Well, Carnival Cruise Lines learned two valuable lessons last week. First, the test marketing shows they should probably scrap any plans to launch a line of "back to natureâ€ť cruises featuring pooping in a bag and endless onion sandwiches. The numbers on that were really bad.
Secondly â€” karmaâ€™s a bitch.
Judging from the general behavior of Carnivalâ€™s leadership as their broken-down, sewage-soaked liner Triumph was being hauled through the bay, they had about as much desire to be in Mobile as their passengers had to still be aboard that particular "funship.â€ť I suppose itâ€™s uncomfortable to come back to the city you screwed and left holding the bag for a $29 million cruise ship terminal thatâ€™s costing the city $3 million a year in bond payments. (Maybe leaving people holding a bag is just Carnivalâ€™s thing.)
It takes a certain amount of cajones just to pick up the phone and make that call, I would think. "Uh, hey Mobile, itâ€™s Carnival. Listen, I was hoping I could crash at your place for a little while. Yeah, I know youâ€™re still pissed, but come on. I can at least give you some of the rent money I owe you.â€ť
I really think Mayor Jones should have waited until the Triumph was about 100 feet from docking and called Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill to let him know thereâ€™d been a mistake and that the docking fee was actually going to be about $29 million. If nothing else it would have been a good practical joke. Jones could have recorded it and put it on the cityâ€™s website.
If thereâ€™s anything we Mobilians should have learned from this situation, itâ€™s just how fractured the relationship between our local government and Carnival appears to be. After 3,000 passengers had been floating around in their own sewage for five days, Carnivalâ€™s first inclination was to march those folks onto buses so they could be trucked to New Orleans or Galveston. They clearly didnâ€™t want them here.
And Iâ€™m not buying the idea they were trying to lessen media exposure. Please! There would be throngs of media waiting in N.O. or Galveston, not to mention live chopper shots of the buses rolling along I-10. CNN probably would have had Erin Burnett rolling alongside the buses on a flatbed truck. Not even a first semester public relations student would think that trick would work.
It just appears much more likely there is some underlying issue between the city and Carnival Cruise Lines. Somehow during the four days in which the ship was being hauled ever closer to Mobile, there wasnâ€™t enough communication between local officials and Carnival executives to discuss whether this city could handle the sudden influx of urine-soaked passengers. With that much time, Carnival could easily have polled each passenger and figured out whether he/she wanted to stay in Mobtown or take the Greyhound.
Carnival tried to claim theyâ€™d decided to bus their guests out because Mobile couldnâ€™t handle the charter flights and hotel rooms. Mayor Jones got his hackles up about that and publicly blamed communication issues for creating a misunderstanding.
How in the world could that possibly happen, unless the city and Carnival werenâ€™t speaking? It just doesnâ€™t make much sense. In almost any situation like this I would imagine it would go something along the lines of Carnival calling and saying "Hey, we have a broken ship full of people whoâ€™ve been pooping in bags headed your way,â€ť and the city would respond, "What do you need besides lots of soap?â€ť Theoretically Carnival would then have said how many hotel rooms and charter flights theyâ€™d need and the cityâ€™s leaders would have assured them we could handle it.
The way this ended up just compounds the feelings may people have that there was something beyond ridership that ended Carnivalâ€™s stay in Mobile. We built them a nice, new terminal and then one day they just hauled butt without even leaving a note on the pillow? Itâ€™s never really made much sense.
None of this leaves me with a warm and fuzzy feeling about Carnival being the cruise line that plugs that $3 million hole in the cityâ€™s annual budget anytime soon.
But one of the other things that was obvious from this situation as well is how important it is for us to get a cruise ship back at that terminal. I know this was a special circumstance that brought lots of media and family members to town, but on the day after the Triumph docked, downtown was jammed with people. I know our downtown hoteliers, restaurateurs and merchants would love to have a ship back there regularly, especially if it wasnâ€™t essentially a floating Port-O-let.
Despite not getting quite as many Triumph passengers to stay in Mobile as we would have liked, we still have to count Carnivalâ€™s disaster as the Azalea Cityâ€™s gain. Downtown got a nice boost that was very welcome after terrible weather ruined the last couple of days of Mardi Gras. Those who are repairing the ship will see some Carnival money in their pockets, and some of Triumphâ€™s crew will be around here while itâ€™s fixed, bringing a few more bucks to the area.
The media attention gave Mobile a couple of days of positive international coverage, which ainâ€™t bad. Of course it was also a nice chance for Mobilians to pull together to show the passengers and crew our city and our hospitality.
And to top it all off we got to watch Carnival limp in, plunger in hand, to the terminal they left as a financial millstone around our civic neck. Iâ€™m sorry so many people had to be inconvenienced and live off onions for it to happen, but it was kind of funny seeing Carnival get what they deserve.
Every now and then karma really comes through.