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Carnival celebrates 35 years on the seas

Micky Arison, Bob Dickinson
Executives Micky Arison, left, and Bob Dickinson, right, chat on an upper deck of the new Carnival Freedom while the ship was docked in Venice, Italy. The vessel is debuting during the 35th anniversary of Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines, that began with just one ship. Andy Newman / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Micky Arison says it’s probably time to start looking ahead, like his father did before him, to the moment when he must find the next chairman of Carnival Corp.

“At this stage, I’m 57, and I have to start thinking about those kinds of things,” Arison told The Associated Press in an interview for Carnival’s 35th anniversary. “We have a lot of very talented executives around the world. And over time, we’ll see how that all plays out.”

Carnival Corp. is the world’s largest cruise operator, ferrying 7 million passengers to ports of call around the world last year. The company, which controls 12 brands, reported a net income of $2.28 billion last year.

Ted Arison started Carnival Cruise Lines in 1972 with one ship that ran aground on its maiden voyage. The father named the son president in 1979, and over the next 28 years, Micky Arison and his employees have built Carnival through aggressive expansion and visionary marketing strategies.

On Sunday, Carnival held a naming ceremony in Venice, Italy for the corporation’s 82nd ship, the 110,000-gross ton, 1,487-cabin Carnival Freedom.

The ship is one of 20 being delivered to Carnival’s brands through 2011 — representing an investment of billions of dollars which will significantly increase the amount of passengers the cruise line can carry.

Ted Arison founded Carnival Cruise Lines as part of a subsidiary of American International Travel Service of Boston. Two years later, he bought a struggling Carnival for $1 and the assumption of $5 million in AITS debt.

In this photo, released by Carnival Cruise Lines, the new Carnival Freedom arrives in Venice, Italy, following a short voyage from its Italian shipyard Saturday, March 3, 2007. The 22nd vessel for Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines is 952 feet long, features 1,487 staterooms, a 13,300-square-foot health club, a 270-square-foot outdoor video screen and wireless internet throughout the entire vessel. On March 5, Carnival Freedom is to begin a series of Mediterranean and Greek Isle cruises, before being repositioned to Miami for Caribbean voyages starting Nov. 17. (AP Photo/Carnival Cruise Lines, Andy Newman) **NO SALES**Andy Newman / CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES

Five years after that, Micky Arison — who had filled several jobs in the company — got called to his dad’s office for his promotion to president.

That’s when Ted Arison left the building.

“We butted heads a lot when he was president and I was vice president,” Micky Arison said. “He decided it was better for the family’s sake and others’ sake that, either he does it his way or I do it my way, but that butting of heads shouldn’t continue forever. He actually at the time did just walk away from the company and did other things.”

Arison said he felt awkward at the beginning.

“The issue was more, I would say, pressure from executives that I wasn’t deserving to be there and the nepotism issue and all those kind of things,” Arison said. “At times it was difficult, on the other hand there was great opportunity.”

In 1984, Carnival embarked on a groundbreaking advertising blitz featuring “The Fun Ships” slogan and the “Ain’t We Got Fun” television campaign. Kathie Lee Johnson — who would later become Kathie Lee Gifford — sang in the television commercial.

Carnival went public in 1987, and continued to expand. Carnival Corp. was eventually created to encompass acquisitions of Holland America Line, Costa Cruises, Princess Cruises and others.

Today, Carnival and other cruise lines face scrutiny over the effect of pollution from their operations have on the world’s oceans. Increasing fuel prices are hurting operating costs, and the threat of hurricanes and chaotic world events threaten the entire tourism industry.

Also, reports of illnesses and crimes on cruise ships have executives constantly fighting to keep their image clean.

Arison seems confident in Carnival’s future once it’s his turn to step down, whenever that happens.

“I see myself here for the next year, two years,” he said. “But whether it’s me running it five years from now or some other talented executive ... it doesn’t change the decisions you make today.”