(1:45 p.m. EST) -- Carnival Cruise Lines has announced a lopsided East Coast - West Coast trade, signaling another windfall for New York cruising and another blow to the hard-hit Mexican Riviera.
Four-year-old, 3,006-passenger Carnival Splendor, a year-round Long Beach-to-Mexico route-maker since 2009, will be redeployed in spring 2013 to New York City, where it will sail year-round Caribbean, Bahamas and Florida cruises.
In turn, eight-year-old, 2,124-passenger Carnival Miracle will move from the Big Apple to the West Coast, where it will split time between the Mexican Riviera and Alaska, with a handful of spring and fall Hawaii cruises mixed in.
In New York, Splendor will assume Miracle's round-the-calendar eight-day schedule, beginning March 23, 2013. A trio of options will include Bahamas/Florida cruises with calls in Port Canaveral (the closest cruise port to Orlando) and the Bahamas' Nassau and Freeport; Eastern Caribbean sailings with visits to San Juan, St. Thomas and Grand Turk; and Eastern Caribbean cruises visiting sister line Holland America's private Bahamian island of Half Moon Cay, Grand Turk and Nassau.
Splendor will join a pair of other year-round Manhattanites in 2013, including 4,000-passenger Norwegian Breakaway, currently under construction, and 2,394-passenger Norwegian Gem.
Splendor will begin life as a New Yorker with a slew of new amenities added during a December 2012 dry-dock. The upgrades, part of Carnival's $500 million FunShip 2.0 initiative, include new rum and tequila bars, and a new comedy club.
Back on the Left Coast, Carnival Miracle's seasonal seven-night Mexican Riviera cruises will sail from Long Beach and call in Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas (two days) -- the same itinerary currently available year-round on Carnival Splendor. Miracle's Mexico season will run in April 2013 and then October 2013 through April 2014.
Though the deployment changes are more than a year out, there are vacation casualties. Gulliksen says Carnival is contacting impacted passengers in an effort to re-accommodate them where possible. The line will reimburse flight change fees of up to $200, refunded in the form of onboard credit. Full refunds of the cruise fare are, of course, also an option.
The uneven trade represents a capacity increase of 41 percent for NYC and another significant blow to the beleaguered Mexican Riviera, which has witnessed a cruise ship exodus in recent years. Lines have regularly cited drug-related safety and security concerns as reasons for the pull-out, claims that Mexican tourism officials have decried as disingenuous.
In the case of Splendor, the "decision to reposition the Carnival Splendor to New York for year-round service was based on the popularity of this program and the large consumer audience that is within driving distance of [NYC]," Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen told Cruise Critic. "Positioning Carnival Splendor in New York provides a newer and larger ship in this important market."
Gulliksen adds that Carnival Inspiration will continue to operate year-round three- and four-day Mexi-Cali cruises from Long Beach. These sailings -- which visit Ensenada (on the three-nighters) and Ensenada and California's Catalina Island (on the four-nighters) -- avoid the Mexican Riviera.
Meanwhile, before heading east, Splendor will head south, embarking on three 13- to 18-night South America cruises in February and March.
A 17-day Long Beach to Santiago cruise will visit Cabo San Lucas and Huatulco, Mexico; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; Quito, Ecuador; Lima, Peru; and Arica, Chile. A 13-day voyage will operate from Santiago to Buenos Aires, Argentina, calling at Puerto Montt, Chile; Punta Arenas, Chile; Ushuaia and Puerto Madryn, Argentina; and Montevideo, Uruguay. An 18-day Buenos Aires to New York voyage will feature calls in Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Recife, and Fortaleza, Brazil; Bridgetown, Barbados; and Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos Islands.
Carnival's only previous foray into South America was undertaken by Splendor in 2009.
--by Dan Askin, News Editor