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Sailing into the sunset: Cruising advice from one of the world’s longest-serving cruise ship captains

After an illustrious 41-year career with Carnival Cruise Line, Captain Francesco La Fauci looks back on a life at sea and in service of those who travelled with him.  

After an illustrious 41-year career with Carnival Cruise Line, Captain Francesco La Fauci looks back on a life at sea and in service of those who travelled with him.  

Captain La Fauci’s time with Carnival Cruise Line began on the decks of Carnival Mardi Gras in 1983. At the time, Carnival Cruise Line only had four ships. Forty-one years later, Captain La Fauci has worked onboard 17 different Carnival ships all around the world, captaining 13 of them over his remarkable career. He first sailed in Australia as captain of Carnival Legend in 2014. And since 2019, he was at the helm of Sydney-based Carnival Splendor

As Karryon sits down with Captain La Fauci, we explore the sea of memories, milestones, and the legacy of a captain who has not just commanded ships but has steered the course of maritime excellence.

What inspired you to pursue a life at sea and become a cruise ship captain?

From an early age, I knew I wanted a career on the sea. Growing up in a small Sicilian fishing village and living a few minutes away from the beach, the sea is a part of who I am. 

As a child I always loved playing on the beach, surrounded by the boats. From a very young age, I was fishing with my grandfather and father who were both fishermen and seamen as well. For my secondary education, I chose to study at a nautical school in Messina, so I feel as though I was destined for a life at sea. 

You’ve spent decades navigating the oceans. What are some of your stand out memories from your time at sea?

My very first time on a ship was back in 1974 as cadet working for Chevron oil company, where I worked for a number of years and really enjoyed as I got to see the world. 

Navigating the oceans the old way, all over the world with hundreds of nautical charts covering the entire globe from the Persian Gulf all the way to North Europe, Aegean Sea, North America, South Africa, Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, Korea, and Philippines and working on VLCCs (big tankers). I am thankful for those years as I really learnt to hone my skills as a navigator well before the electronic world of navigation existed. There was no GPS or electronic charts. 

I do remember a lot of my time on tankers was spent in bad weather and heavy seas crossing the Atlantic Ocean, Northern Europe, this definitely remains imprinted in my mind, with some scary moments in there as well. 

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Captain La Fauci and crew on Carnival Splendor.

In my 40-plus years with Carnival Cruise Line I have navigated to many parts of the world. I have always loved the long crossings such as Sydney to Vancouver and vice versa, where I have enjoyed French Polynesian islands, Hawaiian Islands, Tonga, Guam and Borneo as well. 

Alaska also remains a beautiful memory for me, navigating through magnificent fjords with views of snowy mountains will remain etched in my mind. I have always loved hiking as well and Alaska has the most spectacular hiking trails, my favourites have been in Skagway and Juneau.

What kept you motivated during the tough times, and how did you overcome any obstacles you faced?

The career of a nautical officer comes with a lot of responsibility as you can have up to 5,000 people on board including crew and guests. The key to being a good captain and leader is the ability to stay calm in a difficult situation such as poor weather and lead by example. 

I have always believed in the power of mentoring and training as having a well-trained bridge team is crucial. Investing in your team through education, mentoring and training will bring the best out in people which is so important to make people feel valued and build their confidence.

How do you go about creating an unforgettable experience for your passengers?

One of the secrets to ensuring an unforgettable cruise for our guests is to be visible as the ship captain. I have always believed this has made a difference for guests and crew and have no doubts that guests love to see the captain around for a chat or to take a selfie, I have guests come to me to show me selfies we’ve taken many years before. It’s nice to know I’ve made an impact on their holiday memory. 

Carnival Cruise Line
Captain La Fauci with Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy.

What contributes to the overall success of a cruise?

As captain, it is important to maintain a healthy working relationship with all of the departments on board. The overall success of a cruise is heavily impacted by our front of house staff, so people need to be properly trained, respected and feel valued for all their hard work. When the crew are happy, the guests are happy – the formula works!

What advice would you give to aspiring seafarers or individuals dreaming of a life at sea?

As a retired Captain I do suggest new seafarers to be professional, committed and passionate about their careers. It has been so amazing to receive hundreds of messages on my retirement from so many people that I have worked with over the years. Many have come from younger officers thanking me for what they learned from me while on board under my command, which means a lot to me.

I am very pleased with how my career has been spent.  My advice is to all is to always be kind, work together, listen to others, be around, visible and sensitive towards any issues that could compromise a guest experience. I am so appreciative of all the great recognition and beautiful comments received by many guests and crew since I announced I would be retiring. 

What’s next?

Presently I don’t yet have a plan for my new chapter in life. I have had a few offers but for now, I am enjoying the extra time with my family.

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Captain La Fauci and his family on board Carnival Splendor in December 2023.

However, I would like to continue remaining in the field as a mentor, or an emergency relief captain or supervising ship dry docks, which I have always loved. Whenever possible, I will continue to travel with my family. Beautiful Sydney and all the amazing people I have met in Australia will remain in my heart forever, so I look forward to returning with my family for a holiday one day.