Carnival Orders LNG-Powered Cruise Ships + Jim’s Cruise from Hell

Hurricane Irene
Hurricane Irene

We have mixed emotions about this story. We spotted a story a few days ago that a major cruise ship line has ordered up four new megaship cruise liners that will be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG)–a first for cruise ships. The new ships will be the “greenest” cruise ships yet, cutting down significantly on air pollution by changing from diesel to LNG. Each of the four ships will have the capacity to haul 6,600 passengers (mammoth!). The first of the four ships will be delivered in 2019. So far so good–we find it really cool that cruise ships are converting to LNG, some of which will no doubt use natural gas from the Marcellus/Utica. The mixed emotions we have came when learning that the cruise line the new LNG ships are being delivered to is Carnival. Thunk. MDN editor Jim Willis took his bride of 25 years on a Silver Anniversary cruise (our first cruise ever) on a Carnival Cruise “fun ship” in 2011. It was the worst vacation we’ve ever had. Read the sad (and funny) story below…

First, here’s the details about the new order for the four LNG megaships by Carnival:

In a pioneering move for the ocean cruise industry, Carnival Corp. last week signed a deal to build four megaships that will be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG), an initiative being hailed as a crucial step toward curbing the cruise industry’s emissions and environmental impact.

The four ships will be built by the Meyer Werft shipyard as part of a nine-ship, multibillion-dollar order that Carnival Corp. signed with Meyer Werft and the Fincantieri shipyard. The new vessels are slated to be delivered between 2019 and 2022. Two of the natural gas-powered ships will sail for the German line Aida Cruises. Carnival did not say for which brands the other two would sail.

The four megaships will each have a maximum capacity of 6,600 passengers.

“It’s pretty exciting what Carnival has done,” said Nick Brown, brand and external relations manager at Lloyd’s Register, a U.K.-based maritime classification organization.

Noting that Carnival is the first ocean cruise line to order natural gas-powered vessels, Brown said, “The combination of regulation and fuel prices has made operators look at their options and [natural] gas, which is now increasingly plentiful, is looking like an increasingly attractive option.”

Indeed, the cruise industry is under growing regulatory pressure to reduce emissions. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, natural gas is considered a promising future fuel source for commercial vessels, not least because its use would substantially reduce carbon, sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions.

According to Carnival Corp., the proposed ships’ hybrid engines will burn 100% LNG while at sea, and LNG will also be used to power the ships in port.

“The impact on ports, where lots of ships are coming in, [will be that] the amount of harmful emissions will decline,” Brown said. He added that in the time it will take to build the vessels over the next few years, he expects that natural gas refueling infrastructure in various ports will be more developed.

In terms of building the LNG-powered vessels, there are certain logistical considerations. For one, the gas tanks take up more space than fuel-oil tanks, Brown said. “[So] they’ll have to find adequate space for the tanks,” he said.

And as for the safety of using and handling natural gas, the U.S. Coast Guard stated in a report on the topic that as long as cruise lines follow the International Maritime Organization’s thorough guidelines for the use of natural gas on vessels, “natural gas fuel systems … are considered to provide a level of safety that is at least equivalent to that provided for traditional fuel systems.”

Carnival Corp.’s 6,600-passenger LNG-fueled ships will each be 180,000 gross tons. In comparison, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships are 225,282 gross tons and have a maximum capacity of 6,360 passengers.

Carnival Corp. said that an “innovative design” will make efficient use of the ships’ spaces. CEO Arnold Donald said the four-ship contract was consistent with the company’s strategy to replace ships that have less efficient capacity with newer, larger and more fuel-efficient vessels.

“We are looking forward to executing on the next step in our fleet enhancement plan,” Donald said. “At a cost per berth in line with our existing order book, these new ships will enhance the return profile of our fleet. These are exceptionally efficient ships with incredible cabins and public spaces.”*

*Travel Weekly (Jun 22, 2015) – Carnival ahead of the curve with plan for natural-gas megaships

In 2011 I posted the following entry on my personal blog. As I re-read it now, I can laugh. Back in 2011, I wasn’t laughing. Please give it a read, and be prepared to crack a smile at my expense.

Sept. 4, 2011

My wife Judy and I have been married 25 years this August (2011). Our Silver Anniversary! While planning how we might celebrate, we both decided a cruise would be the thing to do. We’ve never been on one, although we have a number of family and friends who have. They rave about it. So we took the plunge and scheduled a cruise with Carnival. Nothing overly glamorous—leave from New York City and cruise to the Canadian Maritimes. Make a stop at St. John, New Brunswick, and a second stop at Halifax, Nova Scotia. With a day or so spent getting there and another day back, the entire trip would take five days in total. We would get to see some of Canada, gorge ourselves on delicious food and watch live shows and listen to live music along the way. Perfect! Or so I thought.

As the date of departure drew close—August 27—Hurricane Irene also drew close. The media certainly overhyped the hurricane as the “storm of our lifetime” for the northeastern coast of the U.S. I compulsively checked the Carnival site throughout the week before the appointed day. Nothing listed—no delays, no cancellations—nothing about our cruise until two days prior when it became clear the itinerary would change. We’ll stop at Halifax first, then St. John, because Hurricane Irene would come very close to, if not hit, St. John. “No problem,” I thought. “Carnival must have meteorologists on staff who will know how this is going to play out.” Denial is a very strong emotion.

The day before we set sail, on Friday, August 26, we received a notice from Carnival that we should arrive early at the cruise terminal in New York—they moved up the departure time from 5 pm to 3 pm. So it was clear the cruise would actually take place. I wasn’t too worried, but I kept thinking, “That storm is 500 miles across, and the swirling bands are already reaching up to New Jersey and perhaps even off the coast of New York.” But denial is a strong emotion. No way were we going to forfeit the money we paid and not turn up! If Carnival canceled, we could get a refund. Otherwise, we would be out the money if we didn’t go. In retrospect, I would have gladly given up that money.

Saturday arrived and we left for New York, a three and a half hour journey from our home in the Binghamton, NY area. I won’t bore you with details of arriving and embarking—it’s a lot like boarding a large jetliner with long lines and security checkpoints. Once we were on the ship and in our room, we were so excited! The room, on deck 8, was large and well appointed. We had our very own balcony, something I paid quite a bit extra for.

We snapped pictures from the balcony of our room, looking right up some of the streets of midtown Manhattan as we waited to leave. As I snapped those pictures and gazed at Manhattan, I couldn’t help but notice the gray clouds hovering across the city, obscuring some of top floors of the tallest buildings. A light rain had started to fall. But denial is a strong emotion. What I was looking at, and frankly could not accept, was the beginning effects of Irene—right there in New York before we had even left port.

The ship finally departed around 3:20 pm and we cruised gently down the Hudson River, past spectacular views of buildings. I love New York and seeing it from the river is one of the best ways to see it. We floated past the Statue of Liberty. And then we were called to our posts for a mandatory safety lecture—so we would know how to use our life preservers and which life raft to hop aboard should it become necessary.

The safety lecture ended around 4:30 pm. By 5 pm, the pitching and rolling of the ship began. We were on the ocean and now located in the very edges of Hurricane Irene as it moved up the coast. How do I describe what we experienced? The first thing you notice is that you cannot walk two steps without stumbling like a drunk. Your hands fly out to grab whatever you can to steady yourself. In the cabin, where Judy and I decided to park ourselves thinking maybe this would only last a few hours, the dresser drawers flew open. I shut them. A few minutes later they were all open again. I shut them. The cycle repeated enough times that Judy told me to “Just leave them open!”

I also noticed glass cups and other items on flat surfaces were moving around—sliding back and forth. The little card with wet bar prices hooked around the knob of the mini-fridge rocked from side to side like the pendulum of a grandfather clock.

It felt like we were on a small roller coaster rocking side to side and pitching up and down. Every now and again we hit a wave that would cause the ship to lurch (and our stomachs to lurch with it). The ship would also shudder and vibrate as if a giant hammer had wacked it on the side. I later heard from another passenger that the swells outside were over 30 feet—no idea if that’s true or not. But I can believe it.

I kept telling Judy, “We’ll outrun this! Just hold on honey, in no time at all it will be a distant memory.” I mean, Carnival wouldn’t intentionally run us through a hurricane just for the almighty buck would they? Denial is a strong emotion.

In addition to the pitching and rolling, as the night wore on, the howling of the wind outside grew louder. After a few hours of the rocking motion, and perhaps complicated by the poor quality food we were served buffet style after arriving on board, Judy got violently sick. She vomited several times that first night. We elected not to attend dinner but instead stayed in our cabin. She could eat nothing. She could do nothing but stay in bed. I joined her around 9 pm, trying to get sleep. Judy was up by 10, vomiting again. This was not your ordinary vomit but the “puke your guts out” kind—the kind where you hurt and are exhausted because of the effort it takes.

I called the infirmary at that point, shortly after 10 pm, and no one answered the phone. I tried repeatedly for more than a half hour, but got no answer. Must have been after hours—or perhaps they were too busy helping others.

I stayed up most of the night to monitor Judy—she was sick, flat in bed. Every time we would doze off the ship would lurch and wake us up. I got virtually no sleep the first night—maybe an hour or two at most.

The sun came up on Sunday, and when we looked out the window of our balcony we saw clouds, rain and big waves. And the rocking continued. Judy vomited again Sunday morning. This time I did raise someone at the infirmary who told me to order seasick pills from room service. So I did.

I won’t belabor the point any more. The hard seas lasted until about 5 pm on Sunday, almost 24 hours exactly from the time they started until you could once again walk down a hallway without stumbling.

Because the seas calmed down, and because of the seasick pills, by Sunday night Judy could finally eat crackers and not vomit. We continued to stay in our cabin. By Monday, she was returning to normal and we started to venture out—we hadn’t even toured the ship yet and had no idea where anything was!

The rest of the cruise? It was OK. The food was terrible—and I do mean gross. We have always heard others rave about the food on cruises. Not on this one! Other passengers we spoke to complained about the food as well.

The entertainment was perhaps the one saving grace of the rest of the cruise. We enjoyed several live musical performances over the remaining cruise. We did get off at Halifax—which was our one and only stop. We spent a few hours Monday night and most of Tuesday touring the beautiful city of Halifax.

Our visit to St. John was canceled because we spent so much time trying to outrun Hurricane Irene, we didn’t have enough time to make it to St. John. Fine by us! We only wanted to get back.

By Monday, it was clear that we had wasted our money on the cruise. It was also clear that Carnival knew the seas would be rough and someone in management made a decision to send the cruise out—into Hurricane Irene—anyway. Shame on that person and shame on Carnival for sending out a boatload of people on a journey they knew would be half wasted in rough seas.

I don’t expect an apology from Carnival. I’m not writing this account to get one. I took a risk, a risk that Carnival would do the right thing by its customers. They did not. So I lost the gamble, all of my vacation money, and five days of my life, on what should have been a happy celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary.

I seek nothing from Carnival—least of all a “complimentary” cruise of my choice. I will NEVER set foot on a Carnival “fun ship” again. I publish this account as a warning to anyone considering a cruise on Carnival. Take your money, and your time, to a cruise line that actually cares about its customers and doesn’t send them out into a hurricane just to make a buck.

Will Judy and I ever go on another cruise? Not likely. At least not any time soon—until this bad memory has had time to fade. Hopefully in the future I’ll listen to my inner voice and not deny what’s right before my eyes.

Postscript June 25, 2015: We still have not gone on another cruise–on ANY cruise–since that fateful first experience. There is no way in Hates I’ll ever set foot on one of these Carnival LNG ships, just on principle alone. Judy and I have talked about another try at taking a cruise, but we’re still a few years off before we try it again. 🙂