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.


Liner Legacy

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.


Cruise Legacy

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 well-bikinied pool.
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.


Ship Design

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 his tenure.


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.