Cruisers hunt for berths, as Carnival delay coincides with start of Senior Bowl week

The Carnival Fantasy sits bow-to-bow with the GulfQuest maritime museum on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, the date it resumed regular service from Mobile's cruise terminal. (Lawrence Specker/LSpecker@AL.com) 

Carnival cruise passengers planning to depart Mobile on Monday found themselves facing a perfect storm of sorts, as weather delayed the Carnival Fantasy and the local lodging market tightened up for Senior Bowl week.

The situation had begun to emerge by Sunday evening, when Carnival issued a weather alert: Both the Fantasy, due in Mobile on Monday, and the Carnival Valor, bound for Galveston, had been delayed by adverse weather conditions.

The Visit Mobile convention and visitors bureau sounded the alarm Monday morning. Because the Fantasy wouldn't arrive until Tuesday, the bureau posted at its "Cruising from Mobile, Alabama" Facebook page, "everyone coming in for today's embarkation will need to overnight in the Mobile area. Many of our downtown hotel partners are booked because of Senior Bowl - we encourage passengers to check with all area hotels throughout Mobile County and the Eastern Shore."

Stacy Hamilton, VP of marketing and communications for Visit Mobile, said she'd started receiving inquiries and alerts at about 5 a.m. Monday.

"Most of the downtown hotels had no availability for tonight," she said. So many Carnival passengers who'd stayed downtown overnight Sunday, planning to sail on Monday, found it wasn't as simple as just booking another night.

The Senior Bowl, an all-star game that usually sells out the 40,000-seat Ladd-Peebles Stadium, is Saturday. Senior Bowl week typically draws a large contingent of college players, coaches, athletic staffs and fans for a slate of practices and other activities running throughout the week.

Visit Mobile encouraged area hotels with vacancies to pipe up on the Facebook page, and also encouraged area business and the public to show the city's friendly side to the inconvenienced cruisers.

"We tried to post that and share that as quickly as possible," Hamilton said. She said she's been pleased by the response. In addition to hotels and Airbnb operators who've shared vacancies, at least a couple of major attractions - Bellingrath Gardens and USS Alabama Memorial Park - gave notice of discounts for cruisers.

Hamilton emphasized that Visit Mobile doesn't speak for Carnival or the cruise terminal, but is just trying to help get the word out.

Carnival, for its part, has issued a notice that the Fantasy is expected to dock about 11 a.m. Tuesday "and will operate a shortened, 4 day cruise to Progreso." Guests will receive a prorated refund and other adjustments to their bills, according to Carnival.

"We certainly understand the impact these unexpected weather delays have caused," Carnival said in the update. "Thank you for your patience and understanding.  We look forward to welcoming our guests on board!"

Hamilton said the situation gives Mobile, which only recently regained cruise service, a chance to make a good impression that might pay off in the form of return visits.

"I think it gives us an opportunity to touch people in a way, emotionally," she said. "I think that's important for us in the long term. They'll remember us, they'll share that story on social media."

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