This is such good news in a time when the cruise industry NEEDS good news. Carnival Cruise Lines will be adding two new ships to their fleet to set sail by 2023. I spent a few minutes chatting with my friend Vance Gulliksen to discuss the state of the cruise industry in a post-pandemic world. You can listen to the podcast, or read the transcript below. You can watch the TV episode Vance references of Beyond Your Backyard, below.
Erik: Vance, it's always good to talk to you, my friend and I haven't seen you in a while, which kind of, you know, breaks my heart a little bit.
Vance: Same here. You know, it's been a long, uh, 15, 16 months, but, uh, we're looking forward to, uh, getting back on the water soon
Erik: And here, I'm looking at these headlines and here's what I like. It's not as though you guys made the decision to have these new ships overnight, we're in the middle of a health crisis in a pandemic, and you guys said, we're doubling down. We're, we're building new ships. We're going to resume if this is, this is going to end, is that about right? You guys, what's going on? We're going to have two new ships now, is that right?
Vance: Yeah. We just announced this morning that we're going to be getting two additional shifts, um, from some of our sister companies. And one of which is an XL class ship, which is, uh, powered by liquified natural gas, which is very eco-friendly. And it's going to have all the bells and whistles of the new Mardi Gras. Um, that's coming out including, um, the bolt rollercoaster, which is a really, uh, talked about feature that's everyone looking forward to.
Erik: I was going to say didn't Mardi Gras arrive a couple of weeks ago. Is that about right?
Vance: It arrived in Port Canaveral, June 4th, I was there. 1500 people showed up at six in the morning to see the ship come in. So it was, uh, very, very exciting. And, uh, it was very emotional. I've got, I'm not going to lie there. You saw longtime carnival employees who have, you know, been waiting for this moment for a long, long time. And it was just fantastic to be around the ship and be around the, you know, the crew members. And it was just a, it was just a great day all around.
Erik: It's so easy for us today. All of us, even those of us who love cruising of course, to look at the cruise industry through a lens of the Corona virus. And, and when you do, it's, it's kind of unpleasant, you know, or it's certainly, I think the worst is behind us, but what's interesting here. And what you just said, Vance is something that I think is really, really important, which is these ships are modern marvels. They're really spectacular. And those of us that have sailed on them know this, especially when you get up close, isn't that true?
Vance: Oh, that's the most definitely true. Um, I remember the documentary we did with you where you went through all the areas of the ship and just saw some of the technology that is on board and it's only getting better and better and better. So yes, uh, you know, the ship, the cruise industry has, uh, really evolved over the last, uh, 10, 15 years. I've been at carnival 27 years. And it's like, it's hard to believe that some of what we're doing on some of these ships these days between a bike ride in the sky and our rollercoaster to these massive waterparks. And it's just really a great way to take a vacation for your whole family.
Erik: Thank you for referencing the, uh, episode of beyond your backyard. And yes, we did go on board and spend a day in the life with one of your captains who was phenomenal. And it really was a special episode to me. And hopefully, you know, the email that we get about that episode and the comments are, oh my gosh, we, we can't wait to go cruising for the first time because we watched this episode. So thanks for bringing that up. But at the same time, what's really interesting to me is that the cruise industry, you know, it's a big industry and it's not exactly easy to pivot per se. And it's also an industry that requires a tremendous amount of cooperation, both from the government side. But we don't really think about the notion of like a cruise ship, a modern day cruise ship. Can't just pull up to a place. You know, they, can't just depart from a place that all of this infrastructure has to be built, has to be thought out, has to really work well together. And so this pandemic and I keep bringing it up. Why, because, you know, this is where we are and where we're going. Is it going to be a really special place? Don't you think once we get through this?
Vance: Oh, for sure. You know, we're, um, developing new protocols on board and, uh, you know, different ways to make sure that everybody stays safe while at the same time, you know, providing, you know, a vacation that people really, really tired clamoring to take, you know, the excitement of demand for the cruise industry is still very, very high. We have some of the most loyal guests around as you know, but, uh, you know, we're working very hard. I mean, you know, safety is our number one concern, and we want to make sure that people, you know, take our cruises and have a great time, but at the same time, stay safe.
Erik: ...And that's true for any vacation, any, you know, it's, it's so funny to me that, that, that occasionally not all the time, but I mean, it's good and bad. And that occasionally the cruise industry gets singled out as some sort of, you know, when we're tired of complaining about the airlines, then we direct our complaints to the cruise industry from time to time, certainly in, in mass media. But the reality of it is there's a reason that the industry is so vast and so successful because the industry itself has figured out how to do it correctly and how to do it, the safest and how to do it the best. That's why people keep coming back on board, these ships, wouldn't you say?
Vance: Oh, that's definitely for sure. And, uh, I mean, that's, you know, we, it's what we do, you know, every day, all day, 365 days a year, we have people working on, you know, making sure you have a great time, but also making sure the ships are as safe as they can be. And, uh, you know, we're very proud of our reputation for everything that we've done here at carnival.
Erik: Occasionally, and I'm sure you're not going to say a about this, which is just fine by me, but I certainly read the same headlines every now and again, although they've kind of quieted down about the relationship between the cruise industry and the state of Florida and the cruise industry and the state we'll figure out a way to, to co-exist in the future, of course that's going to happen, but at the same time, I'm not even sure people are aware that you can take a, a cruise from other ports of call, uh, around the world, in addition to the state of Florida. I mean, again, once you people start to look into cruising, they realize, wow, this is a vacation that is really designed with me in mind.
Vance: Well, with Carnival, we sail from 14 different us home ports. Yeah. So we like to say, you know, half the population is within a day's drive of one of our ports. So, you know, if you live in the coastal areas or even a little bit farther inland, you can sell from Baltimore and Charleston and mobile and new Orleans and Galveston and Tampa, um, all the way to the west coast. So, you know, along beats in Seattle. And, uh, so we're really trying to find a way to make the cruise even more affordable. Since you don't have to worry about an airline ticket. You know, you've got a family of four that's four airline tickets, you got to get to the airport, so you, he just pack the car up and drive to your group.
Erik: And I'm sure...look, we are friends. And I certainly am friendly to the cruise industry because I believe in it, even through this pandemic, I mean, I w just waiting patiently, that's all we're doing. It's just waiting. And, and, and my only concern was that a massive company like carnival was going to go out of business. Um, if this went on much longer, and of course we didn't go through that, which is terrific, but the reality of it is on board. Vance is cruising going to be different on board.
Vance: Certainly it's going to be different. There's going to be different protocols. There's going to be, you know, increased, uh, sanitation and, uh, you know, additional, you know, disinfection procedures, of course. But at the same time, you know, it's, it's a cruise and we want it to be fun. We want people to have a good time. So we're trying to strike that balance and make sure that we still, you know, provide people with the vacation that they have been really, really waiting for. So we want to make sure that we do everything possible to, you know, ensure a safe environment.
Erik: Well, I couldn't have said it better myself. How about that? No, I appreciate you saying that because again, the temptation here is to say, oh, gee, I don't want to go on a cruise. I've never been on a cruise. I'm certainly not going on one. Now that's the first temptation. And, and, but even, but even folks that have been on a cruise and maybe they haven't been in awhile, it's going to be, oh, it's going to be okay. You know, we're w we'll figure this out is, is the message here.
Vance: Oh, for sure. And I mean, I know that, you know, our crew are waiting for our guests to get on board. The others we've been operating at these, what we call the minimum operational Manning, which means we have 125 people on board because the cruise ship is not like an airplane where you can just go park it in the desert and shut it down. You have to keep the engines running. Right. So in order to keep the engines running, you need engineers and you'd take dishes and those technicians need to eat and they need somewhere to stay and, you know, activities. And so you have what we call a, you know, skeletal staff of like 125 people. And, you know, I've been on the ship and it's kind of an eerie, surreal feeling. So now that we're ramping up with more crew members, it really is starting to feel more like cruise and, you know, it's, uh, you know, that, and that's what the crew does. You know, there's a buzz to ship, you know, when you're on it. And when you have 125 people banning the engine, that's a quiet buzz right there. Yeah.
Erik: And I certainly don't mean to ask a question that you can't possibly answer on behalf of the entire industry is cruising going to be cheaper is Cru w w what, what can we look forward to in the future? Like, I don't think people are aware you can book a carnival cruise right now, if you want to. Correct?
Vance: Yeah. We're selling cruises through 2024. So yeah. I mean, uh, I can't really comment on whether it's going to be cheaper or less, you know, or more expensive. So I haven't really looked at it that closely, but, you know, if you get with your travel agent, it's already a good value. So no matter what you pay, you're getting a great value. Right. Um, so, um, you know, we're, we're selling cruises and people have been booking, you know, people continue to book cruises, even despite they get canceled. And they'll just go ahead and book again there, this, these, uh, sailing dates that we have coming up for, like July 3rd in Galveston. I mean, people are ready. You know, when we brought the ship into Galveston, there were a thousand people lining the pier, just water, just watching the ship. They couldn't even get on, you know, so people love cruising and others, that core element of carnival, that there are people that are just extremely loyal and, uh, you know, they just can't wait to get back on board. If you follow the Facebook page of our cruise director, John healed, you know, 350,000 followers. And all they do is talk cruising all day every day. Right?
Erik: Well, and again, for you to say, there's going to be protocols, this is not going to be any different than if, if we decided to do an interview with, uh, uh, Sandals next week, you know, Sandals are gonna say the same thing. They're going to say, yeah, well, of course, this is not, this is what we want to do this, right. We not only do we know we have to, but we want to, because we want to keep our guests safe. Hello. But my point is that the cruise ship isn't the industry isn't going to do anything, quote, unquote, different other than however, they were different to begin with in terms of, I don't think people realize how sanitize those ships were to begin with.
Vance: Oh, for sure. I mean, we cleaned the ships, you know, 24 7, and, you know, we've been operating safely in, in Europe. Um, you know, they carry 500,000 people in Europe, you know, even before this doesn't thing, the cruise industry is really the only industry that's been shut down entirely. I mean, you know, you can go to Disney and you can go to other theme parks and you go everywhere. But, you know, so what the cruise industry is looking forward to getting back on the water and really getting back to what they do, that, I think
Erik: That's something that I always hear. Uh, you know, when people come back, especially first-timers that come back, they always come back and they say the same, you know, they'll say, they'll talk about what they like to, you know, oh, maybe they'll have their minor complaint, whatever, but they'll come back. They'll say what they like, but they always say, basically they'll say, and our room steward, our cabin attendant was so amazing. Right. And then I'll say something like, why do you, what, what, why do you say that? Well, they just, they're so busy. They're always claiming, oh my God.
Vance: And then we want to take them home with you.
Erik: You do that. And then that kind of leads usually to a larger discussion of like, oh my gosh, everywhere. We turned someone somewhere was, you know, doing a little vacuuming, some dusting, some wiping something down, it's this entire army of keeping that, keeping that place safe.
Vance: Well, I'll tell you a funny story. One time we were in the tube in London with me and my boss, and this person comes up to my boss in the middle of the tube and he says Miller light. And that's what my boss would drink. And he was a former current bartender who hadn't bartended in 10 years, but we recognize them and still remembered what he likes to drink. Oh my gosh, that's the funniest thing of the world a decade.
Erik: Oh, you know, I really do think that, that that's, you, you want to talk about service. I mean, we don't have the time we have to go. I know, but I mean, I'm happy about these two new ships, but I mean, we talk about service onboard. I think, I think it's such a great study in, you know, carnival and the entire industry, but I mean, they really do spend time talking about what quality service means and how to replicate that and how to make that special and not go, you know, lose your mind at the same time. I mean, these are hard contracts with your well-paid people, but they're also, it's not easy to be on board a ship for eight weeks at a time or six months at a time or a year and a half at a time and, and be away from your family. But the crew really does an amazing job.
Vance: Oh, you know, when we, um, when we shut down, we had to repatriate, um, 30,000 crew members back to their home countries. And that turned out to be quite a challenge. Given the, you know, the border restriction. Also, we ended up just taking our ship and, uh, putting a ship full of, to India and shipped to the Philippines, the ship to Europe. So now we're doing the same thing, but a reverse we're bringing back all those crew members who are really eager and ready to get back to work and, you know, and serve our guests. And that's what they, you know, they, that's what they do. You know, they take hospitality very, very seriously, and it's something that's, you know, part of what they do. And, uh, you know, we're, we're really looking forward to the welcoming, you know, I guess back and we're doing it gradually. We're not like just flipping a switch and bringing the whole fleet fleet online. We're starting with, uh, July 3rd to Galveston, and then we're going to do July 4th in Miami and Alaska cruises. And then the Mardi Gras to port Canaveral on July 31st. So then we're, you know, we're just slowly but surely bringing our, our ships online. And, uh, you know, that's, that's the most important thing.
Erik: I'm thinking about buying the Queen Mary to make sure it doesn't sink any piece of advice you'd like to share before we go?
Vance: Well, that would be great. You know, that's a beautiful ship and it's right next to our long beach cruise terminal, which is, uh, you know, the old Howard Hughes dome. I would say, go for it!
Erik: Thanks for doing this today, my friend.
Vance: All right. Great. Thanks for having me on!
I am on a mission to get you traveling more often. As the host of the Emmy award- winning, nationally syndicated television television for PBS and the Create channel, "Beyond Your Backyard," I travel (on average) 25 weeks per year. I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet cool people, experience new places, eat delicious food and work with the best production crew in the world. Hopefully, through this blog, you will join me on my travels and be reminded just how exciting it is to be alive!