Carnival Cruises Company Overview:
When Carnival Cruises 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 behemothic parent corporation, Carnival Corp, which
carries one in four passengers today on no fewer than 79 ships.
You get the impression they must have done something... 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
in site, Carnival has changed its identity through hard work and
diligence. Beyond rapid expansion, the line also focused on
self-improvement. Today, Carnival serves some of the most delicious
food at sea, has top of the line entertainment, boasts ships with
amazing interior designs and commodious cabins and is the standard
bearer for affordable 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 and Bahamas. 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
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 but
utilitarian cabins lacking balconies. Each offers a unique decor by
famous Carnival ship interior designer Joe Farcus that puts the accent
on great nightlife, good food, excitement and relaxation.
In addition, these Fantasy-class vessels are in the midst (beginning
in 2007) of upgrades to make them even more fun in the sun. The top
deck is the most attention with the installation of family-oriented
water parks including a 300 foot water slide, miniature golf, an
adults-only area with cushioned lounge chairs new teak decks and tile.
Inside is a new coffee cafe, art gallery and atrium bar. Staterooms are
getting upgrades with flat-panel televisions and refurbished decor.
1996, with the introduction of what was then the largest cruise ship in world, the 101,351-ton Carnival Destiny, marked the year 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
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. Carnival Freedom, entered service in spring 2007 and Carnival Splendor followed in July 2008.
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, and Pride)
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
The largest Carnival ship yet to be built is scheduled to debut in
September of 2009. This will be Carnival Dream which will weigh in at
130,000-tons and 3600 passengers. It will do only a few cruises in
Europe before relocating to Florida where it will do 7-day caribbean
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 color combinations.
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 recommended.
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 required.
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
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 center.
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 (9-11). The 'tweens get their
own club called Circle C while for the teens (15-17) it's the Club
02. Each level offers supervised activities 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 massages.
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 cruise page.
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