Despite the sea of controversy surrounding disgraced celebrity chef Paula Deen, her themed cruises will sail on. Two are planned for 2014.
Both cruises are organized by New Jersey-based Alice Travel where Deen's photo is prominently displayed on the homepage. One is in January on the Celebrity Reflection, the second, though not yet finalized, will most likely be in July 2014 on Royal Caribbean.
The news comes at the same time Target announced it would "phase out" Paula Deen merchandise in its stores and would not be replenishing inventory.
Phyllis Loverdi, vice president of Alice Travel, has been organizing the Paula Deen cruises for four years. She said while 2014 will be the first year there are two Paula Deen cruises, that was planned before the controversy erupted around Deen and was a result of the popularity of Deen's prior cruises.
If anything, she said, the controversy has only made people want to take a Paula Deen cruise more. Not only are people who have previously taken a Paula Deen cruise anxious to sail with her again, Loverdi said, but a whole new crop of customers are calling to make reservations.
"People are calling and saying they want to support her, even people who have never been on a cruise before. They're saying they definately want to go," Loverdi said.
The Celebrity Reflection cruise departs on Jan 18, 2014 from Miami and sails a seven-night, Eastern Caribbean itinerary.
"Celebrity Cruises has no partnership or direct association with Paula Deen," said Elizabeth Jakeway, director of public relations for Celebrity Cruises. "She has sailed with our brand a few times, as host of Paula Deen Cruises, which are marketed and sold exclusively through one travel agency, Alice Travel."
The Paula Deen Cruises - Alice Travel Facebook page posted on Wednesday "These cruises are going to sell out. What a way to show Paula the love!"
Loverdi said she expects the controversy to have no impact on bookings for the cruises. She said two cruises will just mean "twice as many people." Each one maxes out at 500 passengers.
While Alice Travel has not yet announced the date of the second, summer cruise, Loverdi said July on Royal Caribbean was the likeliest possibility. Royal Caribbean confirmed the line has had conversations with Alice Travel regarding a cruise on July 19, 2014, on Oasis of the Seas. But a cruise line spokesperson was quick to point out the line had no relationship with Deen herself.
"Royal Caribbean has never had a partnership or any formal association with Paula Deen," said Cynthia Martinez, director, Global Corporate Communications of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. "She has sailed with our brands a couple of times, but as host of a group cruise, and each time, the groups were booked through a specific travel agency, not through Royal Caribbean."
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. is the parent company of Celebrity Cruises.
The Food Network dumped Deen last week; this week, more companies followed: WalMart, Caesars Entertainment and Smithfield, a food company specializing in pork products.
The controversy was sparked by a lawsuit filed by a former employee at Deen's Savannah, Ga., restaurants, who claimed racial and sexual harassment by Deen and her brother, Bubba Hier, while working for them.
Deen's attorney denied the claims, but in a suit-related deposition last month, Deen responded, "I'm sure I have," when asked if she'd used the N-word since being robbed, adding, "but it's been a very long time."