Carnival campaign could increase Crescent City cruise interest
Don Ames Reporting
It's been rough sailing for Carnival Cruise Lines after several high-profile mishaps in recent years. Now, the company is spending more than half-a-billion dollars for improvements to right the ship.
And, the cruise giant is launching a new promotional campaign that's likely to benefit the cruise industry here in New Orleans, as well as the overall local economy.
Carnival's looking to lure wary vacationers onto its ships, with free return flights home and a full refund, plus a 10 percent bonus, for folks who aren't sold on the experience after their first day at sea.
Robert Jumonville, Director of Cruise and Tourism for the Port of New Orleans expects increased interest in cruising out of New Orleans as a result.
"Because they do nationwide advertising, and they do some regional advertising now, which is something none of the cruise lines did in years past," says Jumanville.
He says the 'Great Vacation Guarantee' could mean more folks in our region attracted to a cruise out of the Crescent City. And, he says Carnival will soon be able to accommodate more of them.
"In November, they're bringing in their newly refurbished Carnival 'Sunshine'. They just did about $170 million dollars worth of renovations to it, which include adding about 300 staterooms."
"'Sunshine' is about 400 passengers larger than the Carnival 'Conquest', which is here now," Jumanville says. "It'll stay here for about six months and, then. it'll be replaced in April by the Carnival 'Dream' which is the largest ship in Carnival's fleet. That'll add another 700 passengers to our fleet."
And, he says, the entire Carnival line will soon be new and improved. Carnival is in the process of investing $600-700 million on upgrading its fleet as it copes with the fallout from a string of bad publicity.
Last year, the Carnival-owned Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of Italy, killing 32 people on board.
Then, this past February, an engine room fire left the Carnival Triumph powerless and adrift for days in the Gulf of Mexico without air conditioning or working toilets.
Jumanville says Carnival has revamped their wiring systems, rerouting 63 miles of cable, so that a fire would be less likely to take out both engine rooms, as it did on the Triumph.
The fire suppression systems have been improved, increasing the number of water mist nozzles from roughly 30 to about 500, and adding a 24/7 manned patrol to look for oil or fuel leaks. Also, a second backup generator has been added, nowhere near the engine room. That way, basic services would stay up and running.
Carnival has previously told investors it expects it will take 2-3 years for its reputation to recover, powered primarily by word-of-mouth from satisfied cruise customers.
But, Jumanville says the ripples have barely been noticed in New Orleans.
"We, fortunately, have not seen a downturn in our market. Even when the Costa Concordia went down we did not see a downturn in the market as most U.S. ports did."
The real measure of New Orleans as a cruise departure point, says Jumanville, is how many passengers are booking in advance, not how many get on the ship.
"For the most part, we average about 113 to 115 percent occupancy on our ships every week."
He says the 'Great Vacation Guarantee' could bump that a bit.
"I'm sure it will, if it gets those people who are a little leery of cruising more positive about it. New Orleans is the place to be, you get two vacations in one. Hopefully it'll translate into more passengers."
And, he says New Orleans will be ready to handle them.
"We're doing a complete renovation of the Erato Street Terminal, which is the terminal that Carnival uses, in anticipation of the Carnival 'Dream' coming in. And, we're
moving forward on our plans to build a third cruise terminal at Poland Avenue."