Stewart Howard is the Hotel Director of Carnival Freedom. As such, he is responsible for the accommodations, the dining, the entertainment and just about every other aspect of the cruise that impacts the guests' cruise experience directly. I spoke with him about what attracts people to Carnival Freedom.
Many cruise ships do the same itinerary each week. However, Carnival Freedom's schedule varies considerably. “One of the major strengths of this ship is the itineraries. We do six and eight day cruises and the [ports on the] eight day cruises vary. We are now going to be doing four and five day cruises as well [in 2014].”
Because Carnival Freedom does not sail to the same ports each week, guests can put two or more cruises together and create a vacation that covers many of the major Caribbean ports with little or no repetition. “A lot of guests do back-to-back cruises. Especially repeat guests like that. They like this itinerary because it is a little bit different, not your usual eastern and western [Caribbean] itineraries.”
As a result, while Freedom attracts many young, first time cruisers, particularly on her shorter cruises, she is a favorite of people who have cruised with Carnival before. “The repeat guest count is extremely high. [They are] older more experienced cruisers whose expectations are a little bit higher.”
Not only are guest expectations higher but the Freedom's schedule poses operational challenges. When a cruise ship visits the same ports each week, it can develop routines that simplify operations. Everyone knows the ports, what time the ship arrives and leaves, and what has to be done in each port because the ship is there each week. In contrast, Carnival Freedom may only visit a particular port once every month. “Your routine changes all the time but it keeps it interesting, you never get bored. It keeps us very busy.”
To meet or exceed guest expectations in such an environment requires a strong management team and a good crew. “Any ship you go on it is not the ship, it is the people. We have a great team aboard. I am very proud of what the crew do. [They] are proud to work for us and we are proud to have them.”
A key factor is experience. “Most people have been with us a long time. All the management I have here have been with the company a substantial amount of time. It is the same for a lot of the crew.”
“Once you've got an experienced team, everybody knows what to do. Everyone knows their roles, everyone knows what is expected of them. We understand our guests needs, we understand the demographics. [It facilitates everything from] planning and ordering to how much lobster the chef needs to prepare. It is all just through experience.”
But experience alone is not enough, what is needed is an experienced team. The senior management on most cruise ships are individuals with substantial amounts of experience. However, often the captain may be on one ship for four months and then on another ship when he returns from vacation. The same is true for the hotel director, the chief engineer and the staff captain. Each contract they may be working with a different set of people on a different ship.
Carnival has a different approach. “The company has developed core teams for management. The core team being the senior leadership onbaord. We are supposed to stay together from two to three years on the same ship. It's a team. If you change it every contract with people going to a different ship [it will not be a team].”
Taking this thinking a step further, Howard has striven to keep experienced members of Freedom's hotel department with the ship. “One of the things I always say to my department heads is get your good people back. Don't let them go to other ships. When they go on vacation, make sure we get them back here.”
The fact that Carnival Freedom attracts a high number of guests who have cruised with Carnival before is evidence that this approach has been successful. While Carnival Freedom is the only Carnival ship based in Fort Lauderdale, there are several Carnival ships, including some of Freedom's sister ships, operating out of nearby Miami. If the Freedom were not meeting the high expectations of veteran Carnival cruisers, they could easily shift to one of the other Carnival ships in the area.
“She is a great ship. We think it runs pretty well.”
Cruise ship interview - - Carnival Cruise Lines - - Carnival Freedom - - Hotel Director Stewart Howard