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Carnival Commits to Mobile

Carnival was first celebrated in Mobile 312 years ago, before there were cruise ships bearing the name. There is a Carnival season in the Alabama seaport, the state’s third-largest city. It starts in November and runs through February or sometimes March, depend on the date of Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

Carnival arrived early this year.

It started yesterday, which on our calendar is still September. It arrived in the form of a cruise ship, or the promise of one, namely the Carnival Fantasy. This, however, is not a fantasy. The ship will be in Mobile next November…yes, about the time the other Carnival season begins. It will stay for a year, at least. It will take cruisers on 4-and-5-day trips to Mexico…to Cozumel, to Costa Maya, to Progreso.

While it’s a one-year commitment by the cruise line, there are two one-year options. All of this is significant because Mobile has been without a cruise ship of any kind since 2011. FantasyThe last one there was the Carnival Triumph, and an ill-fated return from the Mexican Caribbean that made more headlines than this news will.

But that’s another story. Bad news is big news.

Before arriving in Mobile, the Fantasy will undergo a facelift. In nautical terms, they call this a refurbishing, one that will include Carnival’s FunShip 2.0 upgrade. This ship, which has been working out of Charleston, is 25 years old. That’s probably 75 in people years. Facelifts, as people of that vintage in Hollywood can attest, can be expensive.

When she gets to Mobile, she’ll be treated like a new ship. Of the 2,056 passengers she hopes to ferry to Mexico twice every week and a half, there will be some who aren’t Alabamans. In a city of under 200,000 people, drawing from the surrounding area is a prerequisite for being a homeport.

On a list of ocean cruise ports, you’ll find the names of Bar Harbor and Cadiz and Tortola and Oranjestad. But no Mobile.

That’s about to change.

In the news…

• Regal Princess largest cruise ship ever to visit St. John's, Newfoundland
• Marco Polo, formerly the Alexander Pushkin, back in Quebec after 50 years

Today at portsandbows.com: MSC Divina back to Miami to stay


Carnival Ecstasy
4 nights
November 30, 2015
Miami (return): Key West, Cozumel
Inside: $169
Cost per day: $42
www.carnival.com

New Orleans: Big Growth Not Easy

New Orleans-4

Anniversaries are always reason for reflection, good or bad. It's now 10 years since Katrina.

One word. That's often the case with things that are unforgettable — Hiroshima, Elvis, LeBron — because one word is all it takes.

Katrina.

It was the last week of August 2005. The hurricane that destroyed a city. In the New Orleans-1aftermath, they said New Orleans would never be the same. They said the people wouldn't go back…not to live, not to visit, not to cruise.

But they have.

In 2006, Carnival resumed its New Orleans operations with one ship, the Fantasy. Sixteen thousand passengers. It was a start.

Fast forward.

This year, after gradually increasing the size and number of ships plus the frequency of the cruises, Carnival expects to carry 450,000 passengers from New Orleans. One of its biggest ships, the Dream, is based in New Orleans, taking up to 3,646 passengers on New Orleans-2week-long Caribbean cruises all year long. That's complemented by the Elation, running 4-and-5-day cruise to Mexico. Next spring, another increase…the 2,758-passenger Triumph replaces the Elation, shuttling 700 additional passengers off to sea every four or five days.

It's not all Carnival, of course. Norwegian, Azamara and Crystal also cruise from The Big Easy. But Carnival is biggest, a commitment that has led to port improvements.

Next year, Carnival's 3,000,000th passenger will pass through New Orleans since Katrina.

A decade ago, nobody would have predicted that.

In the news…

• Regent Seven Seas trumpets new Explorer as "most luxurious ship ever built"
• Viking River Cruises going back to the Ukraine after two-year absence

Today at portsandbows.com: Green light for Greenwich


Norwegian Jade
7 nights
December 5, 2015
Houston (return): Cozumel, Belize, Roatan
Inside: $479
Cost per day: $68
www.ncl.com

Carnival Live Series Already A Hit

If our memories are as good as we hope they are, it was Royal Caribbean that first started flying performers (Taylor Swift, Martina McBride) in for a concert on the ship while in a port. Norwegian picked up on it (Rascall Flatts).

Now, Carnival has take the concept to a new level.

The Carnival Live Series started last week. The band was Styx, the concert was a Styxsellout and it took place on two ships, the Fantasy and the Fascination, in Nassau. The concept will run through December, at which time Carnival will re-assess…it might not be necessary after such an impressive start.

Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw put it like this: "All I know is our boats were rockin’. We had a great time and it looked like our fans loved it, too. Can’t wait to do it again in the fall in Nassau and then in Catalina Island and Cozumel.”

Bands or artists on the agenda for either Nassau or Cozumel or Catalina Island include REO Speedwagon, Kansas, Olivia Newton-John, Martina, Lady Antebellum, Chicago and Jennifer Hudson.

The concept is win-win-win.

A win for the passengers who, for a reasonable ticket price ($20 or so) get to see favorite performers in a cozy setting.

A win for the cruise line, which uses the attraction to sell passage on the cruises.

A win for the artists, who can make a few bucks doing one-night stands like they're accustomed to doing on land and therefore don't have to devote a week to concerts, signing autographs and being recognizable in close quarters.

Carnival is making it work by often having two ships in the port of choice at the same time. That will happen — sometimes they are 3-day weekends — 14 times between now and December. Two ships, two concerts makes it all possible for two sets of passengers.

Today at portsandbows.com: Quantum of the Seas on the move and it's not even here yet!

Celebrity Constellation
12 nights
June 26, 2014 
Amsterdam (return): StavangerOldenMoldeAlesundGeirangerFlamBergenOslo 
Inside: $1,299
Cost per day: $108
www.celebritycruises.com

Carnival 'Crash' a Family Affair

We once had married friends who had a most calamitous incident when taking one of their two cars to leave at the airport because the husband was going to be landing there late at night. They had a car accident. Both of them. Together. Bang-bang. Who hit whom?

One car was a Mercedes. The other was a BMW. Presumably, the insurance company had a laugh while writing the check for damages.

This week, two vehicles that cost considerably more than either a Mercedes or BMA had an accident. Both of them. Together. Bang-bang. They’re in the same family. In fact, some say the resemblance is so close that they must be twin sisters.

One is called Carnival Fantasy. The other is Carnival Imagination. Key Biscayne (Florida) was the site of their little fender-bender, although in the cruise ship world fender-benders are never little. The damage was minimal, relatively speaking, and the way the story goes, the Fantasy backed into the Imagination while docking.

Fantasy turned 21 this year. Imagination is just 16. Kids nowadays!

It’s presumed that the parents (Carnival) issued a “stern” warning once the authorities had the young ‘uns blow to make sure they weren’t over the limit. This was one accident that can’t be blamed on the 16-year-old!

Oh, and what about our friends from the Mercedes-BMW accident? They’re no longer married.

Conservationists, Cruisers Do Charleston

Something’s becoming clear to those of us with a fundamental ignorance of Charleston, South Carolina. This southern city is just different. Possibly different from anywhere else in America, a fact which gets the attention of people who like cruising, ahem, because of the recent Carnival ship shuffle.

But first, a little history lesson.

Charleston has had the same mayor, Joseph Riley, for 35 years. That alone makes the place a little unusual, to say the least.

Charleston claims to be the first U.S. city with a tourism ordinance, passed 26 years ago, limiting the number of buses, carriages, people and tour-guide licenses in its historic district.

Charleston, in the eyes of some observers, has a siege mentality that has erupted again when Carnival sent its Fantasy there to begin a year of regular cruises to the Bahamas and Florida. Previously, Carnival and Celebrity both used the port part-time.

It’s the conservationists versus the tourism industry, and it’s probably not a new debate in Charleston. In the event you think this couldn’t happen in your backyard, well, if you live in or near a cruise-ship port, it could.

The conservationists fear Charleston’s reputation as a quality tourist destination will be irreparably damaged by more pollution, more traffic and more tourists, an estimated 110,000 of them from Carnival ships. Those who see the increased cruise traffic as a positive, among them Mayor Riley, believe Charleston can handle the increase and retain its charm for tourists and quality of life for residents.

In any case, Charleston won’t become a cruise ship hub like Fort Lauderdale or even New Orleans. Its current terminal, and the one being planned to replace it, can only handle just one cruise ship of “modest size” at a time. Sounds like a reasonable compromise.

Why should you care?

Cruisers and conservationists clash everywhere. Cruising continues to grow. Environmentalists demand that ships be responsible caretakers. If they aren’t, cruise lines will lose battles in ports, and that could impact on the number of port choices you have.

What’s more, Charleston sounds like a nice place to visit.

That’s it, we’re done.

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