Friday, 2 August 2013

The contented Carnival cruiser

The contented Carnival cruiser

By Tom Stieghorst
*InsightIn most businesses, customer satisfaction looks like a bell curve.

On one end, there are a few loyal patrons who can’t stop raving about their experience. There’s a big group in the middle who are moderately content, and then a few very unhappy campers.

At this point, the public may think most Carnival Cruise Lines passengers are all in the last group, and that taking a cruise with Carnival is a risk that few sane vacationers would accept.

But there are plenty of Carnival passengers in the other two groups. This fall, the company plans to feature some of them in an ad campaign to reboot public perception about Carnival.

To that end, it is collecting testimonials on its Facebook page from customers who have enjoyed their cruise.

There were plenty of them on a recent Carnival Sunshine cruise I took in the Mediterranean. The ship had an admittedly rough start after emerging from a drydock in May. Areas of the ship weren’t ready for passengers, due in part to last-minute sabotage of some cabins, company President Gerry Cahill said at a media briefing.

But the cruise that I was on was uneventful.

There were no fires, no illness outbreaks, or rogue waves, or missed ports of call, or mechanical breakdowns or any of the other misfortunes that tend to draw media attention to a cruise.

It was smooth sailing, literally, on a flat Mediterranean Sea. Passengers were largely unaware of a hearing that took place during the cruise, in which Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) outlined his bill to give them more rights.

Typical, perhaps, was a group I lunched with on a port call in Marseille, France. Some said that after booking Carnival, they monitored news about the company to be sure they hadn’t made a mistake. None felt they had.

A honeymoon couple said they chose the Sunshine cruise for the port-intensive itinerary, which included Marseille, Rome, Florence, Naples, Venice, Dubrovnik, and Messina, in Sicily, in nine days.

An older couple picked Carnival for the low price and good value.

The group wasn’t giddy, but they did seem satisfied. Ads with real folks like these, talking from first-hand experience, could be just what Carnival needs to bring the discussion about cruising closer to reality.