are booking earlier and earlier, we are trying to give them plenty of options as early as possible,” says Savino, adding that in January 2024, two-thirds of the year’s inventory was already booked, according to parent company Carnival Corporation’s fourth quarter earnings report for 2023.  

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of  Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.  

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