Carnival Cruise Lines

About Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival Cruise Lines, founded in 1972 and headquartered in Miami, is the world's largest cruise line. Their humble origins pigeonholed it as the cruise industry's version of a floating fraternity party for a long, long time. But that was yesterday, and while Carnival Cruises still commands a certain reputation for a flashy, neon-esque atmosphere — and by no means skimps on elaborate lounges and discos — its ships continue to evolve. The current generation of vessels have a more sedate design, better-suited to longer sailings.

In particular, they earned kudos for enhancing cuisine (never a high point in the old days), investing in a top-notch children's program, and expanding their itinerary offerings beyond traditional Caribbean and Bahamas trips to regions like Alaska and Atlantic Canada. Carnival Cruises offered its first European itineraries in 2002 (Carnival Legend sailed a few cruises after its inauguration in Harwich), and in 2005, Carnival Liberty spent a full season in Europe — a first for the line. They have also taken advantage of the fastest growing cruise segment in the United States, short vacations of three to five nights, and have deployed most of its Fantasy-class ships to those markets. Those ships are currently being redone to include updated bathrooms and children's areas, and all will offer water parks and adult serenity decks to compete with similar size vessels (more on Fantasy updates in fleet section).

Carnival Cruises is one of the world's most innovative cruise lines. In 1996, they debuted the first passenger vessel to exceed 100,000 tons: Carnival Destiny. They were also the first major cruise line to build and operate a completely smoke-free cruise ship, Carnival Paradise. After nearly six years of butt-free sailings, the ship, now deployed in California, has gone to a "limited smoking" policy where guests can light up in the casino and just a couple of bars and lounges, but not in cabins nor most public spaces, even outside — except for midship-only on the Lido deck.

The standard cabins of Carnival Cruise now include robes, and the "Comfort Bed" sleep system features deluxe new plush mattresses, soft duvets, high quality linens and upgraded pillows. (Suite passengers have a "suite pillow menu" from which to select a specific pillow of their liking.)

But perhaps the biggest potential improvement for Carnival Cruise Lines is the quantum leap in culinary quality due in part to the new partnership with Michelin three-star chef, Georges Blanc, who is developing new menu entrees fleetwide and instituting training for their chefs both in his Vonnas, France, restaurant and aboard the ships themselves.

Carnival Cruises also pioneered the concept of building regional drive-to ports, expanding its embarkation centers beyond Miami to places like New Orleans, Mobile, Jacksonville, Port Canaveral, Galveston, Norfolk, Baltimore, Charleston and New York. It has built a cruise port in Long Beach, California, to take advantage of sailings to the west coast of Mexico.

In addition, they offer a vacation guarantee program that allows passengers unhappy with their cruise the chance to disembark at the first port and get a refund. They also provide senior discounts via AARP, as well as very successful weddings at sea and golf offerings.

The Fleet

For nine years, starting in 1990, Carnival designed, produced and launched its immensely successful Fantasy-class ships, 2,052-passenger vessels at 70,367 tons; these include Carnival Fantasy, Carnival Ecstasy, Carnival Sensation, Carnival Fascination, Carnival Imagination, Carnival Inspiration, Carnival Elation and Carnival Paradise. Market changes, however, dictated new designs with more balconies and cushier staterooms. Carnival Destiny, a 101,353-ton ship that carried 2,758 passengers, debuted in 1996; two sister ships followed — Carnival Triumph in 1999 and Carnival Victory in 2000 — both of which added another 700 tons and 58 staterooms, bringing their capacity to 2,758 passengers.

Carnival continued to update and upgrade its ships with an aggressive new-build program, with three new additions in 2002: Carnival Pride, Carnival Legend and Carnival Conquest. In 2003 Carnival Glory debuted, the second in the Conquest class. 2004 saw two more vessels emerge from Italy's Fincantieri shipyard: Carnival Miracle in March 2004, part of the Spirit class, and Carnival Valor, another Conquest class. A fourth Conquest-class ship, Carnival Liberty, launched in 2005, which brought the fleet total to 21. Carnival Freedom, the fifth and final in the Conquest class recently launched in 2007. Carnival Splendor, slightly larger than Conquest-class vessels, debuted in July 2008.

Superliners "Carnival Dream" and Carnival Magic" will enter service in October 2009 and June 2011, respectively. The 3,651-passenger ships will be the largest in the fleet.

And while there are two new-builds on the docket, Carnival has also committed $250 million to revamp its eight Fantasy-class vessels as part of its Evolutions of Fun initiative. The vessels will receive extensive upgrades, which include the addition of an aqua park with a new, twisty waterslide; new carpets and furnishings throughout; improvements to the spa facilities; new kids clubs for the 12 to 14 set; mini-golf; flat-screen TV's in cabins; and more. Imagination and Inspiration were the first to received the upgrades. Fantasy is set to get a makeover in fall 2008, and the remaining five ships in 2009.

Plus, the line maintains its remaining "classic" ship, the nearly 20-year-old 46,052-ton Holiday, offering four- and five-night cruises out of Mobile, Alabama. As of April 14, its other aging ship, the 17-year-old 47,262-ton Celebration has been transferred to Iberocruceros, a joint venture between Carnival and Orizonia Corporacion, Spain's largest travel company.

The explosive expansion at Carnival Cruise Lines extends beyond just its ships. Parent company Carnival Corporation is the industry's biggest; other cruise lines in the family fold include Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line and Seabourn. In a year-long effort, Carnival Corp. acquired P&O Princess (now named Carnival P.L.C.), which added the following companies to Carnival's portfolio: Princess Cruises, P&O Cruises, Ocean Village, AIDA, A'ROSA and P&O Cruises Australia. Carnival also operates three riverboats on Europe's Danube River, Holland America Tours, and Princess Tours in Alaska and the Canadian Yukon. The stock is traded on both the New York and London Stock Exchanges. Carnival Corporation & P.L.C. is the only entity in the world to be included in both the S&P 500 and the FTSE 100 indices.

Onboard

Carnival offers an incredibly diverse range of onboard activities, from traditional napkin-folding classes, Vegas-style revues and kitchen tours to funkier fun like belly-flop pool contests and water slides. All of its ships offer size-appropriate spa and fitness facilities and have multiple pool areas. On Destiny-class ships and subsequent new-builds, one pool always lies under a retractable roof so it can be used year-round. Casinos on Carnival ships are elaborate, Vegas-style rooms with all the neon and flash one would expect.

Carnival is increasingly experimenting with dining venues on its ships. The revamp, which falls under the umbrella "Total Choice Dining," includes a four-tiered staggered dining time arrangement in select ships' main restaurants — passengers can choose 5:45, 6:15, 8 or 8:30 p.m. And beginning summer 2008, the line will test out a flexible dining program on Carnival Legend. Passengers will be able to choose traditional main or late seating, or can opt for the flexible choice and eat in the main dining room anytime between 5:30 and 9:30 p.m. In November 2008, T.C.D. will debut on Carnival Liberty. If successful, the new dining program could be rolled out fleetwide.

Beyond traditional dining, Carnival is gradually introducing specialty eateries, such as an Asian-themed restaurant, a New York-style deli, 24-hour fresh-made pizzas and a pre-dinner sushi bar. Spirit-, Conquest- and Splendor-class ships have an upscale "supper club" alternative restaurant (cover charge applies). Other new concepts include a patisserie.

In the spa arena, Carnival has renamed its Nautica Spa. The new moniker, adopted fleetwide, is SpaCarnival. Other highlights include Internet cafes and the recent introduction of in-cabin amenity baskets. Carnival Splendor offers the line's first thalassotherapy pool, thermal suite and 68 spa staterooms in its Cloud 9 Spa.

Editor's Note: For the most part, the additions vary wildly between vessels with the newer, bigger liners having the more sophisticated accouterments. Despite much uniformity, this is definitely one cruise line where ship-by-ship research is a good idea if there are particular features that interest you.

Itineraries

Carnival's "bread and butter" remains the Caribbean, but the line has ventured into fairly new territory of late, with Carnival Freedom visiting Greece and Turkey in 2007, and Carnival Spirit offering cruises to Hawaii and Alaska. Carnival Destiny sails out of Barbados and San Juan, offering exotic Southern Caribbean sailings, while almost all of the Fantasy-class ships will be deployed on short cruises ranging from three to five nights, visiting ports in the Bahamas, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Carnival Splendor is spending its inaugural 2008 season offering the line's first Northern Europe, Grand Mediterranean and Mediterranean & Greek Isles voyages. She will operate the line's first-ever South American itinerary in January 2009 before heading to Long Beach for year-round Mexican Riviera sailings.

Fellow Passengers

Passengers are a broad crisscross of (mostly) middle America; according to Carnival, 30 percent of its passengers are under 35, 40 percent are between 35 and 55, and 30 percent are over 55.

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