There have been some changes in Carnival Cruise Lines’ approach to deployment, says Terry Thornton, senior vice president of itinerary development and port operations. “It’s about increasing capacity in high performing markets and giving guests a new and different ship to try, while keeping things interesting for past passengers and attracting new cruisers,” he says.
Thornton says this year has seen a marked shift of capacity going back to the Caribbean for the industry generally, whereas for 2015 there is a move back towards Europe. Most of the other markets remain stable except Asia, which has shown signs of growth both in 2014 and for 2015.
Carnival itself has made a number of changes. For example, this year Carnival Liberty is moving to Port Canaveral to begin a new pattern of eight- and five-day cruises and in 2015 Carnival Freedom is moving from Fort Lauderdale to Galveston, where it will become the third year-round ship. “Those are big changes,” comments Thornton.
Following major refurbishment, Carnival Sunshine went initially to New Orleans but in March repositioned to Port Canaveral with Carnival Dream taking her place in the city of jazz, thus increasing the capacity in a market that is, Thornton says, “performing very, very well for us.”
Over on the west coast this year, Carnival Imagination joined Carnival Inspiration out of Long Beach, California, in January on three- and four-day cruises. “We are very excited about expanding that capacity,” says Thornton.
In August, Carnival Legend is moving from Tampa to operate a full season out of Sydney, where Carnival Spirit is sailing year-round. Australia is performing very well for Carnival, with Thornton explaining: “The guest satisfaction ratings are the highest on any ship in the fleet.”
Up until now, Carnival has not offered more than an eight-day cruise but that is changing. Thornton cites an example: “We know there is a market for 10- to 14-day cruises so we are beginning to introduce these. For example, in 2015 Carnival Triumph will do some 10- and 11-day cruises: one-way to San Juan and one-way back.” What this means is that the brand can include new-to-Carnival ports. Nevertheless, the mix of 50% five-days-or-less and the balance five-day-plus cruises will remain unchanged.
Going forward, he says Carnival wants to continue to offer itinerary choices that meet all the vacation needs of its customers but the brand also wants to continue to innovate. “Especially in markets we have been operating from for a long time, we know how important it is to keep offering new content.”
In this respect Thornton is bothered by people who say there is nothing new in the Caribbean. However, he admits that while some of the destinations do a very good job, others are really lagging behind. “When that happens, we have a discussion with the destination and see what they are capable of. If they don’t really have the ability or financial resources, we ask: what can we do as a cruise line to move the process forward?”
He cites St Maarten as an example of a phenomenal port facility with a very strong downtown area where those involved have “taken it upon themselves with great initiative to create a very detailed shorex programme”. As a result of the whole experience, “it has the highest ratings in the Caribbean.”
On the other hand, Freeport has been a much more difficult nut to crack despite Carnival’s best efforts to find solutions together with the destination. “We cannot get traction with any of our initiatives there,” admits Thornton. Despite the brand reducing its numbers to the island by 200,000 in 2014 and highlighting poor guest experience as the reason, things have been slow to change. However, Thornton says that one initiative that Carnival pushed the operators to implement is a “very nice beach experience” which had been lacking in Freeport. He sees this step as a sign of hope and adds: “There is a much better dialogue between the cruise industry and the Caribbean now.”
When it comes to homeports, Carnival is not adding any new ones but is returning to Baltimore and Norfolk in spring 2015, having elected to take ships out this autumn due to itineraries from both being almost 100% inside the Emissions Control Area. He explains: “Now we have committed to the installation of scrubbers, it allows us to conform to the requirements.”
Still on the subject of fuel costs, he says: “I think you are going to see from us that there is a continuing initiative to bring fuel consumption down.” One initiative is reducing time in port on a turnaround day from the usual nine to seven or eight hours. “If we can do that, it means we can arrive a little later and/or leave earlier,” thereby slowing the ship down and saving fuel.
Finding new ports is not always easy, says Thornton. “Because of the size of our ships, the infrastructure has to be a certain size to give a good experience, but if we could find attractive places closer together, we would be interested.”
A Carnival Corporation & plc group initiative that will provide a great experience but also be in a location that will save fuel is the Amber Cove development being built in the Dominican Republic. “This is going to be a spectacular shore excursion in a location which is very attractive when combined with Grand Turk, as it is much closer to our homeports in Florida than St Thomas and San Juan.”
Shore excursions too have been undergoing some changes with Carnival Cruise Lines introducing the ‘shore excursions best price guarantee’ earlier this year. The proliferation of independent tour sellers on the market is not the reason for the guarantee, says Thornton. “It is more about creating confidence among our guests that they are buying the best excursion at the best price. Also if something happens on the tour and there is a delay, we know that if we sold the tour, the ship will wait. Part of the rationale of the guarantee is to take some concern off the table and drive the business.”
This article appeared in the Itinerary Planning Special Report. To read other articles, you can subscribe to the magazine in printed or digital formats.