Off Brand

Why Investors Are Still Betting on Carnival Cruise Line

What’s driving the irrational optimism for an industry least likely to survive a pandemic?

Rob Walker
Published in
8 min readJul 21, 2020


Illustration: Guillem Casasus

Carnival Cruise Line has a new ship on the way, and it’s a doozy. The Carnival Mardi Gras is a 180,000-ton, 18-deck marvel, accommodating 6,630 passengers, and boasting among other amenities what is billed as the world’s first at-sea roller coaster. Based in Florida’s Port Canaveral, it is intended to sail Caribbean itineraries, and is “packed with brand-new experiences for eating, drinking, and spectacularly getting down to fun,” the company says, including a new Emeril Lagasse restaurant, two bars, and an 800-capacity performance space to enjoy acrobats and musicians.

In all, the Mardi Gras, among the biggest and likely most expensive cruise ships in the history of the world, is truly a jaw-dropping monument to humanity’s determination to create and prize engineered leisure that brazenly defies the logic of nature. And at this moment, it’s like a vessel arriving from some parallel universe — a packed, isolated place where swarms of vacationers somehow frolic unmasked and fewer than six feet apart, carefree.

Carnival has not disclosed its cost, but reports say the most elaborate cruise ships can cost $1 billion — quadruple the price of Boeing 747, that’s in the league of the cost of building an ambitious skyscraper.

It is also, of course, not sailing any time soon. Originally scheduled for November of 2020, the Mardi Gras’ first voyage has been pushed to February of next year, at the earliest. The postponement is blamed on construction delays attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, which continues to rewrite the best-laid plans of the tourism industry in general, and the cruise ship business in particular.

Cruise lines were among the earliest businesses to be walloped by the pandemic. The Carnival-owned Diamond Princess suffered a notorious outbreak that infected hundreds and killed more than a dozen, and became a symbol of nightmarish cruise ship contagion scenarios when it was quarantined for a…