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It’s now clear that Carnival Cruise Line will effectively have no ships in Europe next year. Their original plans were for full seasons by Carnival Liberty and Carnival Freedom, plus a few post-delivery cruises in the early autumn by the new Carnival Dream. Carnival Freedom and Carnival Liberty are sister ships, delivered in 2007 and 2005 respectively, and typically have 3000+ passengers each; Carnival Dream wil be even bigger.

However it was announced in June that Carnival Freedom would not come to Europe in 2009 but would instead provide cruises out of Port Everglades year-round. A further announcement a few days ago said Carnival Liberty will continue providing 7-night cruises out of Miami throughout 2009, i.e. it will not be coming to Europe. Carnival Dream, the third Carnival ship planned to spend time in Europe in 2009 is due to be delivered in September from an Italian shipyard, and is still scheduled to provide three 12-night cruises out of Civitavecchia before sailing to the USA. Carnival Cruise Line say that the reason for the redeployment of these ships (and especially of Carnival Liberty) were “economic uncertainties and high air costs”. It’s not clear what is being offered to passengers who had already booked cruises in Europe on Carnival Freedom and Carnival Liberty.

Of course, Carnival Corporation, owners of Carnival Cruise Line, isn’t abandoning Europe. Far from it; first they have European brands (e.g. Costa, P&O), and secondly they are continuing with European deployments of ships from the Princess and HAL brands. But it’s been suggested that whereas they market these brands heavily within Europe (and therefore attract a fair number of European passengers), Carnival Cruise Line itself is little marketed in Europe and relies on American passengers to fill nearly all their cabins. In the current economic climate Americans are staying home and Carnival were facing early-empty ships; hence the decision to redeploy.

So could the desertion of Europe by US-based lines become even more widespread? Many commentators argue not; they suggest that most other brands (e.g. Princess, HAL, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity)  market themselves within Europe and are therefore not so reliant on American passengers. I’m not so sure, certainly as regards some of them. Royal Caribbean may do alright – I know a lot of UK-based passengers do book cruises on their Mediterranean fly/cruises – but on the two occasions I’ve been on Celebrity in the Med, I would have said that 90% of the passengers were from north america.

2009 might be an interesting year in cruising terms. The cruise lines have had ten years or more of uninterrupted growth, but next year may not continue that.

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