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Princess Cruises discussed at VIA luncheon

VP Julie Benson addressed the monthly meeting

Posted: June 20, 2008 8:39 p.m.
Updated: August 21, 2008 5:03 a.m.
Its ships carry 1.3 million passengers a week to destinations on all seven continents.

The entire fleet is comprised of 16 ships and its latest addition, Ruby Princess, will begin its tour in November.

And while Princess Cruises has an international reputation and anchors at locations across the globe, the 40-year-old company has been calling Santa Clarita its home since 2001 where its corporate headquarters offers the local valley thousands of jobs and its employees Santa Clarita's quality of life.

While addressing the crowd of business leaders during the Valley Industrial Association's business luncheon on Tuesday, Julie Benson, vice president of Public Relations for Princess Cruises, offered a glimpse into the operations of the third largest's cruise line.

Princess Cruises, part of Carnival Corporation, moved to the local area seven years ago, Benson said, and most recently brought its call center with it.

By moving to Santa Clarita, the company created 2,000 jobs for the local economy, making it one of the largest private employers in the Santa Clarita Valley, Benson said. Around 60 percent of employees live and work in the SCV.

Before coming to Santa Clarita, Benson said the company was based in Century City. The decision to make the move came after Princess Cruises officials realized the company was growing and needed more room.

What attracted the company, which has been in operation since 1965, to Santa Clarita is a combination of the "large pool of qualified employees" and a "great quality of life for employees."

In giving back, Benson said Princess Cruises said employees serve as consumers in the Santa Clarita Valley through their purchase of homes, goods and services.

Additionally, Benson called the company an "international ambassador" and with that, the cruise line brings international guests for their meetings and tours.

"The more successful we are, the more jobs are created here," she said.

Its operations are spread among seven buildings. Three of the buildings are alongside Town Center Drive in Valencia, while Benson said the Valencia Industrial Center is home to an 11,000-square-foot distribution center for sending mailers and packages around the world and onto Princess Cruises ships.

The most recent building to be opened is the Princess Cruises rehearsal studio, a 28,000-square-foot space where the company's 70 productions will practice before moving on board to their ship's performances.

"It gives us the unique ability to rehearse multiple shows," she said.

Even with a sluggish economy, Benson said she was happy to report that business remains strong.
Although she was unable to offer specifics, Benson said, "Consumers are not giving up their vacations."
However, the company has not been immune to rising fuel prices.

"Fuel is our No. 1 cost," she said.

In order to address the high costs, Benson said the company recently began imposing a "fuel supplement" charge on the fare.

Additionally, Benson said the company has been studying how to increase fuel efficiency, ranging from modifications of itineraries to leaving port an hour early, which can save the company tens of thousands of dollars in fuel costs.

"It's very scientifically calculated," she said.

But perhaps what made Princess Cruises most popular was its role on the 1970s television show, "The Love Boat," a comedy that chronicled the lives of a cruise line's crew as it travelled to various destinations.

However, Benson said Princess Cruises, which is part of Carnival Corporation, officials came close to turning "The Love Boat" down.

"Believe it or not, the company nearly said no," she told the group of 100 or so business officials.

Although "The Love Boat" ended its run in 1986 after 10 seasons, Princess Cruises still embodies the playful spirit of "The Love Boat" by maintaining Gavin MacLeod, who played Captain Merrill Stubing for more than 200 episodes, as a company spokesman.

Since then, the company has grown and offers 115 unique itineraries and visits 350 ports around the world. One of the most popular summer destinations is Alaska as ships carry thousands of passengers across the chilly waters to view the glaciers and natural wildlife of the state.


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