Carnival Re-invents Fantasy-class Ships

| February 18, 2008

"Evolutions of Fun" upgrade program means "extreme makeovers" for eight older vessels.

Sometimes a cruise line decides to build an all-new ship and puts great effort into the structural design. Other times lines just want to add a ship to their fleet without repeating the entire design process. In that case, the line builds a sister ship -- essentially a structural duplicate of an existing ship. When a series of ships is based on the same design, they are referred to as "sister ships" in the same "class." The class is usually named after the first ship built with that design.

One of the most successful classes of ships is arguably the "Fantasy class" of Carnival, beginning with Carnival Fantasy built in 1990. Originally identical in all but interior décor, Carnival Fantasy and her seven Fantasy-class sister ships (Carnival Ecstasy, Elation, Fascination, Imagination, Inspiration, Paradise and Sensation) each carry 2,052 passengers and offer spacious staterooms, ample deck space and separate facilities for passengers of all ages.

In late 2007 Carnival unveiled plans to for a $250 million program to upgrade each Fantasy class vessel called "Evolutions of Fun." The improvements are nearly complete on Carnival Imagination and Inspiration, and I sailed on the newly refurbished Carnival Imagination last week to see them. I found the cruise to be almost as satisfying as a cruise on a brand new mega-ship, but with the savings and convenience a smaller and older ship can offer.

click on pictures below for larger images:

Refurbished Carpet & Trim throughout   Top View   Top Deck Stage

The best thing about these upgrades is that the Fantasy-class ships sail on shorter "bargain" cruises (as low as $249 per person for a three- to five-day itinerary). This doesn't mean there is anything wrong with the experience on these ships. Many aspects of smaller, older ships make them more enticing than newer mega-ships: they carry fewer passengers, so lines tend to be shorter and the service is more personalized. It takes less time to learn your way around the ship, and your stateroom is closer to the dining room and other public areas.

But these small ships do have to compete with the newer mega-ships for razzle-dazzle, including the variety of onboard activities and the newness of finishings and furniture. Hence, Carnival's "Evolutions of Fun" upgrades are giving the eight Fantasy-class vessels an array of new onboard options as well as refurbished décor.

John Heald's Blogger Cruise 2 Second Official John heald Blogger's Cruise, February 7, 2009. Come and join all of John Heald's friends and the CruiseMates' family on the newly upgraded Carnival Fantasy sailing ou tof New Orleans. See all the "Evolutions of Fun" upgrades for yourself. more
Blogger Cruise 2!
February 7-11, 2009
Carnival Fantasy more

The "Evolutions of Fun" Upgrades

Water-parks: The most noticeable changes are on the pool deck. Toward the aft is a new water-park area that kids will enjoy. The main attraction is a new 300-foot, four-deck-tall water slide, accessed by climbing a winding staircase. Several gallons of water per second gush into the tube to propel you along the bumps and bends and finally into a long sluice at the end.

click on pictures below for larger images:

300 foot water slide   Double Water Slide   Water-park Overview
Top of 300-foot slide   Photo Finish   Making the Turn

Two other water slides are side-by-side racers, with open tops so you can see who is ahead. These extend from an upper deck to the water park below. The entire water park is enclosed in a shallow pool with a soft foam base, to minimize any impact on falling kids. Other fun contrivances include various water sprinkling and spraying devices.

The mid-deck pool now appeals more to adults only (thought there aren't any specific restrictions) since most kids will be drawn to the water park. A shallow water "tile beach" has been added all around the pool -- perfect for dipping your toes and getting slowly acclimated before you take the full plunge.

click on pictures below for larger images:

Serenity Adults Area - Rear Deck   New Pool Deck Area   Tile Beach & Gezebos

New cabana areas with canvas roofs surround the pool, one with a hot tub. The stage area also has a new roof, and the four corners of the pool beach area have palm tree-like structures, adding to the tropical feel and keeping people cooler when they partake in group activities onstage.

Miniature Golf: The ship has a new no-charge, nine-hole miniature golf course.

click on pictures below for larger images:

9-hole minigolf overview   close up golf course green   Entering the course

"Serenity" Adults Only Lounging: At the stern and down one deck from the Pool and Lido deck is the new "Serenity" area. Covered in teak decking, it offers dozens of extra-large cushioned lounge chairs perfect for hours of soaking up the sun. There are also two hot tubs. Accessible only by two staircases from the deck above, the area's isolated location plus its designation as "adults only" keeps it relatively quiet, though there is a bar serving alcohol and music playing in the background.

click on pictures below for larger images:

Serenity Teak Decking   Peace and Quiet

So far, the above outdoor amenities have been added to the Carnival Imagination and Inspiration, and are coming soon to the Fantasy. The improvements listed below have been added to most of the ships already, to various degrees. If you have questions about any enhancements on the remaining ships, ask in our Carnival message boards if anyone has recently sailed on the ship you are interested in.

Dining Rooms: Both dining rooms originally had booths against the walls and hardly any tables for two. The booths are gone, replaced with tables (many of them for two) close to the windows. The linens, flatware and china are all upgraded. One nice touch: Even though the sommeliers are gone, if you buy a bottle of wine they leave it on the table (and supply ice buckets for white wine and champagne). The carpet and ceilings have been redesigned to cut down on room noise.

click on pictures below for larger images:

Remodeled Dining Room   Spacious Oceanview Cabin   Complimentary Bathroom Amenities Basket

Remodeled Staterooms: All staterooms now have flat-panel TVs. This increases the space and gives the staterooms a more modern look. Bedding has been upgraded to include "comfort-bed" mattresses (which Carnival sells online), softer sheets, duvets and extra pillows. Bathrobes are now provided with every stateroom.

The bathrooms are roomy, even though only showers are provided in regular staterooms. Bathrooms come with shower gel and shampoo, and a "sampler" basket of necessities like razors and toothpaste. There are no hair-dryers included, but your room steward can provide one. There are now many adjoining cabins, and beds can be easily reconfigured as king-size or two separate twins. Some cabins can accommodate up to five people.

These ships were built before balcony cabins became standard. The inside and oceanview cabins are spacious enough for two or more people, and can be had for a song. These ships provide some of the best values in cruising -- you can take a four-day cruise out of Miami to Key West and Cozumel in an ocean view cabin for $269 per person. All staterooms, except penthouse suites, are usually $399 or less.

For a real splurge bargain, look into the 330-sq. ft. penthouse suites. They feature king-size beds, a walk-in closet, refrigerator, separate sitting area, private bathroom with whirlpool tub and shower, TV and DVD player and a large private balcony of 70 sq ft. for as little as $700 per person.

There are four ADA-accessible cabins with automatic doors and wheelchair capable showers, as well as 25 cabins for people with limited accessibility.

Enhanced Dining Options: The poolside area features updated grill options with scrumptious hamburgers and hot dogs. A new Mongolian Barbecue lets you handpick the ingredients and hand the bowls to stir-fry cooks. This is fresh, hot food, with your choice of chicken, beef or seafood as the protein component. These grills are open all day until 6 pm. This entire grill area is newly roofed and has an extensive outdoor drink station for free coffee, ice tea and lemonade.

click on pictures below for larger images:

Coffee cafe Treats   Mongolian Barbecue Stirfry   Sushi Bar

Inside the Lido area is the New York Deli, featuring stacked deli-style sandwiches like pastrami, corned beef and patty melts. There is also a great pizza parlor, open 24 hours a day. In addition to cheese pizza, it offers combinations of sausage, pepperoni, vegetables, mushrooms and other toppings. This is some of the best pizza at sea.

Sushi Bar: Close to the Casino indoors is a Sushi Bar, open from 4:00 to 8:30 pm. The selection is better than I have seen on other cruise ships, with raw fish ingredients like tuna in addition to the usual California rolls and cooked shrimp.

Coffee Bar: A little farther down the indoor promenade from the new Sushi Bar is the new Coffee Café that sells premium coffee items like mochaccino, and special desserts like chocolate-covered strawberries and cheesecakes. Some bakery items here are free, and some come with a small cost.

Atrium: The atrium has a new bar and décor. New chairs, couches, granite counters along the walls and new carpet give the area a fresh feel. However, along with the kitschy original design elements mentioned above, the garish purple and red string lights are still present throughout. The difference is that they are no longer neon lights -- those were replaced with lower wattage LEDs to save energy. The look is the same, however, and they probably could have eliminated them with no one complaining.

Spa and Fitness Center: The 12,000 sq. ft spa and fitness center has been upgraded with a new relaxation room and new decor throughout. The fitness center has all new workout equipment made from the latest technology.

click on pictures below for larger images:

Upgraded Spa Areas   New Coffee Bar   New Fitness Equipment

Restrooms: All public restrooms have been upgraded for looks and sanitary reasons. The faucets and soap dispensers are now automatic and hands-free. Next to the doors are tissue dispensers you can use to grasp the door handle.

Wireless Internet Access: The entire ship, from bow to stern, now has wireless Internet access available as well as an Internet Café. The throughput is surprisingly good most of the time. If you have any special programs, or have a hard time remembering passwords, you might want to bring your own laptop. Prices are reasonable, with packages that can bring your costs down below 20 cents per minute.

Children's Areas: All children's areas have new interiors. The teens' area is now on the main promenade, instead of tucked away with the rest of the kids' rooms. In fact, the room looks so inviting we saw several adults being turned away night after night.

The teen program is called Club 0; the �tweens program (12 to 14) is Circle C, developed with Coca-Cola. Both have Nintendo Wii and PlayStations.

When it comes to children's programs, Carnival claims to be the only cruise line that will change a baby's diapers. And as Carnival expects to carry more than 600,000 kids fleetwide in 2008, that's a lot of diapers.

Nightclubs and Show Lounges: New sound and light systems have been installed in all music venues throughout the ship for better sound and more exciting light shows. The Shangri La has new carpet and a new dance floor. The disco has new chairs, a new bar and new carpet.

All public rooms are now non-smoking except the Pinnacle Bar, the promenade and the Piano Bar.

What the Upgrades Don't Include

It's noteworthy that renowned Carnival ship designer, Joe Farcus, is not involved with the upgrade program. But while most of the fabrics and finishings are new, Farcus' original creative interior design is still largely intact. This includes rows of sphinxes, statues with the bodies of lions and heads of human beings (but coming from the Farcusian world, they also have human breasts).

click on pictures below for larger images:

Atrium with LED light strips   All new Atrium Bar   Breasted Sphinxes

Hanging from the ceilings throughout the atrium and promenade are black globes about 18 inches in circumference with protruding LEDs. They look like plastic Sputniks or casino security cameras, but they are neither. About 250 of them are scattered throughout the ship, and each requires regular polishing. They look about as contemporary the Robbie the Robot from Lost in Space and could and should have been taken down. But they remain, along with the "Tropicana Hotel Vegas" motif of the rest of the ship.

click on pictures below for larger images:

Sputniks with LED accents   Atrium Accents much the same   Atrium Purple and red lights

Interior decor aside, the goal of the upgrades was not to change the glitzy feel of these aging ships, but to add to the fun and comfort of the guests, and in those goals, the upgrades work exceedingly well.

Summing Up the Evolutions of Fun Program

Carnival Imagination is one of the first two ships to complete all the upgrades. I believe these upgrades significantly enhance the cruise experience on these older ships. These smaller ship cruises are now very competitive with newer mega-ships due to their lower cost and the convenience factor. However, don't expect the upgrades to change the overall look of these ships from the glitter and glam for which they are famous.

All eight Fantasy class ships should be fully upgraded by the end of 2009. So far, the only two ships completed are the Carnival Inspiration and the Carnival Imagination. Carnival Fantasy is close to completion but it is still several months away.

The outdoor enhancements including the water-park, Serenity area, miniature golf and upgraded pool area will be the final stages added to each ship. In most cases, stateroom upgrades are complete on all eight ships. Some interior enhancements in public rooms, like the added dining options, are still in the works. Each ship is progressing at a different rate, and some upgrades can only be done to one ship at a time, some requiring time in dry-dock.

If you need to know about a specific upgrade on a specific ship, please consult our message boards to ask someone who has recently returned from one of these ships.

Copyright 2008 - © 2009, Cruisemates. All rights reserved.

Recommended Articles