In the $117 billion cruise industry, Carnival Corporation is the largest operator afloat. Its 10 brands operate 102 ships that call at 700 ports and carry nearly 12 million passengers every year. Carnival Cruise Line, the company’s namesake brand, is a whale all by itself. It boasts no fewer than 26 vessels that take 1,500 trips a year. Its newest ship, the Carnival Panorama, weighs 133,500 tons, fits 4,000 passengers and is close to seven football fields in length.
With a market presence so big, a fleet so big, and ships so big, what else could Carnival possibly want? Well, how about a 128-foot blimp?
Today marks the debut of Carnival’s “airship,” a double-entendre that evokes the traditional name for a maneuverable, lighter-than-air craft and also refers to its livery. The blimp has been painted to resemble an actual Carnival vessel, right down to the signature forked funnel that neatly fills the space on the horizontal stabilizer fin.
The new craft, which will be operated under contract by AirSign, will perform the usual blimp duties, which means flying over large outdoor gatherings. But the blimp’s immediate—and visually more impressive—assignment will be to follow various Carnival cruise ships around, affording the unusual spectacle of a helium-filled cruise ship floating above its steel counterpart in the ocean.
“People are always drawn to these blimps,” said Carnival president Christine Duffy. “You can imagine the vista of the ship over the ship in port. It will be unique. We’re hoping to get a lot of people who’ll participate and take a photo and post it.”
Why now? The company is in the process reassigning several of its vessels—“ship shuffling” is the trade argot. The Carnival Breeze is heading for Port Canaveral, the Carnival Vista will move from Miami to Galveston and so on. Which means Carnival’s port cities will soon be getting new vessels. The blimp will help direct the traveling public’s attention to that fact—and, by association, to Carnival’s budget-friendly vacation packages.
Anyone who snaps a pic of the blimp and posts it on social media with the hashtag #ChooseFun will be eligible to win a cruise for two. Carnival will also make a donation to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital for every hashtagged photo.
Meanwhile, Carnival’s blimp is also scheduled to buzz overhead at a number of outdoor events, the goal being to encourage existing cruisers to take another trip and to lure cruise virgins aboard for the first time. After all, while the summer will soon be over, cruise season is just heating up. “We have football season starting up,” Duffy said. “The airship will be flying over some large-scale events so we can engage with a board range of customers.”
That’s a job blimps have excelled at ever since Goodyear launched its first blimp in 1925. While operating an airship is expensive and subject to the vagaries of the weather, the unparalleled visibility the floating craft deliver—who doesn’t look up when a blimp passes overhead?—is the reason several consumer brands have been operating them in the decades since.
Among them: Budweiser, Walmart, dairy brand Hood, Blockbuster Video, Fujifilm and DirecTV. When Turner Broadcasting Service wanted to publicize the premier of Conan O’Brien on TBS in 2010, it launched a bright orange blimp with white letters spelling “CONAN” that flew around for four months. MetLife began operating a blimp in 1987, and at its peak had a fleet of three, but the company’s ending its 31-year relationship with Snoopy and grounded the ships in 2016.
Blimp programs rise and fall with the fortunes of the companies that finance them, but Goodyear’s lighter-than-air program is still flying high. The company launched its third blimp, the 246-foot-long Wingfoot Three, in June, and it just kicked off a new campaign that uses the airship itself to encourage viewers to turn in their best performance.
“The Goodyear blimp doesn’t show up for just anybody,” said the TV spot’s deep-voiced narrator, “so don’t just be anybody—be blimpworthy.”
Meanwhile, residents of the Southeast stand a good chance of spotting the Carnival blimp at some point in the coming months. “Fifty percent [of Americans] can drive to a Carnival ship in five hours or less,” observed Duffy, who’s betting some of them will “see our airship and appreciate how close a ship is to where they are.”