Carnival may be synonymous with its cruise line by the same name, but Carnival is actually so much more than just its budget-friendly, fun-geared cruise line for families that it’s most well-known for.
Carnival Corporation is, in actuality, a huge cruise operator and is known as the world’s largest travel leisure company. Altogether, Carnival Corporation owns nine different cruise lines, with a collection of more than 100 cruise ships.
So, what cruise lines does Carnival own? And who owns the overarching Carnival brand? How did Carnival even manage to amass such a huge collection of cruise lines?
We’re here to answer all of your questions about Carnival Corporation and all the cruise lines owned by Carnival.
In This Article…
Carnival Cruise Line
First up, the brand that started it all. If you’re asking yourself ‘who owns Carnival cruise line,’ then look no further, because the answer is right in front of you.
Carnival Cruise Line was the very start of Carnival Corporation. Established in 1972, the company targeted a younger cruising market looking for a fun vibe, something that the line is still known for today. The first ship was Mardi Gras, launched in 1972 as well, and recreated today in Carnival Cruise Line’s new Mardi Gras ship. Carnival Cruise Line continued to expand its fleet throughout the 1970s and 1980s, until, it was decided the company should go public on Wall Street, in 1987.
Almost immediately after going public on the New York Stock Exchange, Carnival Cruise Line started acquiring other cruise lines and, in 1993, management decided to change the overarching company’s name to Carnival Corporation, leaving Carnival Cruise Line as the name for the cruise line that started it all only.
Today, Carnival Cruise Line encompasses more than 20 ships across its fleet, with planned future ships set to launch in 2022 and 2023 as sister ships to the recently launched Mardi Gras. The first of those ships, Carnival Celebration, is expected to launch at the 50th anniversary celebration of the cruise line’s founding.
Holland America Line
Holland America Line was one of Carnival’s first acquisitions, and one of Carnival’s cruise lines with the longest history. Holland America Line was formed in the late 19th century, in 1873.
The Dutch company operated not only passenger ships, but also shipping routes, ferrying passengers and goods between Europe and the Americas. In 1895, though, Holland America Line branch out into vacation cruises, and one of its first leisure cruises was from New York to Palestine.
Of course, like many lines during the two World Wars, Holland America Line pitched in to transport military personnel throughout the 1930s and 1940s. However, as transatlantic air travel became more popular, Holland America Line ceased its transportation services and focused on its cargo shipping, until that aspect of the business was sold in the 1970s. Leisure travel was all that remained and Carnival Corporation came in and scooped up the line in 1989.
Today, Carnival uses Holland America Line to offer upper-class cruising experiences both in Europe and across the Atlantic. The line is made up of 11 cruise ships, with one of the most recent being the MS Rotterdam.
Seabourn is another cruise line that was one of the first that Carnival Corporation purchased after going public. However, unlike Holland America Line, Seabourn doesn’t boast hardly as long a history. Instead, Seabourn was founded only a few years before Carnival’s acquisition, as the first Seabourn ship entered service in 1988.
The Norwegian-owned line didn’t see success early on as, by 1990, future ships were being delayed due to financial constraints, and assets were being sold off. Carnival Corporation swooped in at that time and purchased a 25% stake in the company, followed by a 50% stake in 1996. The result was growing success for the brand, which was beginning to be known as a luxury cruise line. In 1998, Carnival went ahead and purchased the remaining 50% of the company.
A smaller line, Seabourn’s fleet currently only consists of five ships, with two ships under construction, Seabourn Venture and Seabourn Pursuit.
Today, Seabourn is still known as an ultra-luxury, small-ship cruise line and consistently receives accolades from travel publications such as Conde Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure.
Another quick acquisition during Carnival Corporation’s early days, Costa Cruises was acquired in 2000. However, much like Holland America, Costa boasts a rich history stretching back to the 1800s. In fact, Costa is even older than Holland America, founded in 1854.
Founded in Italy, Costa Cruises originally focused only on cargo shipping, primarily olives and textiles. It wasn’t until the mid-1900s that Costa introduced passenger services between Europe and South America.
A decade after passenger services began, Costa delved into the cruising market, with leisure trips offered throughout the Mediterranean and Caribbean. By the time that Carnival purchased 50% of the line, in 1997, Costa was the leading cruise line in Europe. Carnival would go on to acquire the line fully in 2000.
Today, the Costa Cruises line still primarily services the European market. There are a dozen ships in Costa’s fleet, with one other in the works, Costa Toscana.
But Cunard is even older than Costa Cruises, making it Carnival’s second-oldest cruise line with one of the richest histories.
Founded by Samuel Cunard in 1839, Cunard Line got its start when Samuel received a contract to transport mail for Britain across the Atlantic. Together, with partners from Glasgow, he expanded his services to transport mail between Liverpool, Halifax and Boston.
Eventually, Cunard broke into passenger travel, at which point it built some of its most famous ships, such as the Lusitania, which was tragically sunk by a German U-Boat in 1915, at the start of World War I. In the 1930s, Cunard built the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, making use of government loans awarded on the condition that Cunard would merge with the British White Star Line.
But as transatlantic passenger ship travel declined, Cunard attempted to better meet market needs by creating an airline (that was unsuccessful). It then turned its attention to cruising and launched Queen Elizabeth 2 to supplement the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. In 1998, Carnival purchased 62% of the line, purchasing the remaining percentage in 1999.
Carnival quickly began to rebuild Cunard’s brand as a luxury transatlantic curse line. Today, Cunard’s fleet is still small and still serving transatlantic cruise passengers, with the Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria and Queen Mary 2.
Princess Cruises, P&O, P&O Australia & AIDA
Princess Cruises, which was the second-largest cruise line by net revenue as of a few years ago, is much younger than the above cruise lines. Founded in 1965 to serve the Mexican Riviera, Princess Cruises soon expanded to offering Alaskan cruises.
However, Princess Cruises was acquired less than a decade after its formation, in 1974 — but not by Carnival. Instead, Princess Cruises’ first new owner was the British-based P&O, which grew the brand by leaps and bounds.
How Did P&O Cruises Come Under Carnival?
Well, P&O was another long-standing cruise line. P&O is definitely Carnival’s oldest cruise line, formed in 1822. Founded as a shipping and logistics company, it started offering passenger services and luxury cruises as early as 1844, sailing from Southampton to the Mediterranean, and then on to even more exotic locations, such as Alexandria and Constantinople.
Over the course of its long life, the brand absorbed and acquired a number of other similar businesses, including Princess Cruises. Eventually, in 2000, P&O would form P&O Princess Cruises, and then that would be what Carnival would merge with in 2003, forming Carnival Corporation & plc.
At the time of that merger, Carnival Corporation also absorbed P&O Cruises, P&O Cruises Australia and AIDA Cruises. All told, this is the merger and acquisition that pushed Carnival Corporation into its status as the largest cruise company.
Today, Princess Cruises has more than a dozen cruise ships and three cruise ships in the works. P&O Cruises currently consists of six ships, with the P&O Iona and P&O Arvia set to debut soon. P&O Cruises Australia operates three ships, all of which were previously Princess Cruises ships and all of which are on the older side, with the newest dating back to 2002.
But what about AIDA?
Lastly, but certainly not least, as P&O was making its way across the world, picking up cruise lines, it stopped in Germany to pick up AIDA Cruises, a line founded in the 1960s, much like Princess. Marketed toward young party-centric travelers, AIDA cruises was a good fit for its portfolio and then an even better fit for Carnival’s portfolio later.
P&O acquired AIDA relatively close to its merger with Carnival, purchasing 51% of AIDA in 2000 and then purchasing the remaining 49% in 2001. Just two years later, in 2003, Carnival’s merger with P&O led to AIDA becoming yet another Carnival cruise line.
Today, AIDA operates more than a dozen cruise ships, with AIDAcosma being the most recent.
Other Carnival Acquisitions
But while the above cruise lines are those that Carnival owns currently, the corporation has put aside a good bit of money toward acquiring other cruise lines over its history as well, cruise lines that it didn’t hold on to for good.
For example, Carnival acquired Windstar Sail Cruises, the small luxury yacht line, at the same time that it acquired Windstar’s parent company of the moment, Holland America Line, in 1989.
However, in 2007, Carnival sold the cruise line to Ambassadors International (an educational travel company that no longer exists, as it filed for bankruptcy in 2011) for $100 million. A subsidiary private holding company now owns Windstar.
Carnival has also sold off or liquidated some of P&O Princess’s brands over the years, following the big merger. These include A’Rosa Cruises, a German river cruise brand that Carnival sold in 2003; Ocean Village, liquidated in 2010; and Swan Hellenic, which specialized in cultural and historical cruises, liquidated in 2007.
Carnival’s also founded and abandoned some of its cruise lines over the last 50 years. Carnival Corporation, for example, established Fathom, a social impact cruise line, in 2015, only to end service in 2018.
Fiesta Marina Cruises was a cruise line geared toward the Spanish-speaking market, only to be liquidated a year after its founding in the early 1990s. Ibero Cruises was similarly marketed toward Spanish speakers, only this time out of Madrid, though it lasted a little longer than Fiesta Marina, about 11 years before liquidation.
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So What Does This Mean for You?
Basically, for you, this means that Carnival has a lot of experience in the cruising industry, so no matter which of the above cruise lines you end up cruising with, you should feel safe and secure sailing with them. Additionally, it means if you’re not terribly keen on how Carnival works, then you might steer clear from the above.
Whatever your cruising preferences, though, one thing’s for sure: As Carnival Corporation goes into its 50th year of business, it doesn’t seem like it’ll be going anywhere soon.
Frequently Asked Questions
Carnival Corporation owns Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Seabourn, P&O Cruises (Australia), Costa Cruises, AIDA Cruises, P&O Cruises (UK) and Cunard.
With more than 20 ships in its fleet, the Carnival Cruise Line is the largest Carnival Corporation line.
Carnival Corporation is based in Miami, with several regional headquarters around the globe.