Current resident ship Carnival Ecstasy, 70,367gt with 2,056 lower berths, will be moving to Jacksonville to operate year-round four- and five-day cruises beginning in May 2019. The same month Jacksonville ship Carnival Elation will reposition to Port Canaveral (where Carnival Sunshine is currently deployed) to begin a new schedule of four- and five-day voyages.
Carnival expects to carry 220,000 passengers annually from Charleston with the larger ship, up from 150,000 now.
Charleston is a great market, so appealing that it helps sell the cruise and many travelers spend an extra day or two in local hotels, according to Carnival's Terry Thornton, SVP port operations, guest care and Carnival international.
The line has been working up to deploying a larger ship for two years and has already operated 11 cruises from Charleston on Carnival Sunshine.
'We want to do things right, ensuring a great guest experience and also being very respectful so that a larger ship wouldn't create any difficulties for the infrastructure in Charleston,' Thornton said.
The South Carolina Ports Authority's plan for a new cruise terminal has been stalled in legal challenges and Thornton expects it's probably going to take some time to resolve those.
'We kept wanting and waiting to bring a bigger ship, ideally to a new terminal ... but we finally found a way that we can do this right with a larger ship in the existing terminal,' he told Seatrade Cruise News. 'We worked closely with Jim Newsome [president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority] to make sure of that.'
Since the current terminal allows for one-way operations only—not simultaneous disembarkation/embarkation—there is need to control the flow of passengers arriving to embark. Carnival and the port will do that using a nearby secondary location that will offer additional parking and check-in. It's a short walk from the terminal. By splitting the check-in between two locations, that will ease congestion.
'Carnival Sunshine is a special ship for a special market. It's perfectly suited to Charleston,' Thornton said. The city draws drive-in passengers from a wide area, within five to six hours, including from northern Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Carnival Sunshine features one of the widest arrays of food, beverage and entertainment options within the Fun Ship fleet, including a WaterWorks park and SportSquare recreation area, a triple-deck adults-only retreat featuring a waterfall and adjoining pool, several specialty restaurants and more than 550 staterooms with balconies.
Food and beverage options include Ji Ji Asian Kitchen, Havana Bar, Alchemy Bar, RedFrog Pub, Cucina del Capitano for family-style Italian dishes and Guy’s Burger Joint developed with Food Network star Guy Fieri.
Family-friendly options include Seuss at Sea, 'Hasbro, The Game Show' with larger-than-life adaptations of the company’s iconic games and children’s programs for kids in three age groups. Playlist Productions revues and Punchliner Comedy Club, offering adults-only and family-friendly performances, are other entertainment offerings.
South Carolina Ports Authority's Newsome called the news an 'important affirmation' of Carnival's success and commitment to Charleston.
'SCPA’s cruise business is an important part of our maritime commerce mission and diversification of business segments,' Newsome said. 'The port succeeds through having world-class brands, such as Carnival Cruise Line, as its direct customers and looks forward to continuing this productive relationship.'
Carnival Sunshine will kick off its short cruises on May 18, 2019. The ship also will operate an 11-day 'Carnival Journeys' round-trip from Charleston Dec. 3, 2019, calling at St. Thomas, Aruba, Bonaire, Grand Turk and Half Moon Cay.