Conversation With Ruben Rodriguez, Carnival's EVP-Ship Ops


Ruben Rodriguez, executive vice president – ship operations // All photos courtesy Carnival Cruise Lines

After Carnival Cruise Lines announced a $155 million revitalization program planned in 2013 for Carnival Destiny, Travel Agent interviewed Ruben Rodriguez, Carnival’s executive vice president of ship  operations, about the upcoming changes to the ship. 
When the work is completed in a 49-day drydock in Italy in early 2013, the ship will emerge with a reconfigured lay-out, the addition of a partial deck, several expanded decks and 182 more cabins. The ship will also be renamed Carnival Sunshine.

Agents can read our previous story about what Carnival announced for Carnival Destiny here:

This one-on-one Q&A with Rodriguez adds a bit more perspective.  

This is obviously a massive project. Can you put this in perspective with the cost of other revitalization projects you’ve completed for other ships?

During the Evolutions of Fun updates we refurbished six ships and depending on the features on each ship, we spent anywhere from $30 million to $50 million. Naturally, it was a narrower scope than what we’re doing on the conversion of the Destiny to the new Carnival Sunshine.

What’s the tipping point to the decision to either revitalize or buy a new ship? Why not just sell this ship and order another new one?

Before I worked at Carnival, I thought about it that way, but now that I’ve been here a few years, I don’t really think of it as a trade-off. We have new ships launching. We’re also working on our next generation of new ships, and, at some point, we’ll announce our plans for future generations of new ships.

And, at the same time we have a large, successful fleet that is profitable. But at the same time, we need to revitalize it to stay to date with the brand. 

A lot of the motivation for this [update on Carnival Destiny] is our Fun Ship 2.0 program, which we launched recently on Carnival Magic and Carnival Liberty, and the changes have been so well received. That's added cause for us to continue the revitalization of our ships, and in the case of the Carnival Sunshine, make it a significant investment.

So it’s not only refurbishing, which we’ve always done, but also the fact that we’re expanding – adding a lot more features for the guests. It's both programs. It’s not a trade off. It's part of what we have to do to the brand to keep it alive and exciting.

The ship will be built by Fincantieri in Italy, we know, but at which shipyard?

We’re not disclosing the yard yet. We’re still discussing that with Fincantieri as we have a few options. We’ll announce that in the next few weeks, but we do have an agreement with Fincantieri. The work will be done in Italy in the spring of next year.

Formerly, old hardware was often put in secondary markets where there were more first-time cruisers. So the ships didn't always have the latest and greatest. That seems to be changing?

That’s right. The Carnival Sunshine will have not only as many, but in fact, more features, than some of our newer ships. For example, the new Havana Bar and our new Asian restaurant are not even on the new Carnival Breeze, which launches in June.



What can you tell us about the partial deck addition and the expansion of two other decks?

In the forward section of the ship, we add one deck – it will be deck 14 forward. That doesn’t exist today on Carnival Destiny.

We have other ships in the Destiny-class, Victory and Triumph, that were built originally with that deck, but the Destiny did not, so we’re adding that deck.

And then we’re actually expanding Decks 11 and 12; they’re coming aft and expanding.

Those are the decks right below the new deck. That gives us the opportunity to add cabins and guest features, particularly with our spa and our gym.

And then above all that, we’re able to create a multi-level Serenity with a pool, which we’re very excited about. This is by far the largest Serenity with the best features.

It’s three levels, it also has a whirlpool – which most of them do – but it also has a pool – plus it has a waterfall and bar, as well as a lunch menu with freshly chopped salads.

How will the Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse differ from the existing steakhouses?

The first ship with Fahrenheit 555 will be the Carnival Breeze, and it an experience very similar to what you see in our steakhouses today. And our guests love our steakhouses, the menu in particular. 

We have updated the design of the venue. It will be more contemporary on both the Carnival Breeze and Carnival Sunshine. So as we update or build new steakhouses [and change the interior design], we will call them Fahrenheit 555.

Where are you putting some of these new dining and entertainment venues? What’s coming out to make room for them?

Cucina del Capitano is similar to La Cucina on Carnival Magic and Carnival Breeze, and while on those ships, it’s actually it’s just up one level from the Lido Marketplace, on Carnival Sunshine it will be part of the Lido Marketplace in a separate aft area.

Today, it’s actually where the aft pool with magradome is. We’re eliminating that magradome, and enclosing and covering that area.  On one side of that area will be Cucina del Capitano and on the other side of that area will be our new Asian restaurant. 

As for the Asian restaurant, the lunch experience will continue as it is today with the Asian woks; guests will pick up a bowl, put in their ingredients, choose a sauce and hand the bowl to the chef to prepare. That experience will be complimentary.

In the evening, guests will enjoy a full-service Asian restaurant with table service; there will be a small charge for evening dining.

In the aft part of that same area, we’ll have our new Havana Bar, with floor-to-ceiling ocean views and evening live Latin entertainment.

So [Cucina] is the same level as the Lido, but it’s in the aft part, which gives it a bit more privacy and a bit more intimate atmosphere, particularly for the evening.


Left to right: Mark Tamis, senior vice president of guest operations; Gerry Cahill, president and CEO, and Ruben Rodriguez, executive vice president of ship operations, with Fun Ship 2.0 features that will be added to Carnival Sunshine, including burgers from Guy's Burger Joint and brews from the RedFrog Rum Bar.

I understand you're going to reconfigure and expand the Promenade area? What's up there?

We’re completely redoing the Deck 5 Promenade level. It’s all [being] completely converted. Today, we have different lounges, we have a jazz lounge, we have a nightclub and we have a casino.

We’ll still have a casino of the same size, but slightly reconfigured. We’ll have the Ocean Plaza as well as the adjacent Alchemy Bar. Adjacent to the casino, we’ll completely remodel the current sports bar and it will become the new EA SPORTS Bar. We'll also have the RedFrog Rum Pub on this Promenade level.

Similar to Carnival Breeze and Carnival Magic, this ship will actually have two levels of Promenade - the Promenade that you’re used to [described above] as well as a second, smaller Promenade on the mezzanine level, Deck 4, just above the lobby and below the Promenade.

This smaller seond Promenade will include several new features including a piano bar, Library Bar, the new steakhouse, the small cigar bar.

The aft portion of that Deck 4 area currently has a lounge which will be converted to a Limelight Lounge; that's where we will have our Punchliner Comedy Club entertainment.

Tell us why you're adding a Library Bar?

Our first Library Bar in the fleet is on Carnival Breeze, and this ship will be the second to have that bar. Think of it as a quieter bar with softer background music.

It will still serve as a library and will have books and games, but it will also have a bar for sipping drinks, like rums and scotches, and it will also have an automatic wine dispensing machine for guests to taste various wines.

In our guest surveys and focus groups, we’ve learned that guests love our bars, but they also have asked us for a quieter bar. The Library Bar is almost like an indoor version of Serenity. 

We have many demographics we serve, so it’s important for us to have a wide choice of entertainment.

What’s the Sunshine Bar? What’s special?

Most of our ships have a bar in the lobby, and we decided we want to infuse more personality into our lobby bars over time. We really want to have the lobby bars that reflect the individual ship.

Since this ship is called Carnival Sunshine, the lobby will be decorated with oranges and reds, and will have a sunshine feeling. It will be very iconic with sunshine décor and we’ll distinctive drinks that honor the ship.

Tell us about the Sports Square. What’s different?

The Sports Square will consist of all new features. We have a mini-golf course today, but we’ll have a new mini-golf course, plus a half-court for basketball, and a number of deck area games like foos ball, ping pong and outdoor pool.

We'll also have a new ropes course and a jogging track. Sports Square on this ship will be smaller than what’s on Carnival Breeze and Carnival Magic, but it will have many of the same features.

What other ships will have this same type of amenities?

You can expect to see us continue to expand this program. We’re very excited about the new ships we’re launching like the Carnival Breeze this summer, the conversion of the Carnival Destiny to Carnival Sunshine, the extension of our FunShip 2.0 features to ships like Carnival Conquest and Carnival Glory.
Of course, we’re also exploring opportunities to revitalize and convert ships beyond the Carnival Destiny. Stay tuned, more to come on that, but is that absolutely is our intention – to invest in our brand.

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