The result: distinct brands that carve out their own niche in the marketplace, even when they offer similar price points and itineraries.
The companies do a really good job with having their own identity, said cruise specialist Serkan Seko Sener, who owns a Cruise One franchise in Miami Beach. The cross-branding doesnt take place.
Sener said even clients who are repeat cruisers dont realize that premium brands such as Princess and Holland America are owned by Carnival Corp.
Stein Kruse, president and chief executive officer of Holland America Line Inc. and chairman of Seabourn, said that brand distinctionis completely by design.
I have all the information that I could ever want about Princess; I can look at the financials, operation, menus, there are no secrets, he said. Yet I view Princess also as a competitor not as a primary competitor that I target, but it is a competitor.
The massive organization also allows the company to gain efficiency from economies of scale, and to merge some behind-the-scenes operations to cut costs.
In 2011, on the heels of adding three new ships in three years, Seabourn Cruise Line moved its headquarters from Miami to Holland America Lines headquarters in Seattle. As part of the move, Richard Meadows became Seabourns president while holding on to his role as Holland Americas executive vice president of marketing, sales and guest programs.
I actually literally have two offices, he said. The move has allowed the six-ship Seabourn unit to tap the larger lines technology operations, logistics, accounting and other systems. As a result, Seabourn has been able to launch an improved website and customize a customer relations management platform that Holland America built. Through that technology, the brand launched a loyalty program over the summer that gives points for every day sailed.
The beauty of having such a large company is that they can manage resources for the benefit of all their brands, said Miami cruise expert Stewart Chiron, CEO of CruiseGuy.com. For example, he said, the company can use the same hull design across brands.
Royal Caribbean is specifically building brand new classes of ships while Carnival was doing the same design, said Chiron. Royal Caribbean Internationals Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas both hold 5,400 passengers at double occupancy, the largest cruise ships in the world, and the company recently announced that they had ordered a third.
Carnival is a distinctly different group from their competitors, he said. Its very numbers driven and theyre providing a very specific product....Theyre not producing ships just to blow people away.
The companys brands also plan itineraries with fuels costs in mind, weighing the number of ports with how much each stop will cost. The company anticipates a 5 percent improvement in fuel use this year.
Were very conscious about where we go now and does the consumer see value in going there, said Gerry Cahill, president and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines. Thats the basic fact of life and we live with that today.
Zackfia said Carnival is well known even outside the cruise industry for its cost-cutting prowess, calling it just kind of second to none.
I think theyve tried to be cognizant of not affecting the passenger experience, she said. Ultimately that will affect the price passengers will be willing to pay. Its a fine line. Theyve kind of walked that line for 10 years.
At Carnival Cruise Lines, the companys largest brand with 24 ships, the balancing act is trimming costs where possible while also investing $500 million in a new renovation program dubbed Fun Ship 2.0. The initiative, announced in late 2011, includes branded partnerships with game company Hasbro, comedian George Lopez, Food Network personality Guy Fieri, DJ Irie and EA Sports, as well as a host of new eateries, bars and public spaces.
The innovations are designed in many ways to attract first-time cruisers, a key market for Carnival Cruise Lines. The line has also been attracting more families, which has dropped the average age to 39 from the low 40s just a couple years ago, Cahill said.
Carnival Breeze, which also sports a new tropical, beach-inspired look, is the first new ship to offer most of the updates. But the company is rolling out many of the features on older ships. Phase One of the project will see 14 ships get the updates by 2015; the most dramatic is Carnival Destiny, which is getting a $155 million retrofit to become Carnival Sunshine when it re-launches in April.
Carnival Breeze defined how we think of our product today, said Cahill, who became the brands president and CEO in 2007. Now the real challenge is to try to roll as much of that back to the existing fleet, as much as you can as fast as you can, without going broke.
Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of the website CruiseCritic.com, said the biggest changes at Carnival Corp. are happening at Carnival Cruise Lines.
Theres a lot of new energy, theres a lot of new style, new branded features, the biggest refurbishment effort weve ever seen with Carnival Sunshine/Destiny, she said. Its really taking a leap from the Carnival of old. And thats both good and bad.
The good part is that the brand is refreshing an image that had grown dated. But the bad, Spencer Brown said, can be seen in Cruise Critic reviews of the Carnival Breeze that bemoan a decline in food quality and service.
Cahill said he doesnt pay a lot of attention to review sites, which he called very anecdotal, but relies on surveys sent to guests after their cruise. Dining scores are very high, he said.
Christopher Cooper, a longtime Carnival Cruise Lines customer, wrote one of those Cruise Critic reviews, though he said he enjoyed the ship and all it had to offer on a recent Carnival Breeze cruise. Hes been on more than a dozen Carnival cruises since 2003.
I think if youre a first-time cruiser, things are going to be overwhelming and youre going to think its pretty neat, said Cooper, a 53-year-old firefighter who lives in Port St. Lucie. If youve got the 15 cruises I have, the cutbacks are just coming in waves.
Still, he singled out the RedFrog Pub (only on Carnival Breeze, Carnival Magic and Carnival Sunshine) as a new favorite and said his next cruise, in February on Carnival Glory, will suffer by comparison.
There is no such thing as a bad cruise, but its not going to be to that level, he said.
On a recent Saturday, new passengers were discovering the island-themed pub, where bartenders snapped pictures to display on a screen and suggested cocktails in a $19.95 oversized fish bowl glass as a beverage option.
Des Moines resident Keith Moeller, 31, got a Long Island iced tea with a Caribbean twist and reflected on what prompted him, his wife and 81 of their friends to vacation with Carnival.
Using a word very important to the cruise line, he said: Its funner.