Carnival Cruise Lines
When Carnival Cruise Lines
came on the scene in 1972 it was a mom-and-pop operation working out of Ted
Arison's kitchen with exactly one vessel to its name -- and not a sleek,
bells-and-whistles-laden one at that. Like many children born during that
era, Carnival outgrew its humble beginnings. Today it is not only the
biggest, but arguably the most successful passenger shipping company ever;
powerful enough to form the foundation for megopoly parent corporation,
Carnival Corp, which carries one in four passengers today on no fewer than
You get the impression they must have done something right. Indeed,
almost everything right.
Once referred to by competitors as the K-Mart of the cruise industry,
synonymous with average food, "Animal House" partying and gobbling up every
competing cruise line in site, Carnival has changed its identity. Instead of
rapid expansion, the line is now more focused on self- improvement. Today,
Carnival serves some of the most delicious food at sea, has top of the line
entertainment, boasts stylish ships with commodious cabins and is the
standard bearer for mid-priced cruise lines. Still, never forsaking its
"Fun-ship" trademark, Carnival boasts the youngest median passenger age at
sea -- but today it is largely due to the great number of families cruising
together. But there is no shortage of graying baby boomers, and seniors with
lead in their pencils, sailing Carnival to the Caribbean, Mexico, Panama
Canal, Bahamas and Hawaii. And during the last few years they have even
added Alaska, Canada/New England and even Europe.
At the bottom of the pyramid that forms the Carnival Cruise Lines fleet
are the circa 1985-model Holiday and Celebration (sister ship Jubilee was
re-assigned to one of Carnival's Euro subsidiaries a few years ago). These
ships are nearly bereft of balcony cabins and mostly sail on 4 and 5-night
cruises featuring lots of nightlife and casino gambling.
A large portion of the foundation of the Carnival fleet are the eight
nearly identical, 70,367-ton circa 1990s-model Fantasy-class vessels
including sister ships Ecstasy, Fascination, Imagination, Inspiration,
Paradise, Elation, and Sensation. The Fantasy-class ships each carry 2,044
passengers, in large, under-decorated cabins lacking balconies. But they
each offer a unique decor by famous Carnival ship interior designer Joe
Farcus that puts the accent on great nightlife, good food, excitement and
But it was in 1996, with the introduction of what was then the largest
cruise ship in world, the 101,351-ton Carnival Destiny, that the company
truly hit its stride for the 21st century.
With Destiny, Carnival began offering an abundance of the now uber-popular
balcony cabins in a big way, with sister ships Carnival Triumph (1999) and
Carnival Victory (2000) soon to follow. These 2,642 passenger vessels (3,360
total if the upper berths are full) feature three-deck show lounges,
15,000-square-foot spas, four swimming pools with water slides, and plenty
of on board shopping. All balcony cabins on Carnival ships built since 1996
have with mini refrigerators, toiletries, hair dryers and bathrobes.
In November 2002, as an improvement to the Destiny-class, Carnival
launched Carnival Conquest, the first of five 110,000-ton Conquest-class
ships similar in design to the Destiny class, but slightly bigger and able
to carry 2974 voyagers. Carnival Glory followed in July 2003, Carnival Valor
(the first ship with bow-to-stern wireless Internet access) in December 2004
and Carnival Liberty in July 2005. The last scheduled sister, Carnival
Freedom, will enter service in spring 2007.
Somewhere in the seemingly never-ending quest for size (other cruise
lines also jumped on the bandwagon to make bigger & bigger ships starting in
1998) Carnival did something different, and very right, by introducing an
additional and relatively smaller class of vessel known as the Spirit-class.
These 88,500-ton ships carry 2,124 passengers each, and are the longest in
the fleet at 963 feet, yet narrow enough to fit through the Panama Canal.
These sisters (Spirit, Legend, Pride and Liberty) have a very inviting
space-per-passenger ratio, and the technologically advanced Azipod
propulsion system. Eighty percent of cabins on these ships have ocean views,
and 80 percent of those have private balconies. In a stroke of genius to
accommodate all these balcony cabins, the public rooms were repositioned to
the lower decks three and four. You'll find two consecutive decks of bars,
lounges and public areas, the upper with a wrap-around promenade. It's
aboard these ships that you'll find Carnival's first reservations-only,
specialty restaurants, offering prime beef, seafood and the famous stone
crabs from Joe's Stone Crab restaurant in Miami.
Many cruisers seem to prefer the Spirit Class, the namesake of which was
launched April 29, 2001. Carnival Pride followed on December 30, 2001,
Carnival Legend in August 2002, and Carnival Miracle in February 2004.
The Carnival Experience:
Bring some heavy-duty sunglasses; thanks to the boundless imaginative
(some would say hallucinogenic) designs of inventive designer Joe Farcus,
Carnival ships are fervently garish. So much so that we feel compelled to
coin a word to describe them; Farcusian. You can be munching a slice of
pizza in Imagination's Lido deck, for instance, minding your own business,
and suddenly realize you've been mesmerized by the bright purple and green
neon tubing on the ceiling. Bring a sense of humor along with the
sunglasses, and be ready to dispel all preconceived notions of acceptable
Think Mardi Gras at sea. By day, young singles sip little-umbrella-laden
cocktails, and then dance on deck to a live band. But it's by night that the
action really goes into overdrive, with dozens of venues offering everything
from lavish production shows to R-rated comics. There's a jazz bar whose
patrons are urged to sing. You can hear funky blues or enjoy some torrid
disco action. And both the casino and disco stay open very late, while the
library, just for comparison, is open 60 minutes per day!
You'll encounter a very wide range of passengers, from singles, to the
retired, to multi-kid young families, the latter especially during the
summer and school vacation periods. When you want to get away from it all,
you'll do so in some of the largest cabins at sea. The food's mostly
delicious, and you'll marvel at how well managed everything is, especially
considering how many passengers are apt to be aboard.
The price you pay for the never-ending fun on these ships is that you
begin to feel as though you're never more than a few seconds from an
announcement of another zany contest -- belly-flopping or hairiest chest,
anyone? In fact, if you plan on using your cruise to catch up on some much
needed rest and a trashy novel, a set of eyeblinders and ear plugs are
That said, Carnival can be one of the best deals around. With outside
staterooms, even balconies, available for less than a thousand dollars per
person per week (if you shop around), Carnival may well offer the most bang
for the mid-price cruiser's buck.
The flexible dining program, Total Choice Dining, comprises four seatings
for dinner in the main dining rooms, alternative Bistro dining every
evening, and an increased number of service staff. Passengers are assigned a
table for dinner at one of four seatings; 5:45 p.m. or 6:15 p.m., 8 p.m. or
8:30 p.m. Between six and nine each evening the poolside Lido eateries turn
into Seaview Bistros, offering "Nation of the Day" specialty cuisine
buffets, with neither reservations, formal dress nor advance notice
There are now alternative restaurant's on all of Carnival's ships (see
individual reviews) with specialty menus at a premium price. This started
with Carnival Spirit's reservations-only Joe's Stone Crab alternative
restaurants charging $20 per person. All ships offer dedicated specialty
grills now with USDA choice meats, combo music and dancing.
Noting its great popularity with younger passengers, Carnival now offers
its "Fountain Fun Card" to adults as well as youngsters. Priced from $14.95
for a three-day cruise to $29.95 for seven-day voyages, it's valid at any
bar, restaurant or lounge for unlimited soft drinks throughout the cruise.
Carnival's cabins are among the most spacious afloat, and a big draw for
families, especially those holding three and four passengers. Outside
standard cabins are an ample 220 square feet and include a leather sofa and
coffee table, while inside cabins measure 195 square feet. Many have
pulldown berths to accommodate third and fourth passengers, and are
consequently popular with families and groups of singles. There are also 230
square-foot "family" cabins with connecting doors near the children's
Considering the Farcusian flights of fancy in the public areas, cabin
decor is often surprisingly understated and utilitarian by comparison. Count
on a color TV with CNN, ESPN, plus movies. The bathrooms are nice and roomy,
with shower, hair dryer and a basket of complimentary toiletries. Oceanview
staterooms and suites offer a minibar and bathrobes. The spirit-class ships
offer some of the most pleasing-to-the-eye cabins with plenty of wood
shelves and drawers.
A small caveat: The soundproofing between staterooms is such that you're
likely to get a better idea than you'd prefer of your neighbors'
Carnival carries a wide cross-section of salt-of-the-earth Americans:
high-rolling, single twenty-somethings, young parents with toddlers, baby
boomers, and empty-nesters. During the summer and school breaks, Caribbean,
Mexico and Bahamas cruises can carry up to 700 children each. Carnival has
now lived down its reputation as a "party-ship," but unfortunately, there
are apt to people who still haven't gotten the message. So, if you have a
neighbor who feels its appropriate to continue drinking until 2:00 am with
the cabin door open, be sure and call the front office - anonymously.
Carnival's shore tours, geared toward the up-and-at-'em type who loves water
sports, party boats, and general sightseeing, tend to be a bit costlier than
on other lines. Read the descriptions and book online at www.carnival.com,
or arrange your own excursions after doing some research of your own.
Taking The Kids:
The exemplary "Camp Carnival" is available on all ships year-round for
Toddlers (2-5) Juniors (6-8) Intermediate (9-12) and Teens (13-15), with
supervised activities for each in facilities open from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
daily. Group babysitting is available in the playroom between 10 p.m. and 3
a.m. and, 8 a.m. to noon on port days for a fee. There is no in-cabin
babysitting. Cribs are available upon request, but bring your own stroller.
The recreational fitness program "ExerSeas" aims to get the next
generation of couch potatoes up and burning off some calories. "A-B-Seas" is
a reading and writing program that a lot of little ones seem to relish,
while H2Ocean features a wide variety of enjoyable-looking hands-on science
projects. The line's popular EduCruise program has also been expanded to
include even more interactive projects focusing on the cultures, landmarks,
history and geography of the destinations to which Carnival sails.
The youth spa program, recently introduced on Carnival Miracle, allows
kids ages 12-14 and their parents to indulge in luxurious body and beauty
treatments together on port days in the ship's health and fitness center at
a discount. Offered to mother/daughter and father/son combinations, packages
include hair and nail treatments, health evaluations, and foot and scalp
Fantasy, Spirit and Conquest-class ships all have dedicated teen areas,
including a club/coffee bar and a high-tech game room.
Past Passenger Program:
Return passengers receive Carnival "Currents" magazine, and discount
coupons. There's a big "Festivale Party" for recidivists on 5-day or longer
cruises. For more information call 1-888-CCL-GUEST.
The Wedding Program, available fleetwide, offers soon-to-tie-the-knotters an
affordable and convenient alternative to land-based ceremonies. They can
elect to do the deep either aboard the ship or in a romantic setting ashore.
For more information, call 1-800-933-4968.
Managed by Sunrise, Fla.-based Elite Golf Cruises LLC, Carnival's golf
program includes professional instruction both aboard ship and during
excursions ashore. Thirty- and 60-minute shipboard lessons are conducted in
a covered, lighted "practice range" that shields students from the elements
and allows for both daytime and evening instruction by a golf pro armed with
state-of-the-art V1 teaching computers; golfers can continue their lessons
at home with a take-home video, available for purchase onboard.
All-inclusive golf excursions include professional golf escort, priority tee
times, round-trip transportation between ship and course, and cart and green
fees. Carnival will rent you some very good clubs.
Carnival organizes cruises with themes as diverse as NASCAR racing and
psychic healing. For a list of charity benefit sailings, see the theme
Even on the two formal nights, most men wear dark suits rather than tuxes,
which may be rented from the eveningwear shop. Daytime wear is strictly
casual, but jeans aren't allowed in the dining room.
Carnival's automatic gratuities arrangement adds $10.00 per person (except
children under two) per day to your Sail & Sign card. This includes $3.60
for the stateroom steward; $5.50 for the dining room team. and $.90 for
service in the alternative dining rooms, amounts that can be raised or
lowered at the purser's desk. You may also prepay gratuities for all service
personnel at a rate of $10.00 per person per day. On Cruises-to-Nowhere,
such prepayment is compulsory.