On the Move

Carnival considers the prospect of a new homeport near Jacksonville

By: By Skye Mayring

The Jacksonville terminal, the homeport of Carnival Fascination, has been sold. // (c) Carnival Cruise Line
The Jacksonville terminal, the homeport of Carnival Fascination, has been sold.

Over the last decade, Carnival Cruise Lines has focused on operating as many homeports across the U.S. as possible, and the recent addition of the Jacksonville, Fla., homeport has proved to be an excellent fit. To begin with, Carnival is the only cruise operator to sail from the port year-round. And in September, the port saw an increase in capacity of 38 percent, when the line replaced Carnival Celebration — which has left Carnival’s fleet — with the 2,052-passenger Carnival Fascination.

However, the Jacksonville terminal and land surrounding it was resold last year to enable a future cargo operation, and Carnival has started to explore its options, including venturing into the Mayport area, about 20 miles away, according to Terry Thornton, Carnival’s senior vice president of marketing planning.

"This new location offers closer access to the ocean, and it would allow us to dock any size ship," explained Thornton, "but we’re going to have to build a new terminal to do so."

At press time, the port authority has not committed to building the new facility and continues to research the feasibility.

"The discussions about the Mayport terminal are ongoing," said Thornton, who has worked for Carnival for more than 20 years. "There is no timeline established yet for when the existing terminal will not be available for us or when a new terminal would be. We expect that it will take several more months before we have a clearer idea of our future deployment plans from Jacksonville, but the plans that the port [authority] is working on would allow for the new terminal to be ready in time to avoid any interruption of service."

Despite uncertain deployment plans, the ship is open for reservations through April 2010, and it continues to sail four- and five-day Bahamian cruises at near capacity.

Perhaps Fascination’s success can be attributed to its perceived value among clients, who can take a five-day cruise to Nassau and the private island of Half Moon Cay for less than $100 per day.

"It’s a strong itinerary on a really nice ship," Thornton said. "Where else can you go for $80 a day and get the kind of experience you get on Carnival Fascination?"

The ship offers a wide range of amenities and activities to please multigenerational families, couples and groups, from games such as outdoor miniature golf and bingo to nightlife, such as late-night dancing at the Diamonds Are Forever club, a karaoke contest or the ’80s musical review at Palace Lounge, a 1,300-seat, multideck theater.

In addition to its kid’s dining menus and 115-foot waterslide, the ship caters to youth across the board with Club O2 for older teens, Circle C for 12-14 year olds and Camp Carnival for children ages 2-11.

And even though the Fascination has a 24-hour pizzeria, it also features a sushi bar, complimentary room service and a new bar in the main atrium, where a pianist serenades guests in the late afternoon.

"The ship itself is in great shape. It has gone through the first phase of what we call the Evolutions of Fun, and all of the staterooms and public rooms — including the restaurants, dining rooms and bathrooms — have been refurbished," said Thornton.

Fascination’s 12,000-square-foot spa and fitness center were also fully renovated during phase one.

The next phase of Fascination upgrades, planned for completion in 2010, will spruce up the exterior decks with a four-story-high waterpark and an adults-only Serenity Area, which encompasses two whirlpools, oversized umbrellas and comfy chaise lounges in the aft section of the ship. Over the next couple of years, when the line finishes the Evolution of Fun initiative on its eight Fantasy-Class ships, Carnival expects to have dished out approximately $250 million in upgrades.

"I think there is a perception out there in the market, even among some travel agents, about the old Carnival," said Thornton. "If you factor in what we really deliver for a number of years, you’ll see it’s a wholesome type of fun at a great value."