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Tampa-based Carnival Legend limps back to port

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Published:   |   Updated: March 16, 2013 at 08:55 AM
TAMPA -

The Carnival Legend joined the Elation, Dream and Triumph as the fourth Carnival Cruise Lines ship in five weeks to experience problems at sea as it limped toward a Sunday arrival in its home port of Tampa.

The ship and its approximately 2,500 passengers and 930 crew members was expected to reach Tampa early Sunday, moving slower than normal because of propulsion problems. The Legend is still expected to depart as scheduled on a Caribbean cruise later Sunday afternoon with a modified itinerary, Carnival officials said Friday.

Corporate officials portrayed Carnival’s trio of troubles this week as mostly normal incidents that would not have drawn intense media attention had they occurred over a longer period of time.

However, the first and most serious of the recent events – the shipboard fire aboard the Triumph in the Gulf of Mexico in mid-February – led to a review throughout Carnival’s fleet of redundant shipboard systems designed to contribute to safety.

Cruise line officials predicted they’ll turn to a well-known practice to lure back customers during times of bad publicity: discounts.

“I do think there will be price promotions,” Carnival chief operating officer Howard Frank said in a conference call Friday.

Frank and Carnival chief executive Mickey Arison, who owns the National Basketball Association’s Miami Heat, told financial analysts Carnival would continue to rely on good experiences among its passengers, two-thirds of whom are repeat customers.

Frank said there were some declines in bookings following the Triumph incident that stranded 4,200 passengers aboard the ship in the Gulf of Mexico for five days as food ran short, toilets overflowed and air conditioning was inoperative.

“Despite considerable attention surrounding the Carnival Triumph, we had been encouraged to see booking volumes for Carnival Cruise lines recover significantly in recent weeks,” Arison said.

The Legend is one of five cruise chips to serve the Port of Tampa during the height of the Caribbean cruise season. Carnival operates two ships year around, while three other companies operate during the peak season, which is nearing its end.

Any fallout from the Legend’s problems, which forced cancellation of a port call Friday at Grand Cayman so the ship could arrive in Tampa on schedule while traveling at slower speeds, could take weeks to surface.

But hundreds of passengers last month aboard the Triumph used an array of social media outlets to relay shipboard issues to those on shore, in particular problems with inoperative toilets as their ship was towed into Mobile, Ala.

A passenger told CNN.com Friday that some people on board the Legend were losing patience, with the mood on ship getting worse as the captain gave passengers limited information.

Carnival officials attributed the Legend’s trouble to problems with a combination propulsion and steering unit.

Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen said the problem will slightly change the itinerary for the ship’s scheduled Sunday departure from Tampa for another seven-day cruise. Instead of stopping in Grand Cayman, the ship will stop in Costa Maya, he said.

“The other ports on the itinerary, including Cozumel, Belize and Mahogany Bay, Roatan, remain as scheduled,’’ Gulliksen said. “The ship's safety systems and hotel services are all functioning normally.”

Legend passengers on the current cruise will receive a $100-per-person credit, a refund on pre-purchased shore excursions for Grand Cayman and half off a future Carnival cruise, the company said.

Those scheduled to sail Sunday were given the option of canceling and receiving a full refund or rescheduling for a future departure date.

A similar propulsion/steering problem a week ago forced a tugboat to escort the Carnival Elation from New Orleans before that cruise continued.

On Wednesday, the Carnival Dream stranded about 4,300 passengers on the island of St. Maarten after the ship’s emergency diesel generator malfunctioned during a safety test that interrupted elevators and toilet operations.

The equipment was restored, but the remainder of the cruise and the ship’s next cruise were canceled. The cruise passengers who left Port Canaveral have been booked on flights back to Orlando or elsewhere.

Miami-based Carnival Corp. is the parent company of 10 cruise brands, including Carnival Cruise Lines and Costa Cruises, the Southern European company whose cruise ship Costa Concordia struck a reef off the Tuscan Island of Giglio in January 2012, killing 32 people.

While the cruise industry has struggled along with the poor world economy, travelers - especially those seeking bargains - have kept Carnival profitable. The company reported $37 million in net income in the first quarter compared with a net loss of $139 million the year-ago quarter.

A spokeswoman for AAA Auto Club South, which handles cruise packages, said Friday she had talked with several travel offices, none of which reported Carnival cancellations as a result of the recent headlines.

“People see cruises as a lot of fun not to mention it can be much more affordable than flying and getting a hotel,’’ AAA spokeswoman Jessica Brady said. “Consumers are still looking for deals, and better deals may come out of this.”

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