This past weekend, Travel Agent caught up with Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, onboard the recently revitalized, 102,000 gross ton Carnival Sunrise, the former Carnival Triumph, on a four-night cruise from New York City to Bermuda.
Fresh from a $200 million update during a 38-day drydock in a Cadiz, Spain, shipyard, the 2,984-passenger Carnival Sunrise home ports in New York this summer. It will sail cruises to Bermuda, Canada/New England and the Caribbean.
Prior to the drydock, the line also spent millions of dollars to update the vessel's staterooms and corridors. The ship was originally launched in 1999; it's larger than some of the line's vessels, but smaller than the newest Vista-class ships.
Carnival Sunrise is a sibling vessel to Carnival Sunshine, the former Carnival Destiny, sizably updated in 2013, and to Carnival Victory, set for a similar revitalization next year prior to being renamed Carnival Radiance.
Carnival is in the latter stages of a $2 billion product enhancement program for its 26-ship fleet.
A Bright Sunrise
We asked Duffy about any lessons learned from Carnival Sunshine’s major revitalization a few years back? While that occurred prior to her arrival at Carnival, "one of the things we did differently is that we really brought all of the suppliers together a month in advance in Miami…so that people weren’t meeting each other for the first time,” Duffy stressed.
“I know we spent years planning this,” she said. She also praised Cadiz's Navantia Shipyard for an "amazing job."
Her top highlights from the revitalization? What would she tell travel agents? “The whole uplift made the ship more contemporary, lighter and brighter,” said Duffy, equating the process to renovating a home. “The whole feel is so updated.”
She also cited Cloud 9 Spa and gym enhancements (Note: we found the gym spacious and bright with forward facing sea views), expansion of the Alchemy Bar, and “the theater being completely redone," among a slew of other pluses for guests on the ship.
That former Rome Theater, now called the Liquid Lounge, has undergone a “big transformation,” stressed Duffy. “When you go back and look at the photos from Carnival Triumph, it’s really hard to even compare." The theater now spans two decks, not three as in the past.
That space above the theater was used to create more staterooms. In fact, the ship has 115 more staterooms than in the past.
Most notable? Two pampering Captain's Suites were added one deck up from the bridge; they sleep up to five people, have two bathrooms (one with a tub) and offer a large balcony. Other new accommodations include Extended Balcony Grand Suites that accommodate four guests, plus extended balcony aft-facing cabins.
Duffy also remembers that when she first joined Carnival, she boarded Carnival Triumph to discover "very dark" corridors, and that's changed too. Travel Agent would describe the guest corridor color scheme and design as similar to what agents have seen on Carnival Breeze and Carnival Sunshine, with beach scenes, light colors and medium blue carpet, not dark tones.
Making better use of available space, “we took the Magradome off the back space," Duffy also emphasized. That created room for the fresh pizza outlet and Seafood Shack and “a lot more deck space so we have a lot more room for sun loungers, which is an important thing for people sailing to the Caribbean."
The Lido space for casual dining was also lightened and updated, and it opens up in a two-story configuration aft with an opening and staircase up to Cucina del Capitano, the newly added, Italian family-style specialty restaurant. The Lido restaurant also offers a new Lucky Bowl Asian venue.
The lengthy drydock also meant the line could add other new specialty dining venues, including Bonsai Sushi, Guy's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse, Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse and Chef’s Table, which people including past guests really like, said Duffy.
Cruisers will also discover more new spaces, including the ever-popular Guy's Burger Joint; Red Frog Pub (which replaced the dance club and is now the fleet's largest Red Frog Pub); and a renovated Piano Bar 88 with a new look and feel.
In a sign of changing guest activity preferences, the Cigar Bar on Deck 4 has become the new Limelight Lounge/Punchliner Comedy Club, and the new Java Blue Coffee Bar occupies the space that formerly was the Library.
Kids of all ages will love the new WaterWorks aqua park. Carnival Triumph only had one slide, but now Carnival Sunrise has two of these thrill slides within a new water park akin to the one on Carnival Glory. A new ropes course also was added to SportSquare.
For adults in search of relaxation and pampering, Duffy points to the new two-level Serenity, an adults-only retreat with loungers and a bar. Children's club areas were relocated to help create that.
More Tidbits From Duffy
We talked with Duffy about trends the line is experiencing this year. "We’ve really been seeing the big trend with multigenerational families, as you can see on this cruise with the number of people with shirts that are different family groups or just groups of friends" cruising together, she said.
More than 800 children sailed on the weekend cruise, which Duffy said was not unexpected given the Memorial Day weekend, but she also said the line is seeing more children sailing throughout the year.
Many cruisers on Carnival are cruise rookies. That's because 50 percent of the contemporary line's cruises are so-called short cruises of four or five days, including the New York-to-Bermuda cruises operated by Carnival Sunrise.
Duffy said those kinds of voyages appeal to cruise rookies who may not be ready to make a commitment to a seven-day or certainly a 14-day cruise. Plus, guests seeking affordability or no airport hassles can simply driver to their ship in many cases.
That said, Carnival Sunrise’s next cruise this week is a 14-day Journeys cruise, so Duffy noted that it will most likely carry fewer kids and more travelers with the time and money to spend on a longer voyage.
Duffy, formerly the president and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the cruise industry’s trade association, is seeing greater brand differentiation in the cruise industry's contemporary and premium segments.
That's a positive influence on all the brands, she believes. “Everyone is leaning into ‘who we are’ and then making sure we get the right guests on the right cruise,” she emphasized. “And that’s I think an important role that travel agents play for the cruise industry.”
For Carnival, the brand proposition is easy to identify. “This is clearly all about fun," said Duffy. "We’re very laid back. Tonight is elegant night but there will be a number of people that will be dressed to the hilt… families taking their photos with the [portrait photographer] and then there are other people going to show up wearing what they feel comfortable with.”
While certain parameters exist, such as no swimsuits or beachware permitted in the main dining room for dinner on "elegant night," beyond the reasonable restrictions, “we have no judgment….we’re not going to say everyone is going to have to have a suit and tie, just because it’s elegant night,” said Duffy, who also said some guests do enjoy dressing up in and some men may show up in a tuxedo.
Overall, Duffy sees Carnival’s brand as more about software than hardware. Yes, she said, the line’s new ships and revitalized ships like Carnival Sunrise are beautiful, but not all ships have those same bells and whistles.
And even if they do, it's still the software (guest interactions with crew, for example) that counts the most. "Guests choose this contemporary brand not just because of the itinerary but what is the experience that somebody wants to have," she said.
Pointing to Carnival's corporate culture, "it did all start with Ted [Arison] and now with Micky [Arison],” Duffy stresses. “It’s still family, and many of the officers on most of our ships knew and worked with Ted and knew and worked with Micky.”
She says the line’s focus is to encourage the crew to really engage with guests and have a connection with them – “to have that connection that’s unique in the industry. It helps create the fun.”
On Carnival Sunrise, without exception, we noticed that crew members greeted guests on every interaction in public venues and corridors. Travel Agent also observed that there didn't seem to be "the normal separation" between people who don’t know each other or between types of travelers (solo travelers, couples and families).
People of all ages, races, economic backgrounds and experience/inexperience in cruising all seemed to enjoy and welcome meeting each other. No one seemed to want to "stick to themselves." Travel Agent observed this first hand while checking the map in an elevator lobby. Suddenly a fellow guest asked where we were headed and then pointed out the easiest way to the dining room.
In the elevator four teenage boys voluntarily and proactively chatted with this reporter about the cruise and asked what I did on my sea day, amazing considering that teenagers often want to head the other way when seeing 60-something folks. Similarly, at a cocktail lounge, I was seated alone, and a mom and her two young boys and husband slid right up next to me and chatted about the violinists performing above the bar.
Duffy sees the guest interactions it this way: While “I’m not [necessarily] going to meet my best friend, I am meeting and talking to people, I’m happy and having fun and everyone is in it together. It’s all about fun.”
The ship was named in an onboard ceremony last Thursday in New York. Godmother was Kelly Arison, daughter of Micky Arison, chairman of Carnival Corporation, and his wife Madeleine, who served two decades earlier as godmother to the same ship when it was named Carnival Triumph.
So where can clients embark on the Carnival Sunrise? This summer, the ship will sail from New York on four-day cruises to Bermuda, seven-day cruises to Canada New England, and eight-day voyages will also sail from New York in summer 2020.
Two longer Carnival Journeys cruises are also on tap including a 10-day exotic eastern Caribbean itinerary and a 14-day Panama Canal cruise. Carnival’s expansion of drive embarkation points continues; the line will operate six-day Bahamas cruises from Norfolk on October 14 and October 20.
This coming winter season, it will sail from its Florida home port of Port Everglades on four-day weekend cruises calling at Half Moon Cay, Princess Cays, Grand Turk and Nassau, while five-day cruises will visit Cuba, The Bahamas, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Grand Turk.
Carnival plans two more "launch parties" for agents to see the ship in New York on June 10 and June 20.