FORT LAUDERDALE -- Cruise line presidents get a lot of mail from guests, and Holland America Line president Orlando Ashford reserves the last half hour of his day to read some of the comments sent his way.
"They tend to run to the extremes" -- either good or bad, he told travel advisors during the the opening day of CruiseWorld.
The negative ones, he said, are often about the Internet service.
"It's particularly difficult for us, because our ships tend to meander, so sometimes were in parts of the world where we don't get as good a connection," Ashford said. "All of us are working together to try to figure this one out."
On the other hand, positive notes are usually about the crew, which Ashford said pleased him. "It creates that connection to the brand, to the experience, beyond all the wonderful stuff we do with food and fun," he said.
Ashford was joined on a President's Panel of Carnival Corp. brands during the opening general session by Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy; the panel was moderated by Travel Weekly editor in chief Arnie Weissmann.
Duffy said that the weather seems to dominate the unfavorable comments she gets.
"We have no control over it, and it really impacts the cruise experience," Duffy said. "When weather impacts our ability to keep to the itinerary, that is really frustrating. We try to overcome it by doing extra things, [such as] flying in entertainment when we do have those moments."
Duffy said that although Carnival is up to 19 home ports for its 26 ships, there's room for more. This fall, the Carnival Miracle was redeployed from Tampa to San Diego, a port Carnival has not sailed from regularly since 2012.
"I think this whole idea of home ports is going to continue to grow," Duffy said.
Ashford said bringing back destinations that haven't been visited in awhile can energize guests and boost sales. He said he spends seven to 10 days a year on Holland America's world cruise, partly to gauge the sentiment for specific ports. Based on one such listening tour, HAL offered a 79-day circumnavigation of Africa this fall, which Ashford said was very popular.
"Our hotels move, so we'll take them wherever people want to go," Ashford said.
The two lines each have celebrity champions, and Ashford chided Duffy that although he has fulfilled his promise to introduce her to Oprah Winfrey, Duffy has yet to make good on an introduction for Ashford to Carnival's chief fun officer, Shaquille O'Neal.
After securing Winfrey for several HAL cruises, including a Girlfriend's Getaway cruise in the Bahamas eight months ago, Ashford said the questions he now gets asked most often is: When is the next Oprah cruise, "and how can I get a ticket?'
Since there was a pajama party on the cruise, and Ashford's idea of pajamas is sweatpants and a T-shirt, he went out and bought a smoking jacket to dress for the occasion, much to Duffy's amusement.
"I went all out for this," Ashford said.