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On Feb. 14, Carnival Cruise Lines handed a valentine to military service families, who were hosted onboard the recently renovated, 2,974-passenger Carnival Freedom as she launched her year-round service out of Galveston, Texas.
Through a partnership with Operation Homefront — a national nonprofit organization that provides financial and other assistance to military families — Carnival provided a complimentary day and evening of relaxation and fun with overnight accommodations for 1,000 military family members. Festivities included an outdoor concert by 14-time Grammy Award nominee Martina McBride. Before the concert, Carnival presented a $100,000 check to the organization.
“We are very excited to be partnering with Carnival to honor military families and celebrate the cruise line’s expansion in Texas,” said Tim Farrell, chief operating officer of Operation Homefront.
Farrell expressed pleasure that Carnival was giving back to Texas, which has the second-largest active duty and veteran population in the country.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to perform for you,” McBride told attendees, who were mostly from military bases in Texas, although some had driven for hours from Oklahoma and Louisiana.
Military families sat in lounges and splashed in the hot tub while enjoying the concert, sporting red, white and blue badges; pinwheels; feather boas; and balloons that bobbed in the warm breeze. For many of the military families, it was their first time on a cruise ship and a rare opportunity to relax together.
Galveston is now among Carnival’s top three homeports, seasonally occupying either the No. 2 or No. 3 spot. Jim Berra, Carnival’s chief marketing officer, pointed out that it is the first time a cruise line has based three ships year-round in Texas. With Freedom joining Carnival Triumph and Carnival Magic, the company will carry more than 600,000 passengers annually from the Lone Star State — more than any other cruise line.
Donna Daniels, co-owner of Castaways Travel in The Woodlands, Texas, praised Carnival for increasing its capacity based in the state and for offering a variety of itinerary lengths.
“Everyone here used to go to New Orleans to cruise, but in order to keep them coming here, there has to be different itineraries and a variety of ships because so many are repeat cruisers,” Daniels said.
Freedom is sailing four- to seven-day cruises that call in Mexico, the Caribbean, the Bahamas and Florida. Following a $70 million makeover, she became the first Carnival ship to offer the line’s new family entertainment programming, including the delightful Seuss at Sea and the new Camp Ocean kids’ facilities. Dining and entertainment onboard were enhanced with the BlueIguana Cantina and Guy’s Burger Joint, developed in partnership with Food Network personality Guy Fieri.
Berra said that 90 percent of Carnival passengers who sail from Galveston drive to the port. Vicki Tomasino, regional vice president of community and trade relations for Carnival, pointed out that an increasing number of consumers don’t want to fly, and the Western cruises represent a big opportunity for agents to introduce them to cruising. Even for those who do fly to the port, prices are lower and flying time is much shorter to Galveston than to East Coast ports.
According to Tomasino, Carnival is increasing its training and Western ship inspections, and offering far more consumer events that can fuel travel agent sales.
Upcoming events in the U.S. and Canada are posted well ahead of time and accessible on Carnival Passport, the line’s comprehensive learning management system that houses all of Carnival’s training and education activities.