Cruise line caters to 50-plus crowd

Ted Arison may have retired in 1990 and now calls Israel home, but he’s still the undisputed king of the high seas.

Arison launched Carnival Cruise lines in 1972 with one ship, the Mardi Gras (formerly the Empress of Canada). It wasn’t an auspicious beginning. Even before the Mardi Gras had cleared the Miami harbour, with 300 travel agents aboard, the ship ran aground. That unhappy beginning didn’t deter Arison who soon after purchased the Empress of Britain and renamed it Carnivale. In 1978, he purchased the S.A. Vaal, and after a $40 million refit, re-launched it as the Festivale. However, buying old ships didn’t fit with the public’s growing demand for bigger and better cruise ships.

Taking an even bigger plunge in 1982, Arison started building his own cruise ships. The gamble has, of course, paid off handsomely. First of the new vessels launched was the 1,022-passenger Tropicale, weighing in at 36,674 tons. Since then, he’s supervised the building of 13 more cruise ships, each bigger and better than its predecessors. The most recent was the Carnival Triumph, launched earlier this year and weighing in at a hefty 102,000 tons and a capacity of 2,758 passengers.

Not onto rest on his laurels, Arison continues to keep a guiding hand on his far-flung multi-billion-dollar fleet, actively supervising the construction of each new Carnival ship. He’s got two biggies scheduled for launch next year, plus one each in 2002 and 2003. He was also instrumental in the controversial decision to make the Triumph the world’s first smoke-free cruise ship, welcome news for the many CARP members who have written to me complaining about the smoke problems aboard some cruise ships.

Carnival Cruise Lines went public in 1987 with Carnival Corp. listed on the New York Stock Exchange, giving Arison an opportunity to expand still further — buying up other cruise lines. Carnival Corporation has since purchased the Holland America Line and Windstar Cruises, Seabourn Cruise line and holds controlling interest in Costa and Cunard lines, plus a 25 per cent stake in Airtours of Britain which controls Canada’s Sunquest Vacations. Airtours and Sunquest also have their own cruise line operating three ships in the Mediterranean and Caribbean: Sunbird, Sundream and Carousel.

“All in all, Carnival Corporation has 43 cruise ships,” explains Tim Gallagher, vice-president of Carnival Cruise Lines, during a recent interview on board Carnival’s superliner Ecstasy in the Caribbean. “Our success is based on our listening to people — for example, our passengers said they wanted a more casual dress code, which we now have on all the Carnival ships. There’s no need to buy new clothes for one of our cruises — bring what you’ve got in your closet.” While the Carnival ships are big, bold and beautiful — and the music goes on until the wee hours — they do make every effort to accommodate all tastes. “More than 30 per cent of our passengers are over 55 years of age,” says Gallagher. “In fact, we expect to host more than half a million seniors on our ships this year.”