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Originally published Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 7:00 PM

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Carnival cruises on despite ship stranding, mishaps

Seagoing behemoth runs 10 brands of cruise ship, from low-priced to ultraluxury.

The Orange County Register

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I’ve never taken a Carnival cruise.

Just about every cruise I have taken has been on Carnival.

The fact that those two statements are true says a lot about why Carnival Corp. probably will weather a string of mishaps that would force a smaller operation to fire off financial-distress signals.

Carnival reported three breakdowns at sea this winter, the worst aboard the Carnival Triumph where distressed passengers endured heat and filth after an engine breakdown left the ship adrift for days.

But in an irony not lost on its competitors, the alternative to Carnival is — more often than not — Carnival.

“I haven’t sold Carnival in a couple of years,” a major California travel agent told me. “When people call up looking for those low prices, we tell them it’s not worth it and steer them elsewhere.”

Where? “Princess, Holland America, Cunard or Royal Caribbean,” said the agent, who asked not be named.

That would be a devastating action if other travel agents took the same approach, except that of the four cruise lines the agent named as an alternative to Carnival Cruise Lines, three — Princess Cruises, Holland America Line and Cunard — are among 10 brands owned and operated by Miami-based Carnival Corp.

This seagoing behemoth has 100 ships and 91,000 employees around the globe. It draws 10 million customers a year when its land-based tour operations are added in.

With cruise lines still paying commissions to travel agents long after airlines and many tour operators stopped doing so, it’s also not surprising that my travel agent contact asked to remain anonymous. There was concern the parent corporation would steer business away from the agency because of its criticism, even if in the end, all it was doing was shuffling the deck chairs on its customers.

Many — I’d wager most — cruise ship passengers don’t know the relationship between the many lines. Even I’m a little foggy on the corporate lineups

So while I have never taken a Carnival Cruise Lines trip, I’ve crossed the Atlantic three times on Cunard, and sailed the Pacific Northwest coast with Princess, both owned by Carnival Corp. It’s the namesake brand that has taken a beating over the past couple of years, with breakdowns at sea in 2010 and this year. At least there have been no fatalities, unlike on the Costa Concordia, which ran aground and capsized off Italy last year, killing 32 people. Or the fire aboard the Costa Allegra that left it adrift near pirate-infested Indian Ocean waters. Except that both the Concordia and Allegra are sister (or cousin) ships to all the others. Costa Cruises is owned by Carnival Corp.

This is all old news to most travel agents and longtime cruise fans. But to the average person, it can be confusing. In an attempt to give the appearance of a wide range of choices, Carnival Corp. doesn’t play up the fact that it owns 10 brands that offer everything from weekend-booze cruises costing a few hundred dollars to luxurious, tuxedo-required world voyages that last nearly a year and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for the top-end suites.

And instead of scaring off customers, Scott Mayerowitz of The Associated Press reported, the line is beating back its losing streak with a familiar and potent tool: discounts.

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