Carnival Pulls the Plug
No More Mobile, AL Cruises
By Susan J. Young
It’s going to be a eerily quiet waterfront at the Alabama Cruise Terminal in Mobile, AL, after late October. (The terminal's check-in stations are shown at right.*)
Mobile officials and travel agents remain stunned at Carnival Cruise Lines’ (www.goccl.com) announcement earlier this year that it will pull the city’s only year-round ship,Carnival Elation, out of the city. The ship will depart Mobile on Oct. 22.
Citing lower cruise pricing than what it can get elsewhere, Carnival will send Carnival Elation to New Orleans in October; there it will replace the Carnival Ectasy, which the line plans to shift to Port Canaveral, FL.
When it made the announcement, Carnival said guests booked on any voyage out of Mobile after Oct. 17 may re-book from New Orleans; they'll receive a $25 per person onboard credit. Or, if they prefer, they may cancel for a full refund.
Mobile officials said they had no warning, but, in reality, it's not that unusual. When airlines, cruise lines and other large businesses make decisions related to costs and opt to pull the plug on a particular operation, they tend to just do so.
But that doesn’t lessen the sting for Mobile's local economy and the cruise development efforts there. The well-designed Mobile cruise terminal -- which SouthernCruising.comtoured a few years ago -- also was known for its friendly service.
In fact, Mobile was Carnival’s 2007 Port of the Year. Carnival entered the year-round market in 2004 with its smallest ship of the time,Holiday. That ship was replaced with the larger Fantasy and then Elation ( approximately the same size as Fantasy).
Unfortunately, Carnival's pull-out will leave Mobile on the hook for debt related to its seven-year-old cruise terminal. Officials say they need cruise revenue to help pay that debt.
According to local newspaper reports, Alabama Real Estate Holdings, part of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, borrowed $20 million to build the facility in 2004, and in 2008, Mobile borrowed to buy the terminal for $18.6 million.
Jimmy Lyons, CEO of the Alabama State Port Authority, expressed bewilderment to local Mobile news media about Carnival's pull-out, noting that in his opinion, the line seemed to be filling every voyage.
Industry experts say perhaps so, “but at what price for cruise fares?” And that apparently was the issue, much as it was when Royal Caribbean pulled out of West Coast service earlier this year. The rising cost of fuel, reportedly also was instrumental in the decision.
Right now, no other cruise lines serve Mobile on a year-round basis; some ships make port calls from time to time.
*Photo is owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of Susan J. Young. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy this photo.