File this under the Department of Not Again: Carnival Cruise Lines has had problems with not one but three of its ships in the last week alone—this just a month after the CarnivalTriumphlimped into port in Mobile, Alabama after a highly publicized four nights at sea without power, air conditioning, and functioning toilets.
And now the Legend ship, reporting mechanical problems with its propulsion system, is skipping a scheduled stop at Grand Cayman Island to get back to port in Tampa. And new information emerged about a steering problem on Carnival Elation the week before; the company said it had asked a tugboat to accompany it as it left port in New Orleans in an excess of caution.
No passengers or crew members were hurt during any of these incidents. And there reportedly was little passenger inconvenience, unlike the situation a month ago when a fire aboard the Carnival Triumph left passengers adrift for days without power. Gerry Cahill, president and CEO of the beleaguered cruise company, announced on Wednesday a comprehensive maintenance review of Carnival’s entire fleet, news he hopes will calm the rough waters his company has hit in 2013. The Triumph is scheduled to be out of service through mid-April; the Dream has cancelled at least one sailing.
The bright side for travelers: Deals may be on the horizon.
More glimpses of the future, from Cruise Shipping Miami:
° Scenic Cruises offers four new European river itineraries and new ship, The Jewel, with balconies that can be enclosed for weather protection. In April it will also launch the first new river cruising ship in Russia in memory from the company. The $10 million remake was set on an existing barge hull.
° The new Hong Kong cruise terminal designed by Sir Norman Foster and set on the site of the old Kai Tak airport features a public green space atop the terminal. The first ship berth becomes operational in June. When it's completed in about 15 months, it will be able to handle four megaliners at once.
° Along with the year-round ship it is taking to the Galapagos this year, Silversea is adding a Northwest Passage cruise aboard its existing expedition ship, Silver Explorer. Bookings are going fast, reported the line. Compagnie du Ponant, which is also launched a Northwest Passage cruise, said the sailing sold out in four days.
Passengers aboard Norwegian Cruise's Getaway can sign up for a truly magic dinner in the Illusionarium, a domed space where Hogswarts meets Jules Verne. The experience, priced at $35, will feature a magic show and dinner, the company announced Wednesday at the Cruise Shipping Miami conference. The project was designed by Broadway director/choreographer Patricia Wilcox, Tony Award-winning scenic designer David Gallo and veteran magician Jeff Hobson.
And get ready to rock. The Getaway, which launches in January 2014 with sailings from Miami, will feature a Grammy Experience venue, with memorabilia and live performances from Grammy winners and nominees. In fall 2014, the ship will host a Grammy Experience themed cruise.
Following the Carnival Triumph disaster in which 4,000 passengers were powerless for days, Carnival Cruise lines announced it has engaged a panel of outside experts to conduct a full review of the Triumph and other ships fleetwide to identify redundancies that would prevent future incidents.
In an exclusive interview with the Miami Herald's Hannah Sampson, Carnival President Gerry Cahill said that the flexible piping that failed and caused the Triumph's disabling fire had been replaced five months before and was due to be checked on its regular schedule about 30 days after the incident. The average life of the part is 18 months, he said. Redundancies that should have kept the ship in working order were also disabled by the fire.
Cruise lines often use the Cruise Shipping Miami conference as a place to reveal details of new ships, and this year is no exception.
Tuesday, Princess Cruises held a press conference to highlight new features of its Royal Princess, which debuts in Europe this June. Its signature feature — a "seawalk'' extending 28 feet beyond the hull — has been driving chatter for the past year. The latest revelations are details designed to keep the conversation going. About half require a separate fee. Among the offerings:
° New (and complimentary) on-demand programming in stateroom TVs, including movies and television series.
° A tea tower and tea sommelier who will help passengers create their own blend to take home.
° Mobile QR-code tour of the ship's $2 million collection of art
° Outdoor art installation by the marine artist, Wyland
° Whiskey flights offered at the signature Wheelhouse Bar
° Onboard intranet
° $3,000 spa package for four including all-day massages in a private cabana
° Largest outdoor movie screen (this one is 30 percent bigger than those elsewhere)
° A daily menu of 8 flavors of hand-made gelato
° Four different "dancing fountain'' shows
Windstar execs also talked about new itineraries for the three ships it has purchased from Seabourn that join the fleet over the next two years. Expect sailings in Latin America, the British Isles, the Far East and a circumnavigation of Sicily. Tahiti sailings start in spring of 2014.
The cruise industry addressed safety issues head-on at its annual industry conference, giving the first question of the annual CEO panel to Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill, who described an in-depth review by Carnival and outside experts to determine how the company and other cruise lines can prevent future incidents. Still, the industry response to the recent Carnival Triumph breakdown and other ship failures at the Cruise Shipping Miami conference were carefully scripted, and specifics about both the cause and future changes were limited.
Cahill stressed the rareness of such incidents and the fact that no one was hurt. But Royal Caribbean CEO Adam Goldstein, who also appeared on the panel, said that in the future all lines will likely pay attention not only to strict safety but also to passenger comfort when an incident does occur. Goldstein also addressed a commonly expressed concern that the industry is poorly regularly. Not so, he said. Regardless of where a ship is, it is under the regulation of various agencies at all times.
South Florida is always a hot spot for cruising, but for a single week each March Miami truly becomes the center of the cruise universe. That's because every cruise executive, vendor and journalist is scurrying from conference room to exhibition hall for the industry's annual Cruise Shipping Miami confab. Though it's an industry-only event, cruise fans watch for conference reports to find out about the latest details on new ships, ports and trends.
This is the 29th year of the conference, and organizers say they're expecting "a significant'' increase -- up 8 percent in attendees over its usual crowd of 11,000. The increase, they say, is because cruising increasingly is going global. (The Miami Herald's Hannah Sampson has more details on the industry's global push.)
Monday is always the slow day; the confab kicks into high gear with Tuesday's State of the Industry address featuring the heads of many major lines. But even Monday, two trends were underscored, giving cruisers some idea of what they can look for in the future:
° Snappier port facilities. In June, Hong Kong will open its long-awaited new cruise terminal, designed by star architect Sir Norman Foster. In the next few years passengers will also find sleek new terminals in Busan, South Korea, due in late 2014; and in Dubai, due at the end of this year. China also has new terminals under construction.
° More international itineraries. Charles Robertson, CEO of luxury small-ship American Cruise Line, said his line expects to announce an international itinerary in the next few months, possibly in Latin America, the Caribbean or the British Isles. Its current six ships -- a seventh is coming this year -- win kudos for airy cabins, attentive service and atypical itineraries in the northeast, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, the Mississippi and the U.S. southeast. Its ships are built in the U.S. and run with all-American crew.
Other tidbits from Monday:
- Look for new itineraries along Chile's coast and north into Peru and Ecuador in the coming years, predicted Sebastian Montero, a Chilean port official.
- Despite recent saber-rattling by North Korea, Asian cruising will continue to grow, said Lim Ki-Tack of the Busan, Korea, Port Authority.
"Following two straight years of record revenues, it was the natural progression for company growth," Sven Lindblad, President and Founder of Lindblad Expeditions, said in a release.
Award-winning Lindblad is known for its small-ship expeditions run in partnership with The National Geographic Society. Orion's single ship, the 102-passenger Orion, will take on The National Geographic brand. Itinerary details haven't yet been released, but a Lindblad spokesperson said the Borneo and Kimberly sailings will continue into 2014.
Fans of Windstar Cruises will soon be able to expand their horizons in Asia, Europe, and Tahiti. Tuesday, the company announced it will buy three 200-passenger ships from the Yachts of Seabourn. The purchase doubles the number of Windstar ships and the number of berths, raising total capacity to six ships and about 1,200 berths, said Windstar CEO Hans Birkholz.
The first of the ships, Pride, will move to Windstar in spring of 2014; the Legend and Spirit, will join the fleet in spring 2015. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Xanterra, Windstar's parent company, bought the line in 2011 and has refurbished all three ships. The current ships all sport electronically raised sails. The Seabourn ships are traditional motor-driven yachts. But its the size and shipboard style—not the propulsion—that made the purchase attractive, according to Birkholz.
After a brief delay caused by a broken tow line, a trio of tugs is again hauling the disabled Carnival Triumph toward in Mobile, Alabama. It should arrive later this evening. Triumph departed Thursday with 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew. It was scheduled to return to port early Monday after a weekend stop in Cozumel, but fire broke out Sunday morning in the engine room. The cause of the blaze, which was put out by automatic systems, is still not known.
The ship lost propulsion and had to rely on emergency generator power, leaving passengers with a limited number of working bathrooms and no air conditioning. Guests have reported long lines for food and said they were forced to use bags as toilets.
Sailings aboard the ship have been cancelled through April 13, the cruise line said. Current passengers will receive a full refund, plus $500 and a discount on a future voyage.
For updates, see stories from The Miami Herald, where Travel + Leisure cruise editor Jane Wooldridge, the Miami Herald's Business editor, oversees cruise news coverage.
Jane Wooldridge is the cruise editor at Travel + Leisure.