Carnival, Carnival, Carnival!
When John Maxtone-Graham wrote a
chapter on Carnival in his 1992 book "Crossing &
Cruising," this was the title he used in his frank assessment of
Carnival Cruise Lines then.
Since then, this has been the line that introduced the world's first
100,000-ton cruise ship, in 1996, and is now putting its eight
"Fantasy" class ships through "evolution of fun"
refits, adding further enhancements to an already successful product.
As Myleene Klass and Royal Navy
divers named the Carnival Splendor in Southampton last Thursday, it
is worth having a look at Carnival's roots and what has brought the
line to where it is today.
Carnival got its start in 1972
with a ship called the Mardi Gras, which until 1971 had been running
in Canadian Pacific's Trans-Atlantic passenger service as the Empress
of Canada. This ship gave Carnival its new logo, which was adapted by
slightly amending the beadwork on the Mardi Gras' funnel from
Canadian Pacific's then trademark, but in red, white and blue instead
of white and green.
She was followed by another
former Canadian Pacific ship, the Carnivale, ex-Empress of Britain,
and every Carnival ship since this pair has also had an Empress Deck.
Carnival's third ship, a former South African liner renamed
Festivale, was the last of the second-hand ships, and every Carnival
ship since has been a newbuilding.
Around the same time, the famous
Italian Line was winding down its own Trans-Atlantic passenger
service (finally closed in 1976), and Carnival was able to recruit a
ready supply of experienced Italian officers for its ships from the
shrinking "Italia" SpA di Navigazione, as it was known in
its home country. To this day Carnival's officers remain proudly Italian.
Before Carnival, however, the
Arison family had twice been involved in cruising. First, in the
mid-1960s, Arison Shipping had set to marketing two Israeli cruise
ferries called the Bilu and the Nili with sailings from Miami.
Brought over from the Mediterranean, where they had been running
between Italy and Israel, "Time" magazine had to say about
the Bilu on August 7, 1964: "In all the world there is no motel
like the Bilu.
In Naples one day last week,
several hundred tourists drove in and parked their cars, carted what
they wanted into their cabins, fed the kids at the cafeteria and
tucked them in, downed a drink or two at the bar or lived it up a
little at the nightclub. Next day they gathered around the
The unique thing about it was
that they were all at sea-literally. The Bilu is a motel that makes a
62-hour, 1,200-mile voyage twice a week between Italy and Israel."
After that, they went to Miami to
work for Arison. Then, when their owners went bankrupt, Arison
arranged to charter Kloster's Sunward, recently withdrawn from a
Southampton-Gibraltar service after the Spanish closed their border
and in 1966 formed Norwegian Caribbean Line (today's Norwegian Cruise
Line), which Arison managed for Kloster. The Sunward was so
successful that more ships soon followed and eventually they no
longer had vehicle decks below for cargo.
When Arison and Kloster
eventually fell out, Arison managed to go elsewhere and get backing
from American International Travel Services of Boston to start a new
Carnival Cruise Lines, acquiring the Mardi Gras in the process. By
1974, Arison was able to buy out AITS for $1 plus assumption of all
the company's debts, which by then were about $5 million, registering
Carnival Corporation in Panama.
A lot of people do not appreciate
that Carnival, from its early days, has been heavily involved in ship
design. Technical Marine Planning Ltd of London, the company that
supervised the refit of the Mardi Gras in 1972, and also worked on
the Carnivale and Festivale, went on to become Carnival's agent for
newbuildings, which began with the Tropicale in 1981.
This ship introduced Carnival's
now-famous winged funnel and TMP took responsibility for three more
newbuildings thereafter, followed by eight "Fantasy" class
ships, eight more "Destiny" and "Conquest"
(lengthened "Destiny") class ships and four
"Spirit" class ships, three of which took their names from
ships in the now-subsidiary Seabourn fleet.
In fact, the involvement with TMP
was so intense that in 1995, in the midst of the "Fantasy"
class deliveries, Carnival bought the company outright and it became
Carnival Corporate Shipbuilding. Last week's Carnival Splendor, a
development of the "Conquest" class, forms yet another
class of one and two new 130,000-ton ships, Carnival Dream and
Carnival Magic, of yet another new class, are due for delivery in
2009 and 2011.
Early on, Carnival ships have
adopted a style familiar to travellers on Baltic ferries - on
Promenade Deck an alleyway runs all the way fore and aft along the
starboard side of the ship, with lounges off to port, something that
has now also been adopted by other lines. This concept replaced the
original promenade on each side of the ship that Carnival's first
newbuilding, the Tropicale, had inherited from the Mardi Gras.
Perhaps more important, however, is that while other lines were still
building 120 square foot cabins, Carnival was building at 180 square
feet, for 50% more space.
That's the ships, now the
interiors. The name most associated with Carnival, other than the
Arisons and Bob Dickinson, must be Joe Farcus. Working with Morris
Lapidus, designers of Miami's Fontainebleau Hotel, he started with
the Carnivale in 1975 and his design was regarded by the Arisons as
so successful that he was encouraged to set up his own practice. It
was Farcus's suggestion that the funnel on the Tropicale be designed
in the wing shape that is now familiar.
Farcus has since designed not
only all Carnival interiors since but also more recently those of
Costa Cruises in Europe, as well as contributing to early Holland
America newbuildings of the "Statendam" class. Bright,
colourful and always fanciful, Farcus designs are meant to compete
with Las Vegas and certainly differentiate Carnival ships from those
of other cruise lines.
Sales Techniques and Philosophies
The most famous name other than
Arison associated with Carnival must be Bob Dickinson, the Chicago
native who started in charge of Carnival marketing and sales and
retired last year as Carnival president and CEO, after thirty-five
years with Carnival. Dickinson is often credited with changing the
line's tagline from the Mardi Gras' "flagship of the golden
fleet" to "The Fun Ships." It was also Dickinson who
promoted the idea of competing with land-based resorts instead of
other cruise lines in order to enlarge the pie. In 1997, along with
university professor Andy Vladimir, Dickinson wrote what many
consider to be the bible of cruise line sales, "Selling the Sea."
An objective look at the US
cruise market, its subtitle was "An Inside Look at the Cruise
Industry." One of the best known Carnival stories is the one
where it would send out "mystery buyers" who would reward
travel agents with $1,000 cash on the spot if they correctly
responded to the question "I want to go on a vacation, what do
you recommend?" with "what about a Carnival cruise?"
instead of "what about a cruise?"
As well, its ships sailing from
Miami carried banners on their side proclaiming to competitors that
sailed by "We Have the Fun." Known for many years for its
beer-drinking and wet tee-shirt contests, Carnival has in more recent
years matured and now boasts the best steak houses at sea instead.
Since late 2007, Carnival has been headed by Gerry Cahill, former
Carnival CFO and Dickinson's successor as president and CEO. Carnival
Splendor is thus the first new Carnival ship to be delivered under
Brands and Ships
What stands out most about
Carnival is that having started as one brand it still survives as
that same brand. Where other lines have acquired and assimilated,
Carnival Corporation has become the "General Motors of the seven
seas," acquiring brands but maintaining them in different markets.
Starting with Holland America
Line, over the years this has expanded into today's World's Leading
Cruise Lines, with brands not only representing different products,
such as the ultra-luxury Seabourn, but also other markets such as
Aida in Germany, Costa in Italy, P&O and Cunard in the UK and a
half-interest in Iberocruceros in Spain.
And aside from its original
second-hand ships, which were sold out of the fleet, Carnival
newbuildings have eventually found homes with other associated
brands. Jubilee, for example, now sails with P&O Australia as
Pacific Sun while Celebration is now Iberocruceros' Grand Celebration.
Holiday may be next but while
some of the "Fantasy" class might eventually go too, this
may not be for a while as they are being refurbished in the $250
million "evolutions of fun" program and renamed with the
Carnival prefix. The sole exception is Tropicale, which sails today
as Ocean Dream for Royal Caribbean affiliate Pullmantur Cruises in Spain.