(12:30 p.m. EST) -- Carnival Cruise Lines announced today that Carnival Spirit will abandon the U.S. West Coast for Australia in late 2012, continuing the surge in Down Under cruising -- and the steady decline of California's cruise industry.
The 88,500-ton, 2,124-passenger vessel, which has been splitting time between San Diego (for Mexico) and Seattle (Alaska), will be stationed year-round in Sydney starting in October 2012. The ship will embark on 8- to 12-night Pacific Island cruises and a selection of 13-night New Zealand cruises. According to a statement released today, the shipboard experience will be tailored to the Australian market with onboard spending in AU dollars and no tipping required. "We are examining the overall shipboard product including food, beverage and entertainment and will make some adjustments and enhancements here and there to accommodate Australian tastes," added Lynn Torrent, Carnival's executive vice president sales and guest services.
The line hopes to entice Americans, too. Ann Sherry, CEO of Carnival Australia, which represents the company's Australian deployment locally, said "while the primary market would be Australians and New Zealanders, Carnival's strong brand recognition in the United States would play a role in attracting more US tourists to Australia."
According to Torrent, Spirit will go into dry dock before heading to Australia. Details will be available later this year.
This will be Carnival Cruise Lines' first foray into the region -- and Spirit will become the largest ship ever to cruise full-time in Australia -- although parent company Carnival Corp. also owns the rapidly expanding P&O Australia, which has a four-ship fleet made up of hand-me-downs from Carnival, Princess and others. When Carnival Spirit arrives, Carnival Corp. will have seven ships sailing full-time in the region, including Sun Princess and Dawn Princess, four P&O Australia ships and Carnival Spirit -- up from two in 2007. Moreover, ships from Holland America regularly sail from Sydney and Melbourne. Cunard is planning a circumnavigation of Australia as part of its 2012 world cruise on Queen Mary 2.
Other industry players are dedicating ships to the region, which Cruise Critic highlighted as one of the world's hottest in its 11 trends for 2011 piece. After a two-year hiatus, Celebrity Cruises is heading back with Celebrity Century, and Royal Caribbean is adding a second ship in the southern Pacific for its 2011-12 season.
But Australia's gain may signal another death knell for Southern California-based cruising. In recent years, San Diego and Los Angeles have seen a mass exodus from Carnival, NCL and Royal Caribbean. Due to a combination of factors, including a struggling local economy, the swine flu scare and disinterest with staid Mexican Riviera ports, lines have been pulling ships from the region. (For a more detailed analysis of why California can't keep cruise ships, click here.) And Carnival tells us that, as of now, no ship will replace Carnival Spirit. West Coasters on Cruise Critic message boards are voicing their disappointment. "I'm sorry but this news makes me very sad," posted MsSoCalCruiser. Added Georgie562, "I cannot believe this is happening to the Spirit. I just sailed on her in December and she is a great ship. She will be missed."
As for Alaska, where Spirit is Carnival's only cruise ship, the line has plans to maintain its program in 2013 and beyond. "We are in the process of identifying which ship will operate our Alaska cruises and plan to announce that early next year," noted Torrent.
Needless to say, the smiles on Aussie-based members faces must have been as wide as a Fosters beer can. "This is such AWESOME news for those of us Down Under!" wrote jldev. "Now we will not have to travel long-haul (and spend heaps of $$ on airfares) to get on a superliner." Oysterfiend agreed. "All I can say as someone who IS NOT RELIGIOUS. There just may be a GOD."
What's your take on Carnival Spirit's new Australian deployment? Join the conversation here.
--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor