Why Carnival is deploying its newest, snazziest ship to California  

Dec 31, 2019

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The hottest new ship from Royal Caribbean, the record-size Symphony of the Seas, sails out of Miami. So does the snazziest new vessel from Norwegian Cruise Line, the just-unveiled Norwegian Encore. The latest-and-greatest Princess Cruises ship, Sky Princess, is based just down the road in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as are the newest vessels from Holland America Line and Celebrity Cruises.

This is as you would expect it in the cruise world. It’s long been a truism that the most notable new ships from the big North America-based lines could be found in the big cruise hubs of Florida — at least in the winter (come summer, some head to Europe).

What you wouldn’t expect is the initial home of the hottest new ship from cruise giant Carnival. Unveiled earlier this month, the 4,008-passenger Carnival Panorama has been deployed year-round to the Los Angeles area. It’s sailing weekly to the Mexican Riviera out of the Port of Long Beach.

For Carnival, it’s a big bet that the presence of a leading-edge vessel on the West Coast will spark new excitement and demand for cruising across the region.

(Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

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“We saw an opportunity,” the president of Carnival, Christine Duffy, told me during an interview on board Carnival Panorama. “This is a market that has not seen a new ship in two decades.”

Speaking one-on-one during the ship’s inaugural festivities, Duffy said Carnival expected Carnival Panorama to draw new cruisers not just from California, but from states across the West. She mentions places like Utah, Arizona and Nevada where would-be cruisers, until now, have faced long flights, often with connections, to reach the newest ships in Florida.

“Making a flight from Utah to Miami [for a cruise] is a big deal,” she noted. “This is so convenient.”

Traditionally, the cruise vessels that have been deployed year-round to West Coast ports have been smaller, older and less amenity-filled vessels than what can be found on the East Coast.

The ship that Carnival Panorama is replacing in Long Beach — Carnival Splendor — is a typical example. Christened in 2008, it’s 11 years older and more than 15% smaller than Carnival Panorama.

Two more Carnival vessels based in Long Beach, Carnival Inspiration and Carnival Imagination, are among the 27-ship line’s oldest and smallest vessels. Both date back to the 1990s.

Duffy said the bring-it-and-they-will-come strategy for the Carnival Panorama deployment to Long Beach already is paying off. Early bookings have been strong, she suggested.

Related: How to plan a cruise with points and miles

“Clearly what we’re seeing is that there’s demand,” she said. “Of course, we’ve got lots of our repeat cruisers [booking Carnival Panorama] that will come on every new ship that we launch, but we’re seeing people [booking] from not just the drive-to-Long-Beach [market] but more broadly from Utah, Arizona and Nevada. These are people who are really excited to have a ship with these kinds of features.”

In addition to pools and water slides, Carnival Panorama’s top deck offers attractions like a suspended-in-the-air, pedal-powered “sky ride” and ropes course. Neither of the features has ever been seen on a West Coast-based Carnival ship before. Carnival Panorama also has the first Sky Zone trampoline park at sea and Carnival’s first cooking classroom.

(Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

The number and range of cabins, interior lounges, bars and restaurants on Carnival Panorama also is more robust than on almost any other Carnival ship. Carnival Panorama is the third vessel in Carnival’s new Vista Class series, which began rolling out in 2016. The three ships in the series are the line’s biggest, most-amenity-filled vessels ever.

Duffy pointed out that, with Carnival Panorama’s deployment to Long Beach, Carnival now had one of these new Vista Class vessels on each major coast of the country. The other two ships in the series, Carnival Horizon and Carnival Vista, sail out of Miami and Galveston, Texas, respectively.

This means travelers in every part of the country are now within just a few hours by car or airplane to one of the line’s newest, most modern ships.

“Given the popularity of Horizon and Vista in Miami and Galveston, we were pretty confident that we were going to get the kind of response that we did,” Duffy said.

As Duffy noted, the deployment fits into Carnival’s overarching strategy of moving ships closer to where customers live so the vessels are easy to reach. The line has a major presence at other giant cruise hubs in Florida, in addition to significant cruise ports such as Galveston, Long Beach and New York. But over the years, the company also has expanded its presence in such secondary cruise ports as Charleston, South Carolina; Mobile, Alabama; and Norfolk, Virginia.

Carnival now sails out of 18 ports in the United States. That’s far more U.S. home ports than any other line.

Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises

Duffy noted that Carnival was investing heavily in California. In addition to the Carnival Panorama deployment to Long Beach, the line also deployed a ship to San Diego for the first time since 2012 in December, and soon will offer its first cruises ever out of San Francisco.

(Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

The line also recently overhauled its Long Beach cruise terminal to double its capacity. It’s housed in a striking geodesic dome that once was home to the Spruce Goose, the famed flying boat prototype built by the Hughes Aircraft Company.

“We’re going to put more money into the parking facility [in Long Beach], and we’re also investing in a development in Ensenada,” Duffy added. Ensenada is a common stop for ships sailing out of Long Beach.

And Carnival has been stepping up marketing efforts all over the region.

Related: 11 of the best cruises from Los Angeles

Recent California-focused marketing efforts at Carnival include the line’s first-ever float in the Rose Bowl parade in Pasadena, California, and a Carnival Panorama-related announcement revealed by basketball great Shaquille O’Neal, who appears in Carnival commercials as the line’s Chief Fun Officer. The Food Network’s Guy Fieri, who long has partnered with Carnival to develop onboard restaurants, also has been involved in touting the new ship. He was a big presence at the unveiling of the vessel this month.

“We’re really leveraging our assets,” Duffy said, “to tell the story of cruising in this market and in this western region.”

Feature image courtesy of Carnival.

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