How GDX Built a 25′ Gingerbread Cruise Ship

We sat down with Seth Bardacke, VP of Operations at Grandesign, to get a real sense of what it took to bring a 25’ gingerbread ship for Carnival Cruise Lines to life. Seth’s 15 year career in all aspects of event production, ideation, strategy, and production give him unrivaled expertise and knowledge in the experiential marketing industry.

Q: What did Carnival want to achieve with the holiday Gingership?

A: This is our second experiential activation this year in line with Carnival Cruise Line’s 2019 global ad campaign “Choose Fun” and there were a few different objectives that they wanted to achieve with the Gingership. First, they asked for the gingerbread ship to be a representation, or replica, of the Mardi Gras — their newest ship set to launch in 2020. It will be the most fun ship ever to sail because of its innovative top entertainment deck including everything from the first ever at-sea roller coaster to basketball courts, a water works water slide, tiki bar, and movie screen. The client wanted to spread awareness and create buzz surrounding the launch of this state of the art update to their fleet and utilize increased mall traffic during the holiday season to capitalize on the reach of this activation. 

Q: Durability is always an important factor in long-term fabricated activations. What steps were taken to make sure the Gingership would stay as fresh on day 21 as it was on day 1? 

A: The Gingership was made with 300 individual 16”x18” gingerbread tiles that were dehydrated rather than baked. Dehydrating the gingerbread maintained the smell of ginger but eliminated the moisture which made it a much more durable building material. The ship will have to last for six weeks so it was critical from the very beginning that we used materials that could sustain a long period of time.  The royal icing was mixed with a joint compound so that it had the same consistency, look, and feel but dried solid. Also, the Gingership was set atop a substructure made of wood. All of this upfront planning has made it so that we’ve only had to do minor touch-ups along the way.

Q: What was the thought process behind choosing a mall for this kind of activation over any other kind of public space? In addition, how did you settle on Atlanta’s Lenox Square Mall?

A: Atlanta, Georgia was chosen because it is the largest city close to Port Canaveral where the Mardi Gras will be launched from. We chose Lenox Square Mall because it’s the premier mall in Atlanta visited by more than 35 million people annually and a mall during the Holiday season, especially during Black Friday, was the way to go. 

Q: How did the results of the activation compare with GDX’s objectives?

A: The final product exceeded our objectives and expectations. A key to that, as is a key to most activations/projects that we do, is bringing on partners that we trust and believe in. Karen Portaleo was instrumental in bringing this activation to life. I spoke with every bakery and custom cake makers that I knew in Atlanta. Karen turned out to be the perfect partner. Not only does she have unrivaled artistic ability as a pastry chef, but she understands PR. She has appeared on the Food Network, won Cupcake Wars, has a prominent social media presence, is a known name and could speak on behalf of the Gingership and Carnival Cruise Lines with ease. This partnership was ultimately what allowed the media strategy to be successful and share the project beyond its physical space. We get the right people to work with and manage our clients budgets to meet and exceed expectations. 

Q: What kind of media strategy was implemented to share the project beyond its physical space?

A: The media strategy is a multi-faceted one that includes significant social media and press coverage. A variety of national news outlets have already covered the Gingership including USAToday and TravelWeekly. Stay tuned for a stunning video that was produced by Carnival Cruise Line which includes an interview with Karen Portaleo, highlights the production process and showcases the final result.

Q: What are some of the obstacles you have encountered during this activation? 

A: When it comes to an activation of this magnitude, the biggest obstacle is how to estimate the cost of the project and come within the client’s budget. In order to accomplish this, it took countless conversations and strategy meetings with bakers and fabricators to get a real sense of what something like this would cost. Using our past experience and expertise, we were able to estimate the various costs of the project properly and come well within budget. Our entire team did a tremendous job on doing their due diligence. 

Q: You mentioned USA Today and other media outlets have picked up the story and are impressed with its construction. What has the feedback amongst viewers on the ground been like?

A: Everyone is blown away! The public’s reaction on-site and on social media has been phenomenal. When you see a 23 foot-long Gingership weighing 1,500 pounds with 50 gallons of icing, it’s hard not to stop, stare and share.