Carnival Australia upsizes plans

Carnival Australia is powering into 2018, continuing a wave of recent announcements with the revelation it will increase Carnival Cruise Line’s capacity by 66%. Jasmine O’Donoghue unpacks the stream of decisions, which saw Carnival Australia reshuffle its local fleet and promote Sture Myrmell to regional president, now leading the country’s biggest cruise operations from the company’s new HQ in Sydney’s Chatswood.

Carnival Cruise Line will welcome Carnival Splendor into its local fleet in December 2019 and the ship will join Carnival Spirit in serving the region year-round, while Carnival Legend will part ways with the Australian market and stay in the United States in 2020.

The brand will maintain its deployment of two ships in local waters and its significant increase in capacity will come from replacing a smaller seasonal vessel with a larger year-round ship.

Carnival Legend accommodates 2,124-passengers and Carnival Splendor currently has capacity for 3,012 guests, but this will be increased to 3,900 berths before it arrives in Australia.

A 30-day bow-to-stern upgrade will see extra berths fitted on Splendor and many features from Carnival’s “Funship 2.0” modernisation program added.

Jennifer Vandekreeke, vice president and general manager Australia of Carnival Cruise Line said the larger size of the ship allows more space for new features.

The company has locked in Guy’s Burger Joint, BlueIguana Cantina, BlueIguana Tequila Bar, RedFrog Rum Bar, RedFrog Pub, Bonsai Sushi and the Green Thunder Waterslide and Waterpark for the renovation, but it still assessing what other features would “really fit with this market”.

Carnival Splendor will arrive in Australia on a repositioning voyage from Singapore and commence her year-round schedule from Sydney, primarily offering eight- to 10-day South Pacific cruises.

The vessel would likely also pick up Carnival’s annual trip to New Zealand, and its Australian cruises to Queensland and Tasmania.

Vandekreeke said the decision to bring a fresh ship down under year-round signalled “a true commitment to the market” and credited the trade for helping Carnival Cruise Line carry over 800,000 Aussies since it launched in Australia just five years ago.

“We have been so delighted and honoured by the support we’ve had from the trade since we’ve arrived,” she said.

“To imagine that we got here a little over five years ago and we’ve already had 800,000 Australians sail with us is just crazy and the vast majority of them book through travel agents.”

The news follows a series of adjustments in the Australian market, which started with the initial decision in April 2016 to allocate a 4,200-passenger newbuild to P&O Cruises.

By the end of the year, a market review prompted the company changed its course.

In December 2016 it was decided Carnival Splendor would head to P&O Cruises and the newbuild would join the Carnival Cruise Line fleet, but in September 2017 Carnival Australia revealed Splendor would stay with Carnival Cruise Line and P&O Cruises would instead receive Princess Cruises’ Golden Princess.

Princess Cruises and Carnival Australia group president Jan Swartz told travelBulletin the market review concluded the 2,600-berth Golden Princess provided “greater itinerary flexibility with respect to especially the South Pacific cruises”.

“As we assessed the needs of the market and the itinerary and guest experiences that make P&O Australia special we felt that 2,600 berths were a great size for that brand,” she said.

Echoing Swartz, Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy told travelBulletin the corporation “felt that the Golden Princess would be a ship better suited for P&O,” emphasising the move to “give them, as the national brand, an Ocean Medallion ship”.

Before entering the P&O Cruises fleet, Golden Princess will be decked out with Ocean Medallion technology and will introduce the offering to the brand when it joins in 2020.

Although utilising the same “cutting edge technology” which aims to “enhance the personalisation of the experience and reduce friction in the guest experience”, Swartz said the Ocean Medallion offering on P&O Cruises versus Princess Cruises will be “quite different”.

“The principles of Ocean Medallion cruises will be the same but how it will support the guest experience will differ by brand based on the unique guest needs of that brand,” she said.

Further change in the P&O Cruises brand is anticipated, with Myrmell last year confirming the fleet would be refreshed over time.

“There’s no secret that some of the P&O ships are getting towards the end of their lifespan and we need to replace them with newer, fresher, bigger, more efficient tonnage,” he told travelBulletin.

“There is no timeline for that set out, there’s no agreements at this point,” he said, explaining that it would likely follow a similar cycle to P&O’s program release, which is typically announced 18 months in advance.

In his newly expanded role into which he stepped in Dec last year, Myrmell said he plans to continue working on three main priorities.

He said the key to growing the business was working on infrastructure challenges faced across Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Auckland.

The company is currently awaiting word from the ACCC on an agreement with the Brisbane Port Authority which would see it allocated almost a third of the berthing slots at the new Brisbane cruise terminal.

It was also involved in the cruise reference group which created a report to inform the NSW Government’s long-awaited decision on a solution to accommodate more cruise ships east of the bridge.

Another focus for Carnival Australia is to make sure the brands “continue to amaze our guests,” Myrmell said.

“The day we stop amazing our guests is the day we start going backwards and certainly we would not continue growing.”

The third key point is getting the right people on the right ship at the right time, a goal which Myrmell said agents are crucially important for.

“If we’re saying that the key to our success is to get the right people on the right ship at the right time, then our travel agent partners are the ones that are putting them there.”

Bookings for Carnival Splendor‘s 2019 sailings open this month and reservations for 2020 cruises will open in May/June this year.