Company Overview: Carnival Cruise Lines has grown since 1972 from a "mom and pop" organization with one vintage vessel to become the giant in the cruise industry. The company carries more than 25% of all cruisers, with occupancy levels exceeding 100% (based on two to a cabin). Parent company Carnival Corporation also owns Holland America Cruises, Windstar Cruises, Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, Seabourn Cruise Line and in spring 2003 merged with P&O Princess thereby adding Princess Cruises, AIDA, Ocean Village, P&O Cruises, Swan Hellenic, and P&O Cruises Australia to the company. This makes Carnival Corporation the world's largest cruise company operating 79 ships in 2005 with 12 new ships scheduled for delivery between January 2006 and April 2009.
Carnival Cruise Lines itself sails in the Caribbean, Mexico, the Panama Canal, the Bahamas and Hawaii and, during the summer, Alaska and Canada/New England. Carnival carries the youngest cruisers and the largest number of families plus baby boomers and seniors who love the high-energy atmosphere. And, while the "fun ships" were synonymous with lousy food and rancorous hard partying during the 1980's and early 1990's, today the ships are as all-American as your local mall with some of the best food in the cruise industry. This company has probably enticed more first time passengers to put their toe in the cruising waters than any other.
Older ships include the identical 70,367-ton Ecstasy, Fantasy, Fascination, Imagination, Inspiration, Paradise, Elation, Sensation carrying 2,044 passengers. While you can frequently get a better price on these vessels, they lack balcony cabins. Cabins are large but spartan in decor. You'll still find great nightlife and good food. The older Holiday and Celebration were built in the 1980's and also lack balconies.
In 1996 Carnival added balcony cabins to it's fleet with the introduction of the 101,351-ton Carnival Destiny, the largest ship of her time followed by Sister ships Carnival Triumph (1999) and Carnival Victory (2000). These 2,642 passenger vessels (maximum 3,360 total including upper berths) feature three-deck show lounges, 15,000-square-foot spas, four swimming pools and a duty-free shopping mall.
Carnival Conquest was the first of five Conquest-class ships to enter service when she debuted in November 2002. These vessels are similar in design to the Destiny class but larger at 110,000-tons, 952 feet in length and carrying 2,974 passengers. Conquest was followed by Carnival Glory in July, 2003, Carnival Valor in December, 2004 (the first ship to have bow-to-stern wireless Internet access (Wi-Fi)) and Carnival Liberty in July 2005. The final sister ship, Carnival Freedom, enters service in spring 2007.
My favorite class of ships is the four "Spirit Class". The first, Carnival Spirit, entered service on April 29, 2001. Carnival Pride followed on December 30, 2001, followed by Carnival Legend (August, 2002) and Carnival Miracle (February 2004). The 88,500-ton ships carry 2,124 passengers and are the longest in the fleet at 963 feet, yet narrow enough to fit through the Panama Canal. They have the exceptional space ratio of 41 and the technologically advanced Azipod propulsion system. Accommodations are 80% ocean view with 80% of those having private balconies. There are two consecutive decks of bars, lounges and public areas, the upper one with a wrap-around promenade. Carnival's first reservations-only, specialty restaurants are found onboard these ships offering prime beef, seafood and the famous stone crabs from Joe's Stone Crab restaurant in Miami.
Over the years, Carnival has made huge improvements. Ships built after 1996 have balcony cabins with mini refrigerators, toiletries, hair dryers and bathrobes. This cruise line has my vote for the best food in the mid-priced range of ships.
The Carnival Experience: Carnival prides itself on building "Fun Ships" and this is evident from the moment you board. A cross between Las Vegas and Planet Hollywood, the decor ranges is bright, bold and at times outrageous with gilt and bronze atriums and molding in strange shapes. Carnival wants to keep your spirits and your energy up, and they certainly succeed. On this ships you'll find the best nightlife. But you'll also find day-long announcements for art auctions and special drinks in your cabin and public areas.
Slot machines are operational at 8:00 a.m. but the ship's library is open for one hour per day. If this atmosphere is your idea of fun, Carnival can be one of the best deals around. With outside staterooms priced less than a thousand dollars per person, per week (factoring in advance purchase discounts), Carnival is one of our picks for one of the "biggest bangs for the buck" - in the midprice range you get the largest cabins afloat, very good food, enormous casinos and a wide diversity in non-stop entertainment.
Part of the "fun ship" experience is the distinctive decor of each ship, created by the cruise line's brilliant designer Joe Farcus. While each vessel has a specific theme, you'll find abstract interior design in wall frescos and furniture, some of it bizarre. I recall having pizza in Imagination's Lido deck, unable to stop staring at the bright purple and green tubing on the room's ceiling. If Salvador Dali had turned to ship design, the effect may have been close to Carnival's "fun ship" decor.
Dining: In my opinion, Carnival offers the best cuisine in the mid-priced range of ships. You'll find the freshest vegetables and meats, everything enhanced by superb seasoning. Desserts are truly mouth watering and Carnival's pizza gets my vote as the best at sea.
The flexible dining program, Total Choice Dining, took effect fleet wide in 2001. Changes include four seatings for dinner in the main dining rooms, alternative Bistro dining every evening and an increased number of service staff. Passengers will be assigned a table for dinner at one of four seatings; 5:45 p.m. or 6:15 p.m. and 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m.. In addition to the expanded dining room seatings, the poolside lido eateries have been converted into Seaview Bistros between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. each evening, offering buffet dinner with no reservations or advance notice required. The new flexible system necessitates a new tipping policy of pre-paid gratuities. The amount of $9.75 per person, per day will be levied on credit cards when passengers check in. The amount may be adjusted upward or downward by the end of the cruise at the discretion of the cruiser.
Starting with Carnival Spirit, new ships in the fleet have reservations-only restaurants with a $20 service charge. Spirit boasts a two-level supper club, offering prime beef, seafood and the famous stone crabs from Joe's Stone Crab restaurant in Miami. Additional complimentary dining options aboard the new ships include dedicated specialty areas featuring rotisserie roasted meats, fish and chips and other seafoods, and ice cream parlors, lavish daily dessert bars, and "Nation of the Day" specialty cuisine in the Lido alternative dining areas.
Carnival has launched a soft drink program for adults, an amenity usually only available for children. The "Fountain Fun Card" purchased onboard, is valid at any bar, restaurant or lounge for unlimited soft drinks throughout the cruise. It is priced from $14.95 for a three-day cruise to $29.95 for seven-day voyages.
Cabins: Carnival's cabins are among the most spacious afloat, including staterooms holding three and four passengers. Ships built after 1996 have balcony cabins and amenities such as mini refrigerators, toiletries, hair dryers and bathrobes.
Fellow Passengers: Carnival carries a wide gamut of middle class Americans: high living twenty-something singles, parents with kids, baby boomers and the retired. During summer months and holiday sailings, Caribbean, Mexico and Bahamas cruises carry up to 700 children per sailing.
Shore Excursions: Carnival's shore tours are sometimes pricey and geared toward the active vacationer who loves water sports, party boats, and general sightseeing. Read the descriptions and book online at www.carnival.com. You can always arrange your own excursions checking out offerings on port web sites.
Taking The Kids: The superbly run "Camp Carnival" is available on all ships year-round, for Toddlers (2-5) Juniors (6-8) Intermediate (9-12) and Teens (13-15). Activities for specific age groups are supervised by youth counselors. Facilities are open from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Group babysitting is available in the playroom between 10pm and 3 am and, 8 am to 12 noon on port days for a fee. There is no in-cabin babysitting. Cribs are available upon request, but bring your own strollers.
New programming is continually in development. Recent additions include "ExerSeas," a recreational fitness program designed to encourage kids to "get out and play" through intense physical activity; "A-B-Seas", a new reading and writing program and H2Ocean, a science program which features a wide variety of fun, 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. Also in the works is a new art program.
The youth spa program, recently introduced on Carnival Miracle, allows kids ages 12-14 and their parents to experience luxurious body and beauty treatments together on port days at discounted rates in the ship's expansive Spa Carnival health and fitness center. Packages, which are available in mother/daughter and father/son combinations, include hair and nail treatments, health evaluations, and foot and scalp massages. The program is expected to be expanded to the rest of the fleet by the end of the summer.
Ships with dedicated teen centers include Fascination, the Spirit and Conquest-class ships which have an expansive teen recreation area with a teen dance club/coffee bar and high-tech game room.
Carnival's cabins are among the most spacious afloat, a big draw for families, especially those holding three and four passengers. All ships have water slides on deck plus separate pools for small children. A popular cruise/land package is the three- and four-day sailings from Florida combined with three- and four-day land vacations in Orlando with entrance to Universal Studios and Walt Disney World theme parks.
Past Passenger Program: Carnival "Currents" magazine; discount coupons; "Festivale Party" for repeaters on 5-day or longer cruises. For more information call 1-888-CCL-GUEST.
Special Programs: The Wedding Program gives couples an affordable and convenient alternative to land-based ceremonies. All-inclusive wedding packages are available fleetwide. They feature a ceremony either aboard the ship or in a romantic locale ashore. For more on the wedding program call 1-800-933-4968.
Golf Program: Managed by Sunrise, Fla.-based Elite Golf Cruises LLC, the program includes professional instruction both aboard ship and during golf excursions ashore. Shipboard lessons, which are available in 30- and 60-minute increments, are conducted by a golf professional who utilizes state-of-the-art V1 teaching computers featuring side-by-side comparisons with top tour players and sophisticated video analysis. Golfers can continue their lessons at home with a take-home video recap, which is available for purchase onboard. Lessons take place in a covered and lighted "practice range" which protects golfers from the elements and allows for both daytime and evening instruction. The "practice range" also serves as the venue for putting contests and various group clinics taking place throughout the voyage. All-inclusive golf excursions include professional golf escort, priority tee times, round-trip transportation between ship and course, and cart and green fees. Equipment rental, including top-of-the-line Callaway clubs and Adidas golf shoes, is also available. A variety of golfing accessories such as golf balls, gloves and apparel are available for purchase, as well. Course information is available by visiting www.CarnivalGolf.com, calling 1-800-324-1106 or faxing a request to 1-954-382-5398.
Theme Cruises: Carnival organizes theme cruises on a variety of from NASCAR racing to psychic healing to Rock n' Roll. Charity benefit sailings are also arranged periodically. For a list of the current offerings see the theme cruise page.
Tipping: Carnival has introduced automatic gratuities whereby $10.00 per person per day is added to your Sail & Sign card. (No charge for children under two years of age). This includes $3.60 for the stateroom steward; $5.50 for the Dining Room team and $.90 for service in the alternative dining rooms. The amount can be raised or lowered by visiting the purser's desk during the cruise.
You may also prepay gratuities for all service personnel at a rate of $10.00 per person per day. On Cruises-to-Nowhere, gratuities of $10 per person per day must be prepaid.
A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage tabs. Gratuities for the maitre d', room service, spa, casino and other staff are at the passenger's discretion.
Rates: Book early for Carnival's Super Saver rates which are about half the brochure rate. Sample Super Saver rates, per person based on double occupancy start at: Celebration - four-day - $279 Conquest - seven-day - $529 Destiny - seven-day - $449 Ecstasy - four-day- $349 Elation - seven-day - $549 Fantasy - three-day - $249 Fascination - three-day - $249 Glory - seven-day - $529 Holiday - four-day- $279 Imagination - four-day- $299 Inspiration - four-day- $299 Legend - eight-day Ft. Lauderdale - $579 Legend - eight-day New York - $799 Liberty - six-day - $529 Miracle - seven-day - $529 Paradise - three-day - $249 Pride - seven-day - $549 Sensation - four-day - $329 Spirit - seven-day Alaska -$749 Spirit - eight-day Caribbean -$649 Triumph - seven-day - $599 Valor - seven-day - $529 Victory - seven-day - $479