Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Business

Is cruise ship jinx finally coming to end for Carnival?

Our mission is to take the world on vacation.

Carnival Corp., Miami, the world's biggest cruise line company

• • •

Thinking of taking that Caribbean cruise someday? Act soon if you're contemplating a Carnival cruise out of Tampa (or other port of departure) because the super-cheap deals to the islands might be starting to dry up.

Carnival's Arnold Donald, who is about to celebrate his one-year anniversary as CEO, told investors this week that overall bookings since March are lower than at the same time last year, but passengers are paying more. It's all part of Carnival's effort to drive higher ticket prices.

"We do see ticket prices being higher in the Caribbean," where Donald says too many cruise ships are competing to fill their cabins.

It's hard to believe this is the same parent company of the Costa Concordia ship that in 2012 wrecked off the coast of Italy, killing 32 people. Later this summer, that ship finally will be towed to the mainland and scrapped.

This is also the same company whose Carnival Triumph last year stranded more than 3,000 passengers in the Gulf of Mexico after an engine fire crippled the ship. In what was dubbed the "poop cruise," passengers spent several days in filthy conditions without power while being towed to an Alabama port.

Carnival has suffered other cruise ship mishaps, including a recurring stomach virus among passengers. The cruise ship jinx got so bad that last fall, Carnival pitched a guaranteed 110 percent refund to unhappy passengers, including free transportation home, if they asked for it within the first 24 hours of a voyage.

In this case, time and, perhaps, new leadership have eased Carnival's woes.

"It feels like we've turned a corner," says Donald, who last July was admittedly shocked when asked by Carnival's board to succeed legendary CEO Micky Arison. The son of Carnival's founder had run the company for 34 years.

Now watch for Carnival to redistribute more of its ships from the Caribbean to China, parts of Asia and, especially, Australia, a hot market for cruise ships. With its liberal vacation days for workers, Australia "is a great market for cruising," Donald says.

The company also remains aggressive in updating its fleet and says it is on track to cut fuel consumption by 25 percent this year compared to 2007.

"Optimizing our fleet is an ongoing process, and we have a number of ships remaining in the fleet that we expect to replace with newer, larger, more fuel-efficient vessels over time," Donald says.

Carnival most recently unveiled the Regal Princess, its latest ship and part of the corporation's Princess cruise line. The Italian-built 3,560-passenger vessel features a glass-bottomed walkway 128 feet above the sea on one side, a glass-bottomed bar on the other and an indoor golf driving range.

Is all this proof of Carnival's turnaround?

Maybe. Just keep the life vest handy.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

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