DISASTER TIMELINE: How Carnival Went From 'Fun Ship' To 'Poop Cruise'

carnival triumph cruise shipCarnival’s ‘Triumph’

Photo: The Associated Press

Over its 41 years, Carnival Cruise Line has had a checkered past. In its heyday, Carnival was the cruise brand known for innovation, but more recently it has become known as the brand with PR disasters to deal with.

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Last week, Carnival’s ‘Triumph’ ship was towed into Mobile, Alabama after almost a week stuck at sea due to an engine fire.

The testimonies from the passengers are truly disgusting: Hallways were flooded with human waste, there was no A/C or running water, and passengers were left to survive on limited food and water. The Triumph was given the nickname “poop cruise” because passengers were forced to use the bathroom in bags.

But do these PR crises have a lasting effect? According to Jaunted, trips aboard ‘Triumph’ can already be booked for as early as April of this year. That’s only two months after passengers said that the floors were “flooded with sewer water.”

This type of disaster is not new for Carnival. It experienced very similar situations in 1998, 1999, and 2010. And let’s not forget about the Costa Concordia disaster in Italy last year in which the ship capsized, killing 32 passengers. (Carnival owns Costa Concordia).

It has also had to deal with circumstances of passengers jumping overboard to their deaths. 

But with every PR disaster in Carnival’s history, it has also experienced record-breaking good moments.

Carnival was the original brand to pioneer the concept of shorter, less expensive cruises. It built the first ship to weigh more than 100,000 tons, as well as the world’s first non-smoking ship.

The cruise company’s on-board service has won numerous awards, including three Cruise Critic Editor’s Picks —best new ship, best bar, and best value in 2012.

Carnival Cruise Lines was founded by Ted Arison in 1972.

Ted Arison, the son of a multi-millionaire shipping magnate, was born in Israel in 1924. He immigrated to the U.S. in the early 50s and co-founded Norwegian Cruise Lines in 1966.

He then went on to found his own cruise company, Carnival Cruise Lines, six years later.

Carnival was originally a subsidiary of American International Travel Service (AITS), but in 1974, Arison bought Carnival for $1, along with $5 million in assumed AITS debt.

By the late 1980s, Arison was reportedly one of the world's richest men, with a personal fortune estimated to be between $6 and $10 billion.

His family still owns the Miami Heat. He was the man responsible for bringing the team to South Florida.

Carnival's first-ever voyage got off to a bad a start.

According to Carnival's website, in 1972 'the company's first cruise ship, the TSS Mardi Gras, runs aground on a sandbar during its inaugural voyage.'

But by the early 80's, things started improving.

In 1984, Carnival became the first cruise line to advertise on network television. Kathie Lee Gifford, then Kathie Lee Johnson, was the company's first spokesperson.

The 1980s was a great time for Carnival.

In 1982, the 'Tropicale' ship debuted, representing the first new ship the industry had seen in years.

Two years later, Carnival launched the first network-wide advertising campaign in the industry.

This video is one of the original commercials Carnival ran. It features Kathie Lee Johnson, aka Kathie Lee Gifford.

In the late 80s, Carnival was carrying more passengers than any other cruise line, making it 'The World's Most Popular Cruise Line.' The brand still uses this phrase as its tagline.

In 1987, Carnival completed an initial public offering of 20 per cent of its common stock.

The cruise line was able to generate around $400 million from its IPO.

This money would help it buy new ships, as well as acquire other brands.

In 1989, it made its first acquisition -- the Holland America Line.

In the 90s, Carnival began launching newer, bigger ships, including the world's first non-smoking vessel.

In 1997, Carnival launched 'Destiny,' the first cruise ship in the world to weigh more than 100,000 tons.

One year later, Carnival launched 'Paradise,' the first non-smoking cruise ship in the world.

But with these breakthroughs also came the company's first major PR nightmares.


In 1998, there was a fire onboard the Carnival 'Ecstasy.'

In July 1998, soon after 'Ecstasy' departed from Miami, a fire started in the main laundry room.

As the ship was attempting to re-dock at the Miami port, it lost propulsion power and began drifting off course. Sound familiar?

It took six tugboats to fight the fire and pull the ship to shore. Eight passengers and 14 crew members were injured. It cost $17 million to repair the ship.

Then there was another fire on another ship in 1999.

A little over a year later, the Tropicale's engine room caught fire, leaving the ship in the path of Tropical Storm Harvey.

The ship's captain, Vito Riccio, told the St. Petersburg Times that he didn't relay information about the fire to the passengers for fear that they would then panic and jump overboard.

In 2005, the company was both praised and criticised for its Katrina-related efforts.

While the early 2000s were relatively uneventful for the brand, things changed after Hurricane Katrina when the U.S. government signed a six-month contract with Carnival. Under the agreement, Carnival received $236 million in exchange for three ships to be used as temporary housing for Katrina victims.

The ships were docked along the Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas coastlines.

Despite Carnival's honorable intentions, the contract was highly criticised because Carnival was earning more money than it normally would have had the ships been used as vacation spots. Many of the ships were also mostly empty.

Between 2006 and 2007, two separate passenger deaths caused another PR dilemma for the brand.

In May 2006, a Philadelphia man jumped off his balcony on Carnival's 'Legend' after an argument with his wife. The tragedy happened off the coast of Bermuda.

A little over a year later, an 18-year-old from Houston also jumped to his death from a Carnival ship. According to the Houston Chronicle, his jump may have been premeditated.

The economic downfall of 2008 did not bode well for Carnival or the rest of the cruise ship industry.

In April 2008, Micky Arison, the chairman of Carnival Corp. & plc, announced that the brand would not be ordering any new U.S. ships until the American economy improved.

'Dream,' the largest of the 'Fun Ship' line, was retired in 2009. It was also the largest ship ever built by the Italian shipbuilding company Fincantieri.

In November 2010, another Carnival cruise ship had a fire on board.

The generator room on Carnival's 'Splendor' caught fire, causing the ship to lose power.

According to CBS News, 4,500 passengers were trapped at sea for over 24 hours with very little food and no A/C or hot water. The ship was towed to San Diego.

Once again, sound familiar?

For the next couple of years, Carnival avoided major PR disasters.

In January 2012, a Costa Concordia ship owned by Carnival struck a rock off the coast of an Italian island.

30 passengers aboard the Costa Concordia lost their lives, and as of December 2012, two were still missing.

Because the ship wreckage is in a nationally protected marine park and coral reef, removing the wreckage has proven difficult and costly.

According to 60 Minutes, the cleanup will cost $400 million.

Hundreds of passengers and up to 1,000 businesses on the Italian island have sued or are in the process of suing Carnival.

Carnival's most recent PR fiasco may be the last straw for many of Carnival's loyal customers.

After almost a week of being stranded with no running water or air conditioning, passengers who suffered aboard the 'Triumph' ship are already starting to sue Carnival over the conditions they endured.

Making things even worse, one of the buses carrying rescued passengers from Mobile to New Orleans broke down.

Carnival has already offered passengers a refund, cruise credit, and $500, but this disaster may prove too big to be solved with money.

The engine fire that caused the horrible conditions is still under investigation, and it may take months to find the cause.

Despite Carnival's recent problems, the brand is still used by almost 50 per cent of worldwide cruise passengers.

According to Cruise Market Watch, the worldwide cruise industry is an estimated $36.2 billion business.

Current data shows a 4.5 per cent increase in revenue from 2012 figures.

There has also been a 3.3 per cent increase in yearly passengers since 2012.

This chart shows the revenues of the worldwide cruise industry. Each colour represents a different parent company. Subsidiaries of Carnival Corp. & plc (CCL) are the red dots. Subsidiaries of CCL's major competitor, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCL), are shown in dark blue. All other brands, including MSC Cruises and Norwegian, are shown in light blue.

CCL serves 48.4 per cent of total worldwide cruise passengers. RCL serves 23.3 per cent, and all other brands combine to serve 28.3 per cent of cruisers.

You've seen how Carnival has operated over the years...

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