Paula Deen Fans Flock to Her Cruise to Show Support

Paula Deen Crying on Today Show - H 2013

Paula Deen Crying on Today Show - H 2013

The struggling TV chef will set sail with about 1,000 guests next year, says an executive at a New Jersey-based travel agency.

Where other Paula Deen sponsors are dropping like flies, a small travel agency in New Jersey that handles booking for the "Paula Deen Cruise" continues to stand by the embattled former Food Network personality amid popular demand.

Phyllis Loverdi, vice president of Fairfield, N.J.-based Alice Travel, tells The Hollywood Reporter that since Deen's troubles began, fans have been calling the company and signing up for excursions in January 2014 and another one for the summer of that year, possibly in July, that were in the works pre-scandal. "Some want to go on both," said Loverdi, adding: "Somebody said she would never go on a cruise and would go on this one with Paula." 

The Paula Deen Cruise is held on Royal Caribbean ships, and Deen remains aboard during each excursion, spending much time with guests, says Loverdi. The last cruise set sail in January with about 500 fans along for the ride. Loverdi said she expects about 1,000 in total for next year. Deen launched her cruise line in 2009.

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Earlier this week, a rep for Royal Caribbean Ltd. told THR that the company "has never had a partnership or any formal association with Paula Deen. She has sailed with our brands a couple of times, but as host of group cruises, and each time, the groups were booked through a specific travel agency, not through Royal Caribbean."

Meanwhile, Deen, 66, is watching her self-made empire crumble around her. In the past few days, many of her business partners have cut the culinary star loose after she admitted to having used the N-word (and other revelations) during a deposition in a discrimination lawsuit brought by a former restaurant employee. Last week, the Food Network said it would not renew her contract when it expires at the end of month. Then, on Monday, she lost her endorsement deal with pork company Smithfield, which for many years has sold a ham with Deen’s name and face on it. After that, others followed: Walmart, Home Depot and Caesars Entertainment on Wednesday, hours after Deen's tearful Today show interview; Target and diabetes-drug maker Novo Nordisk on Thursday; hanging in the balance are her deals with QVC, Sears and Kmart. 

At the same time, sales of her forthcoming cookbook, Paula Deen’s New Testament: 250 Favorite Recipes, All Lightened Up, have skyrocketed to the top of Amazon's sales chart ahead of its October release. And several of Deen's business partners issued letters of support this week, including Epicurean Butter and Sandridge Food Corporation.

During her sit-down with Matt Lauer, Deen emphatically denied charges of racism, saying: "If there's anyone out there that has never said something that they wish they could take back, if you're out there, please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me. Please. I want to meet you." She added: "I'm not changing -- there's someone evil out there who saw what I worked for and wanted it."

When asked whether she knew the N-word was offensive to black people, Deen -- seemingly unaware of the historical significance of the word -- responded: "I don't know. I have asked myself that so many times. It's very distressing for me to go into kitchens and hear what these young people are calling each other. ... I think for this problem to be worked on, these young people are gonna have to take control and start showing respect for each other."


Twitter: @ErinLCarlson