Carnival Debuts Freedom, Quashes Rumors of More Sales

VENICE—Carnival Corporation is making it clear: It is in the business of growing brands, not being their caretakers. Such was Carnival Corp.'s CEO Mickey Arison's sentiment a day before the naming of Carnival Cruise Lines' newest ship, Carnival Freedom, in Venice last week. Carnival Freedom arrives in Italy; the ship's godmother

Carnival previously divested its Swan Hellenic and Windstar arms, but Arison made assurances that another brand dump was not on the horizon. Rumors of a Seabourn sale were quickly quashed. "We expect big things from Seabourn," a soft-spoken Arison said.

Arison also raised concerns over ship sizes, remarking that very large cruise ships may lose the essence of the true cruise experience. "We're comfortable with our size of ships," Arison said. Bob Dickinson, Carnival's president and CEO, was more blunt. "We're not in an arms race," he said.

Working With Agents

Travel agents remain the biggest and clearest channel of booking for Carnival. Arison did state that a record 200-plus online bookings were made on the Carnival web site in one day recently, but noted that most travelers still use the Internet primarily for education, not booking.

Vicki Freed, Carnival Cruise Lines' senior vice president of sales and marketing, said agents—especially those who are home-based—should push the "value proposition" of a cruise and use Carnival's business development managers during sales calls. "Travel agents need to raise their hands," said Freed, who is unveiling her own blog by the end of this month.

Meanwhile, an uncooperative fuse was fixed at the Carnival Freedom's naming ceremony, but the electrical snafu wasn't enough to prevent supermodel Kathy Ireland from christening the line's latest 110,000-ton, 2,974-stateroom addition to its fleet, albeit about an hour late.

Kathy Ireland with its captain

Dickinson ladled praise on the ship's builder, Fincantieri shipyard, for the "high quality standards of today's Carnival." Carnival Freedom is the eighth ship built by Fincantieri and the shipyard has contracts on three more Carnival ships, Splendor, Dream and Magic. "It's safe to say we like their work," affirmed Dickinson.

Excitement mounted when Ireland, former supermodel and present-day entrepreneur, took the stage to preside over the ship's naming as its godmother. She gushed over the ship, alluding to it as a paragon of family vacations. "My heart will always cherish this ship and everyone who experiences her will always be in my prayers," she said. Things were lighter earlier in the day. "I can't wait 'til the twister water slide opens tomorrow," she remarked with anticipation.

A flick of a switch sent the champagne bottle hurling toward the ship until it met its end with glass spraying and France's finest dripping down the ship's exterior on its way to mingle with the Adriatic. Carnival Freedom was born.

Guests in the Victoriana Show Lounge then took in Carnival Freedom's show, Ticket to Ride, a fast-paced musical mélange of Beatles hits featuring impersonators of The Fab Four and a cast of others. The show is one of three featured on the ship's 12-day Mediterranean and Greek isles itineraries. It will be joined by a New Orleans-themed production called Big Easy and a 1940s swing show, Jump, Jive and Wail.

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