Carnival Selling Windstar

Carnival Corporation late last week announced that it is selling its Windstar Cruises brand to Ambassadors International, a Seattle-based travel company that operates Majestic America Line. Windstar Cruises, which manages three sailing vessels as a subsidiary of Holland America Line, a unit of Carnival, was sold to Ambassadors for $100 million. Windstar's three ships will now be operated by Ambassadors

Carnival says it sold Windstar so that it could focus on expanding its core growth brands and open new markets. "We made the decision to exit from the niche cruise business some time ago and the sale of Windstar is in line with that strategy, as is our decision to cease operation of another nice operator, the UK's Swan Hellenic, and transfer its one ship to the Princess Cruises brand," says Vance Gulliksen, a spokesperson for the cruise line. "Windstar and Swan Hellenic are the only two brands for which we do not have a growth strategy in place."

Ambassadors' President David Giersdorf says Windstar and its three vessels—the 312-passenger Wind Surf and the 148-passenger Wind Star and Wind Spirit—will retain the Windstar brand.

Giersdorf says the transition from HollandAmerica to Ambassadors would be seamless for travel agents. "As far as agents are concerned, nothing changes, the company will operate as it has," he says.

Even so, experienced agents are expecting sales of Windstar to be affected, as clients may not feel comfortable booking a vacation on a cruise line that is under new management.

"There always is an impact on sales when a company gets sold," says Mike Kempinski, vice president and owner of Northstar Cruises in Caldwell, NJ, which books between 15 and 20 Windstar cabins a year. "Windstar is a great product to offer the romantic traveler. It was really gaining in popularity, so I'm concerned this sale might change all that."

Giersdorf says that Windstar operations won't be changing that much, if at all. Future renovations planned for Wind Spirit in April and for Wind Star in November will be on a similar level to those completed in January on the Wind Surf. "New suites were added, all of the existing suites were completely redone," Giersdorf says.

Giersdorf was part of the team that launched the Windstar line with HollandAmerica in the late 1980s, which he believes gives him an understanding and appreciation of the brand and what it represents. "I helped lay the groundwork for Windstar Cruises as a subsidiary of HAL," Giersdorf says, who served as vice president of Windstar from 1989 to 1991. "I came up with the tagline '180 Degrees From Ordinary' and developed some of its most successful itineraries in Greece and Turkey."

Giersdorf returned to HAL from 1999 through 2004 as executive vice president of marketing and sales. "The Windstar division reported to me, so I worked very closely with that team," he says.

He adds that Ambassadors, which launched a cruise division just last year, has a great relationship with HAL and that acquisition discussions have been ongoing for quite some time. "We've said from the beginning that it's our objective to be a worldwide leader in small ship luxury cruise vacations," Giersdorf says.

With the Windstar acquisition, Ambassadors now has acquired 10 ships in the last year—and there may be more on the horizon. "We're always open to other opportunities," Giersdorf says. "Perhaps some will develop."