West Coast cruising got a big boost late last week as Carnival Cruise Line announced it will home port its new 133,500-grt Carnival Panorama, the line's third Vista-class ship, in Long Beach, CA, in 2019.
It's Carnival's first new ship deployed to southern California in 20 years. The 3,960-passenger Carnival Panorama will operate seven-day Mexican Riviera cruises from Long Beach.
Making the announcement before a crowd of travel industry VIPs, travel agents, port officials, news media and local luminaries, Christine Duffy, Carnival's president, also celebrated the "grand reopening" of the 146,000-square-foot Long Beach Cruise Terminal after recent updates by Carnival to enhance the passenger experience and operational flow.
In addition, Carnival plans a multi-million-dollar development project at the Port of Ensenada, Mexico, a popular port of call on Carnival’s short cruises from Long Beach.
Duffy called the West Coast “an important market with vast growth potential” and said the new initiatives further demonstrate confidence in the line’s future success in Long Beach. That brought immediate claps from travel agency groups and individual agents, long waiting for bigger, newer tonnage sailing from southern California.
"We are extremely excited Carnival Cruise Line will be homeporting a new ship in Long Beach while working with travel agents to drive more sales," said Michelle Fee, CEO and founder, Cruise Planners. "New ships draw in new-to-cruise passengers, which is great for the industry." Fee said her organization's West Coast agents "will certainly support this drive-market ship."
Drew Daly, general manager of network engagement and performance, CruiseOne, Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc., said "any time there is a new ship coming into the cruise industry it raises awareness and excitement for the value of cruising."
Veteran West Coast travel agency owner, Debby Hughes, now a franchise co-owner, Distinct Journeys, Loveland, OH, has sold travel in California for many years. “We’re so excited about the announcement from Carnival that they will be putting a brand new ship on the West Coast,” Hughes said.
Hughes stressed: “Carnival is the only cruise line to home port in southern California year-round, and I'm confident that this refreshing new addition will stimulate bookings, both with repeat clients as well as new cruisers.”
Will this move by Carnival motivate other lines to beef up their West Coast presence? “Only time will tell whether other cruise lines will follow Carnival's lead in the West Coast market, but we're always hopeful for new options to offer our local clients," Hughes said.
“This is a momentous occasion for both Carnival and the City of Long Beach – not only are we celebrating the grand re-opening of this magnificent cruise terminal, but also demonstrating our commitment to the West Coast with the deployment of the spectacular new Carnival Panorama in 2019 and the announcement of an exciting new port development project in Ensenada," said Duffy.
“Expansion of the terminal and arrival of this exciting new ship is great news for the city of Long Beach, underscoring Carnival’s longstanding commitment to our community while adding additional opportunities for growing our economy and promoting all that our wonderful city has to offer,” said Robert Garcia, mayor of Long Beach. “Carnival has been an excellent partner for 15 years and we look forward to working with them for many years to come.”
In showcasing the new terminal, Carlos Torres de Navarra, Carnival’s vice president, strategic and commercial port development said: "This project is many years in the making and Carnival’s Long Beach Cruise Terminal is one of the most visually striking and efficient facilities of its kind, providing a seamless embarkation for our guests while making a tremendous economic impact on the Southern California region.”
Hughes also was particularly interested in Carnival’s commitment to the Ensenada project, which she said promises to "give West Coast cruisers new and exciting experiences on land as well.” Carnival didn't release details about that project, saying that they will be announced later.
In its press release, though, the line said "the project will provide guests visiting the destination with an unparalleled, one-of-a-kind dining and retail experiences ashore, along with unique attractions for guests of all ages to enjoy.”
De Navarra did say that the project "will make Ensenada one of the West Coast’s premier destinations,” giving guests a unique shoreside experience there and also "making Carnival's short cruises from Long Beach even more attractive to guests."
Carnival’s Long Beach Cruise Terminal welcomes ships five days a week, representing a 70 percent utilization rate. Operated by Carnival since 2003, it encompasses the world’s largest, free-span geodesic dome.
That structure’s claim to fame? It was originally built to house Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose plane and also has served as the location for many famous Hollywood movies.
In a nod to the dome’s former tenant, a replica of the Spruce Goose hangs in the terminal (as shown in the photo above). The terminal also displays the original model of the plane used in the 2004 movie about Hughes, “The Aviator.”
The Long Beach Cruise Terminal's overall design reflects many of California’s recognizable natural landmarks, including the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The dome also includes the cruise industry’s first 1980s-style arcade.
Carnival is now utilizing 100 percent of the dome for its cruise operations. The renovation of the Long Beach Cruise Terminal expanded portside shore power to enable larger ships to plug into the local electric grid, reducing exhaust emissions while they are docked.
New Vista-Class Vessel
When it debuts in Long Beach next year, Carnival Panorama will offer a slew of big-ship amenities, including both indoor and al fresco dining experiences like the Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse, Library Bar, and Bonsai Sushi, plus Skyride, a bike ride in the sky around the top deck, a WaterWorks aqua park and the SportSquare recreation area.
Daly emphasized that having the new Vista-class ship home ported on the West Coast can provide both new-to-cruise guests and frequent cruisers with the most modern cruising experience. "The agents are beyond excited about the news and have already begun promoting the Panorama to their customers," he told Travel Agent.
Accommodations-wise, the ship will have a Havana section with tropics-inspired staterooms and a Cuban-themed bar and pool. Carnival Panorama's Family Harbor will offer extra-roomy accommodations, a Family Harbor Lounge, and Ocean Plaza, a dining and entertainment venue with indoor and outdoor seating. Reservations for Carnival Panorama are expected to open in late March 2018.
Fee said Friday's announcements "made good sense since Carnival offers the most U.S. based home ports and this is another way to establish themselves on the West Coast scene."
For 2018, three Carnival vessels are sailing from Long Beach -- Carnival Splendor (shown in the photo above), Carnival Imagination and Carnival Inspiration, the latter operating three- and four-day cruises to Ensenada and Catalina Island. The Splendor is the largest ship now based year-round in southern California. It was recently re-positioned there to operate seven-day cruises to Mexico and longer-length voyages to Alaska and Hawaii, a 40 percent capacity increase on that route. The ship has a 22,750-square-foot Cloud 9 Spa, a reservations-only steakhouse, a sliding magrodome over the main pool area and nearly 600 balcony staterooms.
This year Carnival is expected to carry 600,000 guests from Southern California on more than 250 voyages ranging from three to 14 days.
Daly believes, "West Coast agents will be reenergized with the excitement of the new ship and want to tour and sail on the product themselves." Even veteran agents who have not done a ship tour in years will want to see all of the new updates, he notes.
He also said another potential opportunity for agents is to take their customers on tours and do ship events to promote cruising. "Local agents will benefit from the localized media in their markets and they should take advantage of those campaigns when they unfold," Daly said.
One tip for agents? Daly suggests agents start thinking about creating their own "Welcoming Event" at a local restaurant for when the ship arrives. They could invite customers and watch the festivities online or on TV and promote a group sailing to the customers who attend.