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Photo via Carnival Cruise Line/FacebookThe first six months of 2020 have hit Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise company, like nothing before. Now, half a dozen changes in leadership have occurred in recent weeks.

In late February, before the coronavirus was seen as a major concern in the U.

S., Japan denied entry to passengers of the Diamond Princess, one of the 16 ships in the Carnival's Princess Cruise Line fleet. Within days the virus took hold onboard as international media descended upon the story and passengers took to social media. A few weeks later, another breakout on the Grand Princess brought more media attention. That ship has since been called the “Titanic of the TikTok age,” due to the way the onboard lockdown played out in real time across social media and news channels.

Now more than three dozen people – 13 on the Diamond Princess alone – have died on Carnival Corp.-owned ships, and more than 1,500 have been infected. Some crew members stuck on ships have taken their own lives, and others are still struggling to get home. Then there's the question  of when ports will reopen – some indicate they will stay closed until 2022. So far for 2020, the company is hemorrhaging $650 million per month. It comes as no surprise to see the company shifting leadership as it prepares to navigate the choppy seas of uncertainty that the near term will bring.

In May two executives announced their departure from the company. Rick Meadows, President of Carnival’s luxury line, Seabourn, announced his retirement in early May. Meadows was a rags-to-riches story for Carnival, joining the company in 1985 and working his way up from sales to serve in multiple executive-level positions across various Carnival brands.At the same time that Meadows’s retirement was announced, the company confirmed Holland America’s President, Orlando Ashford, would also be leaving. No reasoning was given for Ashford’s departure, but in a prepared statement, Ashford acknowledged the pandemic and explained, “I have no doubt that Holland America Line will thrive again soon, and its guests will be ready when cruise operations resume. I look forward to being one of the first to sail.”

Three weeks later, it was announced that after 31 years at the company, Terry Thornton would retire from his post as the VP of Nautical and Port Operations for Carnival Cruise Line.

During this time, hundreds of other employees have been laid off, while others have had their pay cut by a fifth.

Carnival's soon-to-be-finished flagship vessel, the Mardi Gras, already delayed once, has been delayed again, and now its home port, Port Canaveral, has no date on when it will arrive. The retirements aren’t just hitting company leadership. Half a dozen ships saw their disposal plans accelerated and will now be retired within the next 90 days, likely meaning their last pre-lockdown cruise will be their last.

Meadow’s absence at Seabourn was filled by former chief strategy officer Josh Leibowitz, who was also a senior vice president at Cunard North America. He will report to Stein Kruse, Group CEO of Holland America and Carnival U.K., which manages the P&O and Cunard lines. Meanwhile, Josh Weinstein, who oversaw Carnival U.K., has been promoted to Chief Operating Officer for Carnival Corp. Cunard President Simon Palethorpe was then named President of Carnival U.K.

So far, bookings across the industry have been stable for 2021, but 2020 is shaping up to a be lost year, at least in many of the world’s busiest cruise markets. Carnival Corp President Arnold Donald confirmed in a recent live-streamed interview with The Points Guy that the company was discussing resuming cruises in New Zealand and parts of Europe, all of which more adequately lowered their infection rates than America has so far done. In the U.S., home of the vast majority of cruise consumers, sailings are now postponed until September, but even at that time, things won’t be anywhere near normal.

At cruise lines, reopening is just the beginning of what will surely redefine the industry for years to come. For Carnival, and its leadership, the story of how it responds to the most significant challenge the cruise industry has ever faced is just getting underway.

This story first appeared at our sister publication Orlando Weekly. 

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