Four Months After the ‘Poop Cruise,’ the Carnival Triumph Sails Again — and Is Sold Out

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Is it safe to go back in the water? Based on how the Carnival Triumph was fully booked last week, when it embarked on its first departure after the infamous “poop cruise” incident, plenty of cruise passengers seem to say yes.

A local TV station in Texas reports that the first post-“poop cruise” voyage for the Carnival Triumph, which departed Galveston on Thursday, was sold out. The ship’s second departure, a five-day cruise leaving Galveston on Monday, is fully booked as well.

Apparently, cruise passengers aren’t scared of sailing on the Triumph, the notorious ship that stranded passengers and crew at sea for five days in February without working toilets after a fire erupted in the engine room. Carnival had to cancel 14 scheduled Triumph trips so that the ship could be repaired and upgraded. The Triumph received $115 million in improvements, including additional backup power, better fire-safety technology, and the addition of several new bars and restaurants, according to the Miami Herald.

Not only does it look like passengers aren’t hesitant to board the Triumph, some travelers may be banking on the ship being cleaner, safer and better than ever immediately after the renovations. “I’d love to be on the first cruise! It’s in the best shape it’s ever going to be in,” one Galveston resident told Houston’s KHOU.

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What’s unclear, however, are what kinds of prices are being paid by passengers on these Triumph sailings. That’s if they’re paying for these specific departures at all. It’s very possible that a significant percentage of the people filling up cabins in the Triumph and other Carnival ships this summer are customers who are using the credit they received for a free future cruise after the voyage they’d purchased was canceled in recent months.

A recent Harris Interactive poll indicates that consumers’ perceptions about the cruise industry fell sharply right after the Triumph incident. That’s understandable. What’s more surprising — and more alarming for people in the business — is that the perceived quality of cruises has continued to decline, especially for Carnival. In the latest poll, the company’s quality scores are down 28% compared with the period just before the Triumph was stranded. Carnival’s perceived quality rating is also down 12% compared with the period just after the Triumph incident — which many assumed would be the cruise line’s absolute low point. The six other cruise brands included in the survey, meanwhile, have seen scores decline 8% to 11% compared with early 2013 figures.

Perhaps most important, the poll also measured purchase intent. On average, consumers are 11% less likely to purchase a cruise than they were in the pre-“poop cruise” days. Again, Carnival has taken the biggest hit in this department, with consumer purchase intent down 20%.

In light of such data, it’s unsurprising that Carnival has been forced to cut cruise prices, offering sailings that averaged under $40 per night in April and May to fill up ships departing in the near future. Carnival has always been known for aggressive pricing, but these rates stood out as phenomenally cheap. (Normally, rates averaging around $100 per day are considered pretty decent.)

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Lately, it looks like Carnival hasn’t had to drop prices so significantly in order to fill ships. There are still some deals starting as low as $159 for four-night cruises, but the best prices are for departures taking place six months or so in the future. Because cruise lines love early-bird bookings, this kind of steep discounting isn’t entirely unusual. It’s the last-minute deals that really paint a clear picture that a ship is having serious trouble attracting passengers and is near desperate to fill cabins. Whereas a four-night Caribbean cruise on the Carnival Imagination ran as cheap as $149 in April, the least expensive similar Carnival cruises are starting at $269 to $289 this summer.

Of course, seasonality plays some role in the rates charged (spring is a low-demand period for cruises, and all travel in general). And note that these prices are for the cheapest cabin (interior location), and don’t include taxes and port charges.

As for the Triumph, the initial post-“poop cruise” departures may be sold out, but it’s easy enough to snag a cabin later in the summer — or even better, in the fall, when five-night sailings have been starting at $236, or $48 per night.