Although I’ve done some copywriting for a couple of different cruise lines, I’d never actually taken a cruise until my recent trip to Alaska on Carnival Cruise Lines. And I have to say, it was quite an experience, both as passenger and someone endlessly fascinated with travel marketing. Allow me to share some random observations:
From the outset, the brand positioning is quite clear. Carnival owns “Fun.” That ethos permeates everything. The word is sprinkled throughout much of the signage (which is quite distinct in its blue and red fonts.) But beyond that, you know very quickly you’re not on a sedate voyage with Carnival. A constant stream of trivia games, contests, dance parties, song-and-dance shows, and other activities are designed to keep people entertained no matter what they’re into.
Our ship, the Carnival Legend, reminded me of a Vegas hotel — from the garish décor and art to the massive foodservice operation to the confusing signage. It’s easy to lose your way and perhaps that’s by design, but unless you’ve been on one of these ships or seen one up close, words can’t describe how big and labyrinthine they are.
Upselling is everywhere, and you simply can’t avoid it. Offshore excursions, art auctions, jewelry, on-board photo mementos, liquor, gambling, spa services — if you want to spend extra money, they’ve got a way for you to do it. All transactions are handled with a “Sail and Sign Card” linked to your credit card. I haven’t any idea how much the average per-passenger expenditure is, but I could easily imagine that Carnival makes at least a few hundred dollars on top of the regular cruise price.
For all the people and activity happening on an eight-day cruise, two things stood out: First, our ship was immaculately clean all the time. Second, there were 900+ staff onboard this shop, and every single one I encountered was unfailingly polite. (Though to be fair, there were mostly adults on this May Alaska cruise. I couldn’t imagine how they manage the controlled chaos of hundreds of kids on vacation.)
Carnival has a decidedly middle America appeal, but curiously I didn’t see any MAGA hats or political stuff of any kind. Military and veteran’s ball caps, yes. But other stuff? No. Perhaps no one is in the mood to deal with land-based realities on vacation. Interestingly, though, as we sailed past snow-capped mountains and toured some of America’s most pristine scenery, no one discussed climate change that much either. I have to admit that’s a little disconcerting, particularly when you see ice chunks in the ocean and glaciers that look like they’ve seen better days. But this wasn’t a cruise for the intellectually minded.
For many people, this cruise was the trip of a lifetime, or at least one they’ve saved up for years to be able to afford. I saw numerous families and groups of friends who made special T-shirts commemorating the cruise and spotted many decorated cabin doors. I highly doubt these folks went home disappointed.
The cruise industry, as my wife (who works in the travel industry) points out, is dependent on bookings that are largely high-touch rather high-tech. Most people still need to talk with an actual person to arrange all the details of their trip. So it’ll be interesting to see how Carnival and other players court new generations of plugged-in cruisegoers. (Speaking of which, there was only one electrical outlet in our entire cabin. You’ve been warned!)
But from a marketing perspective, the bottom line is this: It’s truly clear that Carnival knows what it’s doing and who it’s doing it for. And for a superior brand experience with “Fun” at the center of it all, they certainly deliver on that promise.
Special thanks to the Carnival PR team for providing me with some extra treats to enjoy onboard.