Hotel Director Nickos Batistatos is a veteran of over 30 years in the cruise industry. Much of this time was spent on premium ships for Celebrity Cruises and other lines. Yet, he speaks with evident pride about Carnival Splendor. “The Splendor is the Splendor class - - the only one. After the Dream class, Splendor is the largest size [ship in the Carnival fleet]. It has a lot to offer. Many cabins are larger than the usual in the cruise industry. We average 225 square feet versus 175, the average in other cruise lines. Itinerary choices, plenty. Our sales are phenomenal. Choices, choices, more choices.”
“Our identity has to do with memorable vacations - - best value for the money. Best value for the money has nothing to do with how much you pay. It is what stays [with you], the experience.”
Creating a memorable experience is only partially a function of a ship's hardware. The people who operate the ship are what really make the difference. “The crew's behavior forms the guest experience. That is what it is all about. Carnival is a more down to earth cruise line. Guests have to be treated with care and respect, always called by name, simple stuff but it will hit home.”
Recognizing this, the line has established the Carnival Service Values to promote the importance of hospitality and friendliness among its employees. “It does work. In the last four or five years, [guest] satisfaction levels have surpassed what we have had in the past. Sales are improving, feedback also, preferences as well.”
Mr. Batistatos is not the only one who likes the Splendor. “New Yorkers and New York area guests do love it. This week, I have 1,000 repeaters. I have onbaord almost 3,000 [passengers]. Last cruise, I had almost 50 percent repeaters. I had 22 guests who were Diamond status [in Carnival's guest loyalty program]. Each one of them - - 300 cruise days.”
Pointing towards a photo on his desk of himself with a pair of guests, Mr. Batistatos continued. “They are here every month, sometimes twice a month. And they are not the only ones.”
Splendor has been Carnival's New York-based ship, sailing out of Manhattan year-round. It is a task she is well-equipped for with her main pool area covered by a retractable glass roof. “The Spirit class is [also] covered but are open in the front so the cold weather comes in. The Miracle [the New York ship prior to Splendor] was covered but cold weather came in. This one is closed. It is designed for that. The midships pool under the dome is what cuts it in the winter. The big screen inside, the diving buoys, all of that are perks that people appreciate. It worked out well.”
Still, Splendor will not spend winter 2014-2015 sailing from New York. Her New York fans “are not very pleased that we are departing in November, coming back in April.” However, “it has been a bit challenging with weather - - snow, ice - - weather conditions from November to March. Coming down from New York [to the Caribbean] in the winter is brutal. The experience is not what a cruise guest would like. We are re-evaluating. We might come back later with something different.”
In addition, sailing from New York in the winter on a seven or eight day cruise the possible itineraries are limited to the Bahamas and a few ports in the northeast Caribbean. Based in Miami, Splendor will be able to offer more variety. “You name it, we go - - all the ports, eastern Caribbean, western Caribbean.”
There are other changes coming to Carnival Splendor. In February 2016, Splendor will go into a drydock for a multi-week refurbishment. During that stay, she will undergo a set of changes that Carnival calls "Fun Ship 2.0."
Fun Ship 2.0 is a program designed to revitalize the Carnival fleet. It includes the addition of new dining outlets such as Guy's Burger Joint, Jiji's Asian Restaurant and Cucina del Capitano as well as new bar concepts including the Blue Iguana Tequila Bar, the Red Frog Pub and the Alchemy Bar. It also includes changes to the entertainment offerings such as the use of LED screens rather than traditional scenery in the theater and a production cast in which everyone is both a singer and a dancer.
On the ships where it has already been implemented,“the Fun Ships 2.0 program, the half a billion dollar program, is working well. It has been well-received so far.” Nonetheless, “everything is under evaluation.” Based upon guest feedback, the program is evolving. “That is the great thing about Carnival.”
One of the last ships built before the Fun Ships 2.0 program began, Splendor will be undergoing this revitalization later than most of her fleetmates. This is a positive in the sense that she will undergo the program at a more advanced point in its evolution. But couldn't some of the features that have already proven popular be added prior to the 2016 drydock while the ship is in service?
“The Guy's Burger Joint, The Blue Iguana, The Red Frog Pub, Cucina del Capitano, Jiji's - - all these perks, all these amenities, all these establishments, you cannot really go through these changes without a drydock. You have to shut [the ship] down for a couple of weeks and have an army of contractors tear down the area and rebuild it again. When the change takes place, the whole place goes bald. Everything out. It is not about money, it is about guest obstruction - - cutting steel, [electrical] lines and interruption of power. It is too big. The rejuvenation is too large. You have to be in drydock.”
Another set of changes in Splendor's future involves the main dining rooms. Carnival is currently testing its American Table concept on several ships. “The menu items are fantastic – the calamaris, the steaks, the prime ribs, home fries made on order, you can't beat that menu. Stuff that people like. These days, everyone is looking for quality.”
But American Table is more than just a menu change, it is a change in concept. For example, under it certain dishes are brought to the table to be shared among all the guests. In its purest form, the concept also includes dispensing with such traditional amenities as tablecloths.
“We are taking the pulse. The Glory had the complete transformation – trattoria style, plain table tops. The Liberty has the old classic table top, silverware, three glass set-up, showcase plate, just to see how it would work out.” It is still too early to tell which model will be implemented on Splendor.
Although change is coming, Mr. Batistatos is confident that both Carnival and the Splendor have bright futures. “Things are becoming even better and better. I think we are going to be at a different stage two, three, four, five years down the road. I think it is improving. Progress they call it.”
Cruise ship interview - - Carnival Cruise Lines - - Carnival Splendor - - Hotel Director