After three months, two shipyard visits and a major media spectacle, the CARNIVAL SPLENDOR has returned to service following a near disastrous engine room fire on November 8, 2010. Instead of just bringing the 3006 passenger, 113,300 ton ship back to her home base of Long Beach and quietly resuming seven night Mexican Riviera itineraries, Carnival Cruise Lines invited media and travel partners on board to re-introduce the ship to the Southern California market on the eve of her return.

MV CARNIVAL SPLENDOR at Long Beach on February 18, 2011

Carnival Cruise Line

West Coasting Along On The CARNIVAL SPLENDOR Sea Treks Blog

John Heald’s Blog

All photos by and copyright Peter Knego unless otherwise noted.  Please click on image to view a larger version.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Carnival Cruises President and CEO Gerry Cahill on board the CARNIVAL SPLENDOR.

“Between the repairs, the transport, refunds and free cruises given to displaced passengers and the lost revenue from canceled sailings, the incident cost $65 million.” Carnival President and CEO Gerry Cahill explained at an early afternoon media gathering in the SPLENDOR’s Seaside Theater under the Magrodome on Deck 10.

“The actual cause of the fire is still under investigation but it occurred in diesel generator #5, causing a catastrophic failure. This kind of thing has never happened in Carnival’s nearly 40 years of service. The generator has been removed and is being examined by a team of forensic experts at the shipyard (BAE Systems in San Francisco).”

“The alarm went off two to three seconds before the generator failed,” he added.  “Most ships have a built in redundancy with two engine rooms so that if one fails, the other continues to function. Although the fire was contained in the aft engine room, heat damaged the cable insulation and the control room switchboards, disabling both engine rooms (and thus rendering the ship without power).”

The CARNIVAL SPLENDOR drifted off the coast of Baja California until being towed by the tugs MILLENNIUM DAWN and ERNEST CAMPBELL to San Diego where she arrived on November 11. There were no injuries or deaths as a result of the incident, which made headlines around the world.

John Heald, Carnival Cruise Line's Senior Cruise Director.

John Heald, Carnival’s senior cruise director and the line’s official blogger, was on board at the time and added, “The guests were fantastic and our crew members were nothing short of miraculous. They helped people up and down the stairs in the dark, brought them food and water. Most worked 24 hours round the clock.” Heald, who hails from the U.K.’s South End, recalled, “The most incredible sight was the approach of the aircraft carrier USS RONALD REAGAN with the US Coast Guard cutter alongside with everyone on deck chanting ‘USA!’”

Addressing the media frenzy over Spam being airlifted to the ship, Cahill explained, “Without refrigeration, we knew the food was going to go bad, so we provided our vendor with a list of food. We told him if something was not available, it was OK to substitute something else. In the 70 pallets of food and water delivered, there was a half case of Spam (not ordered by the ship and reportedly never served to passengers).”

Cahill was the first person to board the CARNIVAL SPLENDOR upon her arrival in San Diego and got feedback from many of the ship’s guests. “Our guests for the most part saw the glass as half full. Many even thanked me for the great job our crew members did.”

After the 3,299 passengers were safely offloaded at San Diego, the CARNIVAL SPLENDOR headed to the city’s Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal where the damage was surveyed, then was towed to San Francisco for the work to be completed. A diesel generator weighing 218,000 pounds was flown from Europe to San Francisco along with two 106,000 pound alternators and 110 miles of electrical cable. After the repair work and other maintenance (including a new coat of blue resin paint on the hull) was completed, the ship underwent extensive testing on sea trials for the US Coast Guard and Lloyd’s Registry.

“We decided to take this as an opportunity to make sure this never happens again. Carnival has put together a team of 18 experts (ships’ captains, ships’ chief engineers, shoreside engineers) to examine every detail and implement changes in the fleet (including Carnival subsidiaries such as Princess, Holland America, Costa, Seabourn, etc.)”, Cahill added.

The Atrium, facing aft from Deck 3.
The Spectacular Spectacular show room, facing forward from Deck 5.
Penthouse Suite, facing aft from sitting area.
Facing aft from the waterslide.

After the press conference, there was plenty of time to explore and document the ship. As rain inundated the exterior, I worked my way from the Deck 3 level of the atrium, deck by deck through the vast majority of public rooms and dining areas to the spa atop Decks 11 and 12.  There will be enough coverage for a full MaritimeMatters Decked! feature in the near future.

The Lido, facing starboard from Deck 11.
Geodesic dome and QUEEN MARY at Long Beach.

At the end of the afternoon, I joined MaritimeMatters editor, Martin Cox, for lunch in the Lido.  As we watched the setting sun beam its last rays onto the sadly derelict-looking QUEEN MARY, Martin dined on tandoori and I did my usual Italian/salad bar savoring. It was so tempting to return for more offerings from the Mongolian Wok, Asian, Pizza, Fish and Chips, Deli and Dessert stations but we resisted, knowing dinner was not too far off.

Carnival ships all have an Empress Deck, a tribute to the line's first vessel, the MARDI GRAS (ex EMPRESS OF CANADA).
Ocean View With Balcony cabin 7367, facing starboard.

We returned to our pleasant Ocean View With Balcony stateroom 7367 (two twin beds, flat screen television, plenty of cupboard and closet space, mini-bar, etc.) on starboard Empress Deck (7) to recharge batteries and gaze more at the bewitching QUEEN MARY, her faded and peeling paint no longer visible in the misty evening sky.

Gold Pearl Restaurant, facing aft.

Our 8:00 PM dinner was assigned in the lower level of the 1,122 seat Gold Pearl Restaurant. It was an honor and pleasure to sit next to John Heald and hear his accounts of the early days with Carnival aboard the company’s pioneering cruise ships MARDI GRAS, CARNIVALE and FESTIVALE, all former British ocean liners dear to many a ship lover’s heart.

Heald, whose often ironic and humorous postings are among the most read and celebrated in the cruise industry, is refreshingly candid. His blog account of the CARNIVAL SPLENDOR fire was some of the year’s most interesting ship-related reading. “If I couldn’t write my blog in my own way and style, I wouldn’t do it.” Heald then looked across the table to Carnival’s Vice President of Public Relations, Tim Gallagher and then jokingly asked, “Am I allowed to say that?”

Minestrone in the Gold Pearl.
Greek farmer's salad in the Gold Pearl.
Classic chicken entrée in the Gold Pearl.

Dinner was typically excellent Carnival fare and while there were popular selections like steamed lobster, my palate (after some three sea-going weeks this past January) was leaning toward more basic offerings such as minestrone soup (yes, again!), Greek farmer’s salad (delicious) and broiled chicken breast (perfectly cooked).

Caramelized apple puff pastry.

For dessert, I did succumb to a very rich and satisfying caramelized apple puff pastry.

Back in the groove on the CARNIVAL SPLENDOR.

In typical Carnival style, dinner ended with the wait staff jubilantly dancing atop pedestals.

"Vroom!" in the Specatacular Spectacular show room.

The main stage show in the three deck, 1,400 seat Spectacular Spectacular Lounge was entitled “Vroom!” and featured highly choreographed rock standards with an array of special effects.  It was a maiden performance for the ship’s new cast.

All sorts of other activities included sing-a-longs, a comedian, jazz and dixieland performances, karaoke, Latin music and disco dancing into the wee hours. We roamed around the outer decks, taking shelter from the occasional squall between photographic pursuits.

What was evident all day and night was the staff’s genuine feeling of welcoming and relief to be back on a working ship after a trying time.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Southland is at its most beautiful in the winter after a big storm and today was its ultimate.

Making an omelet in the Lido.
Martin Cox awaits a cappuccino at the Coffee Shop.

Piercing blue skies and fluffy white clouds hovered over snow-capped mountains as we hurriedly ate omelets and other breakfast sundries in the Lido, grabbed a cappuccino at the Coffee Shop on the Deck 5 promenade and disembarked the CARNIVAL SPLENDOR at 9:00 AM.


The ship would soon embark her first official passengers in over 3 months on a sold out cruise to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.


Special thanks: Martin Cox, Tim Gallagher, Vance Gulliksen

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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