To people who have been cruising, or involved in the cruise industry for awhile, the name Bob Dickinson is synonymous with the modern cruise industry, and Carnival Corporation.
Bob was President and CEO of Carnival Corporation until his retirement 5 years ago. His book, Selling The Sea, is one of the most interesting written for those with a interest in the industry, and an excellent read.
And Bob believes, “the same principles still apply today“.
Bob continues to sit on the Board of Directors at Carnival Corp., so obviously maintains a strong interest in the industry. Though now he is heavily involved in volunteer charity work; his top cause - among others - is attempting to rid the City of Miami of its homeless problem.
He spends 35-40 hours a week of his time, working tirelessly for the charity, and in speaking with him, it’s obviously near and dear to his heart.
They have raised over 70 million dollars of the 80 million needed to finish a treatment center specializing in curing homeless people suffering from addictions and mental health issues; with an intended focus on women and the Spanish speaking homeless population; which Bob told me makes up nearly 80% of the homeless population in Miami.
By happenstance I spotted Bob and his wife at the Safety Briefing (muster drill) the first day on board my current cruise on the Carnival Breeze. We spoke very briefly on the way out, but then I ran into him again on Deck5, at Ocean Plaza, a few days later. I asked if we could arrange a time for an interview. He invited me to sit down right then.
When the CruiseMates website first went live on the Internet, the very first group cruise we put together for reader’s of the site was a cruise with Bob Dickinson. He as so kind to our group. He dined with the group each night; and held several question and answer sessions for the group.
As this meeting, and pending interview, wasn’t planned, I of course hadn’t prepared any questions, as I normally would have to prepare for an interview.
As the “interview” began It seemed Bob was asking me as any questions as I was asking him, and I said to him… “this in an interview, who’s supposed to ask the questions? But Bob Dickinson is a very smart man, and he likely remembers the old adage; a smart man is a man who listens.
I asked what he thought of the new Carnival Breeze in comparison to the older ships in the Carnival family. He responded by asking me what I thought; what were my opinions impressions of the ship, and what makes it different? Why do I like it, and what sets it apart in my mind?
When Bob talks about Carnival, he still refers to it as “we”, which makes some sense since he’s on the Board of Directors. But, it also displays his continuing love and interest in the company and the industry.
This discussion eventually led us to talking about the new more open design of the ship’s interiors. We both agreed that one of the big positives on this ship are is the openness and airiness of the ship’s public rooms.
Bob also said one of the keys in his mind is the new design of the Lido Deck Marketplace, and the vastly improved and changing signage, allowingguests to easily see what is being offered where.
Bob said “the design has been an ongoing evolution, and has been inspired by the designs of the ship’s in Carnival’s European companies; Costa Cruise Line, and AIDA“.
I found it interesting that they have taken the lead on design from their European brands. Of course, we all know, by far, the vast majority of cruise ships are built in European shipyards. However, perhaps naively, I hadn’t thought about the design updates being led by European trends.
It’s been several years since I’ve sailed on a Costa ship, and I’ve never sailed AIDA, so my experience is very limited.
Bob went on to explain, “ On those ships, the layout of public areas is very open. There are very few walls between lounges and bars. You don’t go in or out of a door from one lounge to the next. The traffic just flows through the ship”.
I do recall from my trips on Costa that their ships have an incredibly active night life - in the case of European cruises, that night life doesn’t even begin until after 10 P.M. and always runs well into the night, and next morning.
We went on to a discussion of the cruise industry in general.
Bob feels, the industry as a whole, even in some of the difficult economic times, has been enjoying a very reasonable level of success.
He says, “the success has come somewhat because of our ability to attract large numbers of repeater customers fairly easily”.
“Maybe we are not doing as well, or enough, to attract new first timer passengers”.
“A big focus for us now is to attract multi-generational groups (which I mentioned to him seems to be very true of the demographic on this cruise).
All of the research tells us the most important thing for the vast majority of people when choosing their vacation is FUN, and fun is what we strive to offer”.
“Of course fun means different things to different people. But there’s no vacation like cruising that can provide different fun for each generation”.
“Typically the most difficult group, in a multi-generational group, who feel their vacations are fun, is the middle generational group; the parents.
On non cruise vacations they are often the ones responsible for the driving, the choices, the decision making on what to do when, and where to do it, trying to make it fun for the others.
Yet, a cruise vacation relieves them of many of those stresses. There are programs on board for everyone to choose from which will provide fun for each them. It is Carnival’s goal to attempt to meet every generations criteria of what is fun.
Cruising today is not exclusionary. There’s no exclusive categories for cruisers, it’s good for those from 8 months to 80. There no limitations as to social cast, or to financial position”.
Bob, also spoke about Carnival making a conscious decision not to get into the “bigger is better” game. He said, “We made the decision not to step into building Mega Mega ships”.
“ We’d rather build more ships the size of the Carnival Breeze, at 130,000 tons. That offers us the ability to offer more itinerary choices, rather than have a ship that is 1/3 or ½ as large again as this, that must repeat only restricted itineraries.
I thank Bob for so generously allowing me to spontaneously disrupt his day in the midst of a cruise, for 45 or 50 minutes, and for so openly sharing his views on the industry and of personal life.
in that brief time I think he described very adeptly what why Carnival continues to be the most successful cruise line in the world, and continues to deliver the “Fun Ships“.