CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES

Fun, Theme-Park Ambience: The fanciful, sometimes wacko, decor on these vessels is unmatched.

Entertaining Entertainment: Elaborate production shows, the Punchliner Comedy Club (one of the best comedy venues at sea), and the kids’ Seuss-at-Sea program offer distractions for all ages. There’s also âœmake your own fun❠type entertainments, like casino tournaments, trivia contests and hairy chest competitions catnip to some cruisers, too âœvulgar❠for others.

An Insomniac’s Delight: When passengers on most ships are calling it a night, Carnival’s guests are just getting busy with diversions such as midnight adult comedy shows, raging discos, and 24-hour pizza parlors.

Food: There was a time when Carnival ranked last in this category, but in the last few years the line has stepped up its game. Just how far has the line improved beyond iceberg lettuce-filled salad bars? The truth is, while some older ships remain stuck in the past that pizza dough they’re tossing in the air? It’s for show on some ships; the one they’re bringing you was frozen it’s hard not to be impressed with their newer restaurants.

Cons

Crowds: These are big ships with lots of people on board, and you’re going to feel it when you’re checking in. Disembarking. Waiting in line for lunch at the buffet. Trying to find a deck chair by the pool.

Cheesiness: Line dancing to a DJ by the pool, fueled with bottles of beer, just isn’t everyone’s taste; nor are hairy back contests.

Overview

The definition of mass market, Carnival is the Big Kahuna of the industry, boasting a modern fleet of loud megaships that cater to a fun-loving crowd. But with the 90’s fading into the rearview mirror (and the ships built in that decade and soon thereafter), what you think you know about Carnival is probably wrong. The line has toned down the formerly retina-shattering decor found of its earliest ships. Starting with Carnival Breeze in 2012, the onboard look became…well, not sedate, bus definitely mellower. Yes, boats still are done up in bold, primary colors, and every once in a while you’ll encounter a chandelier in the form of an octopus, but overall the interior of these ships boast sleeker lines, contemporary metallic details and fewer dizzying patterns on the drapes and carpets. In addition, food has improved substantially, as have amenities, with Carnival now featuring the fastest and cheapest shipboard Wi-Fi we’ve ever experienced. These are still Fun Ships no doubt about it but Carnival isn’t far off when it calls these new vessels Fun Ship 2.0.

EXPERIENCE

Carnival does not pretend to be a luxury experience. It doesn’t claim to have gourmet food (although it has recently garnered praise for serving some of the best meals of any mass-market ship), and it doesn’t promise around-the-clock pampering. The motto is âœfun,❠with a big focus on entertainment, friendly service, and creative cruise directors (who can be corny sometimes, but at least they’re lively). Carnival’s FunTimes daily program frequently offers more than 100 individual things to do in any given day. That said, the festive atmosphere does vary by region; it’s a little more subdued on, say, the line’s voyages to Alaska than a similar cruise to the Caribbean might be. Deck parties are, after all, tough to do when it’s cold and raining out.

ROUTES

Carnival’s bread-and-butter is the Caribbean, with voyages leaving from nearly a dozen U.S. homeports. Many of Carnival’s other sailings are to sunny destinations Bermuda, the Bahamas, Hawaii, and the Mexican Riviera. But the line also travels to Alaska, Canada and New England, and Australia. European cruises are less common: They came back in 2016 with the launch of Carnival Vista, but are off the books again for 2017 and beyond.

PASSENGERS

On Carnival, you’ll find couples, a few singles, and a good share of families. (In fact, the line carries more than 700,000 kids a year the most in the cruise industry.) Overall, Carnival has some of the youngest demographics in the industry. But it’s far more than age that defines the line’s customers.

Carnival executives are fond of using the word âœspirited❠to describe the typical Carnival passenger, and indeed, it’s right on target. The line’s many fans increasingly come from a wide range of ages as well as occupations, backgrounds, and income levels, but they share an unpretentious and outgoing demeanor.

This is a line for people who don’t mind at all that their dinner will be interrupted by the loud music and flashing lights of a dance show starring their waiters. Passengers want to see whales or beaches, but they will also dance the Macarena, stay up all night in the disco, and then order a bucket of beer at the pool bar to drink while they watch friends compete in contests to see how many Ping-Pong balls they can stuff in their bikinis.

DINING

Food in the dining rooms and buffets is bountiful, and the cuisine is traditional American: Red meat is popular on these ships. But preparations of more âœnouvelle❠dishes are also in evidence today (like broiled Chilean sea bass with truffle butter or smoked turkey tenderloin with asparagus). Spa and vegetarian fare are also always an option. In a nod to more adventurous eaters, Carnival’s dining room menus include an item called, âœDidja Ever?â, a dish that rotates nightly and includes options like frog’s legs, alligator fritters (delicious), and escargots bourguignonne.

The alternate eating venues both those that are complimentary and those that come with a fee have received a big upgrade in recent years. Even die-hard foodies have been surprised by the 180-degree shift. Here are some highlights (which are only on select ships at this time):

Guy’s Burger Joint: Carnival teamed up with Food Network star Guy Fieri, host of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and the brain behind a series of restaurants of dubious distinction, to create what are undoubtedly the best burgers at sea. The patties are ground onboard and buns are baked daily. Best of all, the fare at this poolside stand is complimentary.

Bluelguana Cantina: Also located on the pool deck, this Mexican spot (no extra charge) makes its own tortilla chips, offers a salsa bar with plenty of options, and fries up impressive Baja-style fish tacos. Their chili-braised pork tacos are also killer.

Fahrenheit 555: This classic steakhouse is better than many steakhouse specialty restaurants on more expensive ships, with some surprisingly creative dishes, like the wasabi-infused mashed potatoes.

Until recently, meals in the main dining rooms were always served at assigned tables, with two seatings per meal. But the line has also rolled out an alternative, eat-when-you-want dining option for passengers called Your Time dining. Passengers must sign up for Your Time dining in advance, generally when they first make their cruise booking. It’s completely free, and you can use Carnival’s online Cruise Personalizer to select between Your Time dining or traditional Early or Late seating dinner.

The casual lunch buffets include international (Italian, Indian, and so on, with a different cuisine featured daily), deli, rotisserie, and pizza stations; the breakfast buffet has everything from made-to-order egg dishes to cold cereals and pastries. Guests wishing to dine casually often come here for dinner as well. Most Carnival cruise ships also have an onboard steakhouse, similar to Fahrenheit 555 listed above. These all go by different names depending on the ship, but offer the same high-quality dining experience and menu.

ACTIVITIES

If Atlantic City and Las Vegas appeal to you, Carnival will, too. Slot machines begin clanging by 8 or 9am in the casinos when the ships are at sea (tables open at 11am), and servers start tempting passengers with trays of fruity theme cocktails long before the lunch hour. You can learn to country line dance or play bridge, take cooking lessons, compete in a hairy chest contest, hit the comedy club and watch first-run movies. Trivia sessions on nearly every conceivable subject take place from dawn to dusk, particularly onboard the line’s newer ships. Overall, though, there’s not as much variety of activities as aboard lines such as Norwegian, Holland America, and Celebrity (read: absolutely no enrichment lectures on history or other cerebral topics).

CHILDREN’S PROGRAMS

Recently, the line updated its programming for children ages 2 to 11, with Camp Ocean replacing the long-running Camp Carnival program. Camp Ocean features more than 200 marine-themed activities as well as a host of other kid-pleasing activities everything from arts-and-crafts sessions to lectures by wildlife experts. Carnival also has a separate program for 12- to 14-year-olds, known as Circle âœC,❠and Club O 2 for kids ages 15 to 17, each with dedicated facilities and separate staff. The

Former offers dedicated lounges for 12- to 14-year-olds where they can play video games, watch late-night movies, sing karaoke, participate in pizza making classes, have dance parties, and more. For the older teens, Club O2 has two big advantages: no kids, and no adults. In their own dedicated public

Rooms, Club O2 features theme parties, group sports activities, dance parties, video games, and more.

Parents of little kids can request beepers so they can keep in touch.

ENTERTAINMENT

Carnival consistently presents some of the most lavish extravaganzas afloat, spending millions on stage sets, choreography, and acoustical equipment that leave many other floating theaters in their wake. The resulting shows feature flamboyantly costumed dancers and singers who perform production shows that, while sparse on plot, are big on razzle dazzle. The FunShips also feature the Punchliner Comedy Club, which hosts some of the best jokesters on the high seas. But entertainment doesn’t end there: On almost all the ships, there will be music most everywhere you wander, with nightly piano bars, jazz clubs, DJ discos, and bands playing contemporary hits. For the ultimate entertainment experience, book one of the Carnival LIVE sailings featuring hit performers like Journey and STYX.

SERVICE

All in all, a Carnival ship is a well-oiled machine, and you’ll certainly get what you need but not much more. Chalk it all up to the size of the line’s ships. It’s a fact of life that service aboard all megaliners is simply not as attentive as that aboard smaller vessels with thousands of guests to help, your dining-room waiter and cabin steward have a lot of work ahead of them and little time for chitchat.

On Carnival, gratuities of $12 per passenger per day are automatically charged to your shipboard account, but you can increase or decrease the amount by visiting the guest services desk onboard.

An onboard laundry service (for washing and pressing only) charges by the piece; dry cleaning is available onboard Carnival Breeze, Carnival Conquest, Carnival Dream, Carnival Freedom, Carnival Glory, Carnival Liberty, Carnival Magic, Carnival Splendor, Carnival Valor, Carnival

Victory, and Carnival Vista only. Carnival also offers fleet-wide self-service laundry machines on each accommodations deck. Older ships tend to offer coin-operated machines, while newer vessels will let you use your Sail & Sign card.

FLEET

Carnival has the biggest cruise fleet in the world with ships ranging in size from 2,052 to 4,000 passengers. Regardless of how old the vessel is, each has plenty of activities, pool and hot tub spaces (some covered for use in chillier weather), a big ocean-view gym and spa, and more dining options than you can try in a week.

Carnival Fantasy – Carnival Ecstasy – Carnival Sensation – Carnival Fascination – Carnival Imagination – Carnival Inspiration – Carnival Elation – Carnival Paradise

Known as the Fantasy Class, Carnival has spent a substantial amount of money refreshing these classic ships in recent years. Like a great 90’s hit, they’re back and they’re better than they were before.

THE CARNIVAL CARNIVAL SHIPS IN GENERAL

Built between 1990 and 1998, Carnival’s 855-foot long Fantasy class ships once formed the backbone of the FunShip fleet. Carrying between 2,052 and 2,056 guests, they now mostly operate short 3-and-4-day sailings from U.S. homeports, but Carnival occasionally sends them on the odd weeklong cruise which always sells out well in advance. These ships have been run hard and still display more than a touch of 1990’s cruising nostalgia (what the heck is with that red trim in the staterooms?!). Recognizing that, Carnival has been slowly but surely refreshing each ship, adding features like the Punchliner Comedy Club and the Sanctuary, Carnival’s Adults-only oasis. Some ships feature more enhancements than others; Carnival Inspiration, for example, is the only member of the Fantasy Class with the popular Alchemy Bar. By and large, though, these are fine ships for short sailings, with a healthy dose of FunShip wackiness. cabins The vast majority of staterooms aboard the Fantasy Class ships are either inside cabins with no view, or oceanview staterooms that feature either picture or porthole windows. Balconies weren’t a priority when these ships were built, so only the top of the line suites feature them The exceptions to this rule are Carnival Ecstasy, Carnival Fascination, and Carnival Sensation, each of which were refitted with exterior balcony staterooms that hang, somewhat unattractively, off the ship’s superstructure. That being said, all are well-sized if a bit plain-Jane in their looks. Curiously staterooms all lack hairdryers, and mini-fridges are only available at the suite level. Bathrooms have that clingy shower curtain that is the butt of jokes for every cruise director on the High Seas. public areas & activities Elaborate, sprawling, and a bit garish: That’s the best way to describe public areas. Each of is decorated around a different theme, some of which have aged better than others.

Among the rooms that get the most action are the whimsically decorated show lounge (nightly production shows along with bingo and Seuss-at-Sea Storytime for the kiddies); the large and loud casino; and the many onboard watering holes from dance clubs to piano bars. The latter are more intimately sized than most modern megaships, a welcomed throwback to how cruising used to be.

While not nearly as elaborate as their older fleetmates, the Fantasy Class still packs a punch when it comes to onboard pools, with at least one midships pool with two hot tubs, complemented by an aft pool and hot tub combination. All ships except Carnival Elation and Carnival Paradise include Carnival’s new Waterworks Aqua Park concept that includes splash parks and waterslides for the kids, plus superfast âœracer❠slides for the adults. On Sun Deck 14, guests will find a jogging track and, in the center of the track, the ship’s Mini-Golf course. If you get here early on in the cruise, few of your fellow guests will know about it, leaving you to putt around the green in a more relaxed fashion.

Spa Carnival offers the usual treatments and a fitness center overlooking the ship’s bow that is well-equipped and maintained. It’s nothing fancy, but the forward-facing views are sure nice.

Dining For ships built in the 1990s, the Fantasy Class ships have more dining options than you might expect. Each Fantasy Class ship features two main dining rooms that serve multi-course dinners either in an open-seating environment, or as traditional âœfixed❠early and late-sittings. One dining room is typically open for breakfast and lunch on sea days, which can be a popular alternative to the controlled madness that is the Lido Restaurant. While it is a buffet, Carnival has made some impressive strides with its cuisine here in recent years; to that end, you can expect to find a Mongolian-style wok station in addition to American âœcomfort❠favorites like burgers, hot dogs, salads, sandwiches, and freshly carved meats. It’s open breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hungry in the middle of the night? Head to the 24-hour Pizza Pirate station. Room service is also available around the clock, with both free and paid option menu items.

Fans of Carnival’s newest eateries will want to take note: Guy’s Burger Joint (p. 114 ) and the Bluelguana Cantina (p. 114 ) with its freshly made burritos are currently only aboard Carnival Fantasy and Carnival Inspiration.

Carnival Sunshine

If you’re a frequent cruiser, you might know Carnival Sunshine better by her former name, Carnival Destiny. But a spectacular top-to-bottom reconstruction completely altered her look and feel, which today has more in common with her much-younger fleetmates. If you like your megaships on the smaller scale but want all the new bells and whistles, Carnival Sunshine is your pick.

When she was launched as Carnival Destiny back in 1996, she was the largest ship ever built for Carnival (893 feet in length), and the first passenger ship in the world to exceed 100,000 gross tons. Today, those numbers are no longer a draw, so Carnival announced in 2012 that it would spend $155 million dollars on a refit and it was re-christened 2013 as Carnival Sunshine.

The refurbishment was sweeping. Gone are the dark interiors with neon accents that had, in 1996, been trendy but which, nearly two decades later, looked like a mistake from the set of the movie TRON. The key words today are muted and sleek when it comes to decor and color choices.

But the changes were structural, too. Among the additions were public rooms, 182 new staterooms (bringing the guest capacity up to 3,002), 8 new dining venues, and every FunShip 2.0 enhancement like the popular Alchemy Bar, the RedFrog Pub, and Guy’s Burger Joint. The adults-only Serenity area is one of the best in the entire fleet, and the refit added a massive waterpark that rivals those aboard Carnival Dream and her sisters (see p. 128 ).

Cabins Like the rest of the Carnival fleet, staterooms aboard Carnival Sunshine are larger than average. The big plus, however, is the change in decor: Gone are the bizarre sea of pinks and oranges (hallelujah!), replaced with crisp whites and earth tones, accented with nautical blue carpeting (just like what you’ll find on the new Carnival Breeze or Carnival Vista ). Balcony staterooms feature verandas spacious enough for two chairs and a small table suitable if you want to kick back with a good book or a couple of margaritas. Carnival also offers a decent assortment of suites, with the two, top-of-the-line Captain’s Suites featuring separate living and sleeping areas, along with a BIG square foot balcony. It’s also worth noting that all suites feature an audio/video input plate that allows guests to stream content from their portable DVD players or laptops to the in-suite TV.

Public areas & activities Carnival Sunshine features all of the innovations usually only seen on Dream-class ships. That list of new or altered public areas is extraordinary and most extensive when it comes to the ship’s hip new nightspots. These include cozy Piano Bar 88, the Alchemy Bar (inventive cocktails, ordered from equally imaginative, backlit menus), The RedFrog Pub (craft beers, adult trivia and bar games like darts and pool), the Jetsons -esque Skybox Sports Bar, and Ocean Plaza (with its huge dance floor; it runs across the centerline of the ship). The Cuban-themed Havana Bar may be our favorite: It has a breezy elegance to it, and serves Cuban food all day long, at no extra charge.

On the entertainment front, Carnival completely restyled the ship’s main show lounge, which now has more of a supper club-style feel than the former massive, three-deck high theatre. But even reduced to two levels the production values of these shows dazzle (and the shows are shorter, which isn’t bad for entertaining but plot-free fare). Recently, the ship added a âœgame show❠during which audience members compete on massive versions of classic Hasbro toys (can you say âœproduct placementâ?) like Connect Four and Sorry. An alternate lounge, Limelight, serves as the setting for Carnival’s Punchliner Comedy Club performances.

The Sunshine Casino squats right in the main companionway on Deck 5. If you’re sensitive to smoke, consider this fair warning: Carnival still allows guests to smoke in the Casino.

Arguably the biggest changes were saved for Carnival Sunshine ‘s pool and sports facilities. The ship now has pools and hot tubs on Deck 9 midships, Deck 14 forward, and Deck 11 forward in the newly added (and much appreciated) adults-only, Serenity area. With its plush loungers, faux trees, and din-covering waterfall emptying into a gigantic pool, you’ll never want to leave this blessedly tranquil oasis.

Kids (and the young-at-heart) are well taken care of, too with a massive waterworks area that features three humongous waterslides, a selection of smaller waterslides for younger passengers, a splash park, and even a ropes course that was more fun than we’d like to admit.

Up front, Carnival Sunshine’s completely remodeled and expanded Cloud 9 Spa is a substantial improvement over its previous incarnation. The handsome gym is large and overlooks the ship’s bow (a nice distraction). A salon offers up surprisingly well-priced hair services for men and women plus manicures and pedicures.

Dining Carnival Sunshine features two main dining rooms but only the aft-facing Sunrise dining room has traditional fixed-seating dinner. One dining room is typically open on sea days for a la carte breakfast and lunch.

Elsewhere, Sunshine’s newest eateries, the Bluelguana Cantina and Guy’s Burger Joint (see p. 114 for descriptions); the line’s Steakhouse (additional charge $35/person); Cucina del Capitano (an extra $15/person) in honor of all the Italian captains who have helmed these ships; and, best of all, Pan-Asian Ji Ji ($15/person), which presents truly gourmet versions such favorites as spring rolls, slow-braised short ribs and jade shrimp.

Quick, buffet meals are always available at the too-cramped Lido Marketplace which has a wide selection of American-style favorites, but also a surprising amount of alternative Asian, Japanese, Indian and Italian-style dishes.

Carnival Sunshine is also one of only two ships in the fleet (the others being Carnival Vista ) to offer The Shake Spot, where you can indulge in a variety of ice cream treats. Adults can even hit the throttle by adding a shot of liqueurs to the mix.

Launched in 1999 and 2000 respectively, Carnival Triumph and Carnival Victory look identical on the outside, but were given wildly different interior design by Carnival’s wildly different designer, Joe Farcus. Carnival Triumph ‘s decor pays homage to the great cities of the world, while Carnival Victory is themed after bodies of water. The latter is particularly eye-popping, with every conceivable surface dabbed with shades of green and blue and aqua and royal blue and…well, you get the picture. Coupled with Carnival’s 1990’s color palette of reds, browns and pinks, it’s one loud ship, especially compared to the Carnival Triumph, which uses much darker tones throughout. But both offer more than enough fun and new features to woo guests on the primarily shorter runs to the Bahamas and the Caribbean.

Cabins Some would say the staterooms on these two boats are peachy keen, but we’d say that these pink rooms that’s the overarching color scheme look dated, with the colors too close to what was used in hospitals in the 1990’s. Still, even the cheapest rooms are noticeably larger than those on other lines.

Oceanview staterooms have the same amenities as inside staterooms, but with the addition of a picture window. The balcony staterooms add a private balcony with two chairs and a small table to the mix. There’s no need to worry about obstructed balcony views; all balconies face the sea, feature transparent plexiglass railings, and look directly down.

Suites are never Carnival’s forte. Carnival Victory and her sister feature a range, from modestly sized Junior Suites to the much larger Ocean and Grand Suites on Empress Deck 7. Suites feature flat-panel television sets while standard staterooms are stuck with the small, 13❠tube TV sets that look positively prehistoric now. Book early; these suites tend to sell out quickly.

Public areas & activities Fans of understated decor need not apply. These ships lay on the neon with abandon, which, when coupled with the ship’s odd decorative objects (like the gigantic backlit fish that’s suspended near the entrance to the Pacific Dining Room) and wildly patterned carpeting can either be exciting. or vertigo-inducing, depending on your personal aesthetics.

Still, public rooms offer good passenger flow, with very few bottlenecks (except for that first turn off of the casino between the grand atrium and the promenade on Deck 5, which really plugs up on formal night when everyone wants pictures taken). The main three-story show lounge can seat 1,500 passengers in a single go, while the cozier Club Rio/Adriatic Aft Lounge provides alternate entertainment, like the Punchliner Comedy Club. Also of note: the dance club, the Alchemy Bar (impressive mixology), and the usually forgotten, and therefore blessedly serene, Oxford Bar (Ionian Bar on Victory ), which is tucked away down on Atlantic Deck 4.

The three pools and spa aren’t anything to write home about, owing to their mid-1990’s designs.

And Carnival Triumph lacks the Serenity, Carnival’s adults-only pool oasis, while Carnival Victory, thankfully has it (though it doesn’t have the onboard basketball court its sister ships have).

Both ships have decent, if a bit outdated, kids’ facilities still, Carnival’s excellent youth coordinators will keep kids busy onboard.

Dining As an older build, these ships don’t have the variety of specialty restaurants that their younger brethren do. But Carnival Triumph has been refitted with the popular (and tasty!) Bluelguana Cantina and Guy’s Burger Joint (see p. 114 ). Alas, Carnival Victory lacks these. Other meals are taken in the two main dining rooms or the large buffet.

Entering service between 2001 and 2004, these ships are big and impressive, but with just 2,124 guests onboard are not nearly as crowded as some of the line’s larger ships. They make a great alternative for those who are put off by the idea of sailing on a âœcity at sea.❠Carnival’s longtime interior designer Joe Farcus worked his quirky madness once again. What does that mean? Well, on Carnival Pride interiors have âœIcons of Beauty❠as their main theme so the ship carries a 12-foot replica of Michelangelo’s âœDavid,❠along with reproductions of works by such masters as Botticelli, Raphael, and Da Vinci. Public rooms that have architectural motifs borrowed from the Victorian era, the Art Deco movement, ancient Greece and the Byzantine empire. Oh, and there’s an insect-themed Butterflies Lounge on Deck 1. Pride is likely the most elaborate, but each ship features its own creative decor. Unlike her three fleetmates, Carnival Spirit makes her home year-round in Australia, and as such is missing from Carnival’s U.S.-based website.

Cabins Nearly 80% of the 1,062 guest cabins onboard feature ocean views and of those, a further 80% have private balconies (substantially more balconies than Carnival’s older ships). But alas, they have the pink-on-salmon-on-peach decor that afflicted earlier vessels (a look that hasn’t aged well). Still, staterooms (even insides) are generously proportioned. A number of suites are also available, offering separate sleeping and living areas.

Sixteen staterooms are wheelchair accessible, and a number of connecting staterooms are also available for families and friends travelling together.

Public areas & activities These four ships are blessed with more off-the-beaten-path public areas than other ships in the Carnival fleet (like the hard-to-find piano bar and the two-story dance club ). They also carry welcome recent editions like the Alchemy Bar, which specialized in hand-crafted cocktails, and the RedFrog Pub (it carries the line’s ThirstyFrog Ale).

Nightly production shows can be found in the three-story show lounge. Unlike other Carnival ships, these four vessels feature a secondary show lounge tucked underneath the main show lounge. Carnival’s Punchliner Comedy Club takes place in these kooky-looking rooms as we said earlier, decor in the public areas of these ships is out there the most bizarre of which has to be the Alice in

Wonderland -patterned Mad Hatter Lounge aboard Carnival Miracle.

These ships feature three swimming pools, including one that is covered by a retractable magrodome roof. Each ship also has a small kids’ splash pool, and a waterslide, though Carnival Miracle lacks the Green Thunder waterslide that her sisters have been refitted with. The steepest waterslide at sea, Carnival says you can reach speeds of up to 65 miles per hour on this terrifying-looking ride. We’ll take the company’s word for it.

The Fitness Center is positioned at the bow of each ship with spectacular views. It surrounds the spa’s hydrotherapy pool, when means exercising guests get a view of their fellow guests trying to relax and vice versa (it’s an odd configuration). A beauty salon is nearby.

Dining Thanks to their lower passenger counts, these four ships have just one main dining room, a two-story blessed by 180-degree windows. Both fixed-seating and flexible dining are offered and the restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch on sea days. A casual Lido Buffet offers all three meals. Right now, only Carnival Pride and Carnival Spirit offer Guy’s Burger Joint and the Bluelguana Cantina (see p. 114 ), with the latter also carrying the deliciously unhealthy Fat Jimmy’s C-Side Barbecue. The most dramatic culinary experience onboard can be found at the steakhouse which is topped with bank of transparent red glass; the base of Carnival’s iconic funnel (a pretty cool sight). Dining here carries an extra per-person charge.

The Conquest-class ships tend to do two-to-nine day sailings of the Caribbean and the Bahamas. These regions are a great match for these Fun Ships, as their main focus is outdoor diversions like pools, hot tubs, waterslides, basketball and volleyball courts, and the relaxing adults-only area known as Serenity. But these are also some of Carnival’s most crowded ships, holding nearly 3,000 guests apiece.

Cabins There’s a lot to like about the staterooms aboard the Conquest Class. At 185 square feet, even the most affordable inside stateroom is larger than the competition. Most guests will stay in either balcony or inside accommodations, although a smattering of oceanview staterooms are

Available, with glass walls that look out at the sea, a nice touch. Another upgrade from the old Carnival formula: The natural woods and burnt orange color schemes are more attractive than Carnival’s old pink-on-pink-on-pink digs. But the best part about Carnival’s cabins these days is the beds. Called the Carnival Comfort Bed sleep system, mattresses, duvets, and pillows are superthick and ultracomfy. The towels and bathrobes in each cabin are pretty luxurious, too.

The one downside on many of the vessel’s cabins? One measly power outlet per stateroom a problem in today’s wired world.

Suites are more abundant on these vessels than older ships in the fleet, thanks to refittings over the years.

Public areas & activities The Conquest ships are bright and playful a sort of Mardi Gras feel instead of the dark and glittery Las Vegas look on some of the older ships in the fleet. Architect Joe Farcus was inspired by the great Impressionist and post-Impressionist artists (their color palettes) so ships bursts with sunny yellows and oranges, and vivid blues and greens.

IS THERE smoking ON SHIPS?

The short answer is yes, but on a very restricted basis that changes from line to line. Most major cruise lines have banned smoking in cabins and on cabin balconies. Smoking is generally not allowed in shipboard theaters, show lounges, or dining rooms and may be restricted to certain bars or dedicated Cigar Bars. Expect the casino to allow smoking, though some lines take the extra step of offering at least one âœsmoke free❠evening. Smoking may also be allowed out on designated deck areas (typically all the way aft). Small ships typically allow smoking only in certain outdoor areas. If you are a smoker, check with your line in advance. Note, too, that smoking policies don’t just cover traditional cigarettes; many lines have established the same rules for E-cigarettes and vaporizers. Like most hotels, the penalties for disobeying the rules can be stiff, with hundreds of dollars in fines for smoking in your stateroom.

Most used interior spaces include the sprawling casinos (almost 300 slot machines and about two dozen gaming tables in each), EA Sports Bar, which looks a bit like something from Clockwork Orange, but with red rather than white decor; the Coffee Bar; and the onboard Dance Club where passengers groove on an enormous floor (each ship themes these areas differently). The mixology-forward Alchemy Bar, is also popular, one of some 20-plus bars and lounges aboard, including a dedicated Piano Bar, and an aft lounge where alternate shows are performed. Warning: Carnival allows smoking in the casino and since it’s at the heart of Deck 5, with many adjacent lounges, that deck’s air ain’t the greatest. On one recent Carnival Freedom cruise out of Galveston, the cigarette smoke was as thick as San Francisco fog.

While the Conquest Class doesn’t have the more elaborate Cloud 9 Spa found on the line’s newest ships, they nonetheless have the very-decent Spa Carnival, On the pool front, there’s nothing groundbreaking here, and the pool decks can get crowded, but most will find the facilities more than adequate for the line dancing that tends to break out on sea days (electric slide anyone?). A Twister waterslide runs from Deck 14 down to Deck 10.

If pools aren’t your thing, don’t forget about the nine-hole mini-golf course that wraps around Carnival’s iconic funnel, or the relaxing (and adults-only!) Serenity area that can be found forward on Deck 14.

The massive children’s facilities are divided into digs for teens and those for younger children, both with age-appropriate amenities like video games, arts and crafts areas, dipping pools, and more.

Dining Once again, Carnival offers both traditional fixed and come-when-you-want dining in one of two main two story dining rooms.

Carnival has vastly upgraded its casual food offerings in recent years, and all of these enhancements have finally worked their way aboard the Conquest Class. In addition to the casual Lido Deck buffet (which tends towards heavy, non-dieter friendly fare), guests will also find the Bluelguana Cantina and Guy’s Burger Joint (see p. 114 for reviews). The most unusual venue, The Taste Bar, is opened on select days of the cruise and serves specialty dishes from across the Carnival fleet (even from restaurants that aren’t on any of these ships), so we suppose it’s a type of advertising, but entertaining nonetheless.

Carnival Splendor A one-off for Carnival, the 3,006-guest Carnival Splendor got everything right, rolling the best features of her predecessors into well-designed (if very colorful) ship. Just be prepared to like the color pink a lot.

Launched in 2008, Carnival Splendor is an evolution of the Conquest Class but with a few extra bells, whistles, and decks. At 952 feet in length, she features over 20 different bars and lounges, not to mention a plethora of dining options culled from the rest of the fleet. She also introduced Carnival’s much-expanded Cloud 9 Spa along with a new two-deck pool design with a retractable glass roof and a giant LED screen for watching movies on-deck. Designed around a âœsplendid❠theme, Carnival’s in-house designer Joe Farcus set the color wheel to âœpink❠on this one; an effect that can be a bit overwhelming. Even still, this is one of the line’s best megaships to-date.

Cabins You’ve got to love Carnival for its staterooms. While other lines squish passengers into cramped rooms, even Carnival’s inside staterooms measure are bigger than outside cabins (read: higher priced) on other mainstream lines. Carnival Splendor was also the first Fun Ship with Cloud 9 Spa Staterooms, which feature direct, keycard-access to the spa via a stairway secreted away on the forward end of Deck 10. These spa guests get swank Asian-style decor and complimentary access to the ship’s hydrotherapy pool and thermal suite, with its heated ceramic loungers and aromatic steam rooms. Cloud 9 Spa Staterooms are available in interior, obstructed oceanview, balcony, and suite categories (meaning there are some relatively affordable ones in the bunch).

A 2016 refit added six new âœScenic Oceanview❠staterooms and two Captain’s Suites. The former feature floor-to-ceiling windows, while the latter are perched above the ship’s navigation

Bridge and have private balconies.

Public areas & activities On Splendor, walls in some public areas are covered with a composite material made of stainless steel and 4-inch circular cut-outs backed by pink-stained wood with black pigment rubbed into the grain, with gold-leaf beams and arches illuminated with hundreds of sparkling lights. It’s an amazing look. The vessel sports 22 bars and lounges (though, sadly, doesn’t have the Red Frog Pub or the classy Alchemy Bar). Fans of the one-armed bandits will want to head to the Royal Flush Casino on Deck 5. That deck is also home to the Fun Shops, the Coffee Bar, the Video Arcade, and the Red Carpet Dance Club which, for better or for worse, brings the 1980’s back to life. At the stern on Deck 5 is one of the ship’s nicest public rooms: the El Morocco Lounge. Carnival Splendor ‘s secondary show lounge holds nightly comedy performances and other events. Sure, the faux-Moroccan theme jumps at you from out of nowhere, but this is one cool lounge to relax in.

Carnival Splendor is one of Carnival’s best ships for pool and spa mavens. The ship has three pools, one of which (the midships pool) has a retractable magrodome roof. It also boasts a super-fast Twister-style waterslide, and a delightfully refreshing water-spray park in the area of the massive kid’s club.

The ship was the first to feature Carnival’s Cloud 9 Spa, which spans two decks. In addition to treatment rooms, it features a thalassotherapy pool covered by a glass dome and equipped with jets of water that massage every muscle in your body. Across the hall is the thermal suite, with its heated ceramic loungers, an oriental steam bath and a tepidarium and lanconium (both dry heat saunas). Carnival sells passes to the Thermal Suite and Thalassotherapy Pool; guests in Cloud 9 Spa staterooms have complimentary access.

Despite being relocated to the port side of the ship, Carnival Splendor ‘ s Fitness Center is still larger-than-average for most ships of this size, and features swell ocean views from banks of windows looking out over the sea.

Dining Carnival Splendor features two, two-story dining rooms. Guests opting for traditional fixed early- and late-seating dinner are seated in the Gold Pearl Restaurant (sweeping 180-degree views!). Guests who want âœYour Time Dining❠get the Black Pearl Restaurant which is a kick: Gigantic black âœpearls❠are affixed to nearly every surface and the swooping ceiling reminds us of the interior of an Airbus A380.

But those are only the start of the options. The buffet at Lido Restaurant serves most every cuisine known to man (not kidding). There’s also a Manhattan-chic Steakhouse (try the Yukon Gold Mash potatoes with Wasabi Horseradish; we crave them incessantly when we’re onboard); a make-your-own stir fry joint (The Mongolian Wok ), the Taste Bar (see p. 126 ) and several other options.

Not just evolutionary, these three ships were revolutionary for Carnival when they burst on the scene. With new bars, lounges, and activities not to mention a new look for Carnival Breeze these ships are some of the best in the Carnival fleet.

Launched between 2009 and 2012, these three Dream Class ships represented a brand-new design for Carnival, both inside and out. The most different of the three is Carnival Breeze, which introduced a new interior decor scheme designed by Germany’s Partnership AG firm instead of long-time designer Joe Farcus. What does that mean? More soft, Caribbean sea-like shades of blue and fewer eyepopping patterns. On our first day aboard Carnival Breeze, we almost had to remind ourselves we were on a Carnival cruise. (Carnival Dream and Carnival Magic have the same level of high quality furniture and fittings, but in bolder colors and with busier patterns.)

This class was designed to go toe-to-toe with the latest megaships from Royal Caribbean, but Carnival stays with a much more manageable 3,600 guest count compared to the over 5,000 new RCL ships carry. They certainly are equal (or nearly so) when it comes to fun, with poolside movie screens, the largest Cloud 9 Spa complex in the fleet, massive versions of the adults-only Serenity area, and a wonderful space known as The Lanai, an indoor-outdoor area that runs from one side of the ship to the other, creating a social gathering spot in a space that gets short shrift on most vessels.

Carnival shuttles these three ships around quite a bit, but you can typically find them sailing Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries, plus the odd jaunt to the Bahamas, from ports like New Orleans, and Port Canaveral.

Cabins Every stateroom aboard these three Dream Class ships is at least 185 square feet, spacious for a ship of this size, and appointed with the fab Carnival Comfort Collection bedding and an overall fit-and-finish that’s substantially improved from earlier ships. Carnival Breeze introduces a new, lighter stateroom decor.

Maybe it’s a bit of nostalgia, but Carnival still offers Category 1Interior Upper/Lower❠category (i.e., bunk beds) on the ships, a staple of the line for decades. They’re a decent value, as they include a porthole window. New to the line are Dream Class staterooms which feature âœcove balconies.❠These are inset into the hull of the ship, which keeps them sheltered from the elements and allows for 10 square feet more than average. These cabins are also located close to the waterline, which gives the feeling of being on a much smaller ship. Aft View Extended Balcony Staterooms have even deeper balconies and a spectacular view of the ship’s wake.

Also worth a look: Cloud 9 Spa Staterooms, which are Inside, Oceanview, Balcony and Suite digs that include complimentary access to the Thermal Suite and Hydrotherapy Pool, along with upgraded amenities.

Public areas & activities The main three-level show lounge, is home to large-scale production shows; there’s not a bad view in the house, but we appreciate the extra leg room in the center part of the lower level. At the opposite end of the ship is a lounge for comedy shows and a variety of other acts plus new features like the RedFrog Pub, and Ocean Plaza (your go-to place for near-hourly trivia sessions and other fun diversions).

On Deck 5, the Lanai straddles the line between indoor entertainment space and outdoor hot-tub mecca, and is one of the best uses of a Promenade Deck we’ve seen in years. The area has two semicircular, partially covered outdoor seating areas and two large hot tubs that are cantilevered out over the ship’s rail, with the sea bubbling below and 180-degree views over the horizon. (Two additional cantilevered hot tubs are located a bit farther forward along the Promenade.) Connecting the two Lanai areas is an indoor entertainment space, with its own bar, dance floor, and cafe.

The Cloud 9 Spa aboard these three ships is among largest in the fleet, spanning three decks. In it you’ll find an expansive fitness center, hydrotherapy pool, a full thermal suite with heated loungers, aromatic steam rooms and saunas; and treatment rooms

The WaterWorks facility is one of the most elaborate ever designed for the line, though it’s got a lot more âœwetting features❠on Carnival Breeze. Carnival Breeze also has a topnotch ropes course, sports square, and mini-golf course situated around the ship’s funnel. Each ship has two main swimming pools. The main pool deck features a bandstand and outdoor movie screen (along with hundreds of deck chairs). Adults can escape from the kids up at the Serenity on Deck 14. Watch out if you’re climbing up to Serenity from the starboard side stairs on Deck 12; we inadvertently got soaked by the giant WaterWorks bucket as it dumped water over dozens of excited children.

Dining The Dream Class is all grown up when it comes to dining, offering far more culinary variety than past ships in the fleet. Each ship has two main dining rooms. Guests can choose to dine when they wish, but those who do so are seated in the midships dining room which, regrettably, features no windows on the upper levels, and windows that look out onto the ship’s technical lifeboat area on the lower level. It might be worth choosing fixed dining for the great 180-degree views from the stern dining room.

These ships feature some of the largest Lido Marketplace casual buffets in the fleet, with food selections that traverse the globe. Carnival Magic takes things one step further with Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse (featuring an authentic, honest-to-gosh Smoker), and both Carnival Magic and Carnival Breeze serve up tasty burgers at Guy’s Burger Joint, and excellent Mexican cuisine at the Bluelguana Cantina. Carnival Dream lacks these for now, but chances are good she’ll be refitted with them shortly. All three ships feature Carnival’s specialty steakhouse.

Christened in the spring of 2016, Carnival Vista ushered in a completely new era for Carnival when she set sail in the Mediterranean. Although she looks like an enlarged version of the Dream Class from the outside, the similarities end there. On the inside, Carnival Vista said goodbye to the âœold Carnival❠of mirrors, fluorescent lighting and heavily patterned surfaces for good, going instead for a more high-end look that’s a love-child somewhere between Carnival, Holland America and Celebrity Cruises, by way of Cuba. And though it’s rare to run out of fun activities on a Carnival ship, this may be the first one which has so many attractions the first IMAX movie at sea, an outdoor Twister

Board, the SkyRide, dozens of live shows and more it’s near impossible to do them all in just one

Cruise. Carnival Vista is the most significant change the Carnival fleet has seen in decades and it’s a good one.

Cabins What’s really unusual about the Vista is just how many different kinds of staterooms it holds, from traditional inside, outside, balcony and suite categories to Cloud 9 Spa-themed staterooms and brand-new Havana Experience staterooms and staterooms geared towards families. As always with Carnival, all rooms are bigger than the mainstream cruise line norm, but rooms at the lower level (price-wise) on Vista have an Italian flair to them, with jaunty royal blue and gold striped banquettes (bed throws in the smaller rooms), and lots of soft edges.

Going up a notch are the Cloud 9 Spa staterooms, where guests get special spa amenities, a very Zen fern-green and gold decorating scheme, and complimentary access to the thermal suite and hydrotherapy pool. Guests staying in the swanky Havana Staterooms or Suites get boutique hotellike digs (actual wooden beds, chic throw pillows, and hammock chairs on the balcony) plus private access to the Havana Pool and Lanai aft on Deck 5 until 5:00 p.m. daily. With its umbrellas, faux palm trees and thatched patio huts, it’s one of the cutest areas on the ship.

Families travelling together will want to book one of the truly spectacular new Family Harbor Staterooms and Suites. Clustered in the new Family Zone, these staterooms have nifty maritime signal flags sewn into bed throws and pillows, and all sorts of nautical photos hung gallery style on the walls the rooms are cool in a way that both adults and kids will appreciate.

A total of 65 staterooms have been designated for wheelchair users.

Public areas & activities Hold the presses because there’s no neon, no brass, no highly patterned surfaces that threaten to blow your retinas apart on this ship. Instead, there’s chic contemporary decor throughout and more intimate spaces than usual (like the downright classy Vista Casino and the two story show lounge, called Liquid Lounge ). We’re also fans of the groovy Sports Bar, and the Limelight Lounge, the cozy space that houses Carnival’s very funny Punchliner Comedy Club performances.

Not everything is smaller: The always-rollicking Piano Bar has been expanded, and the large Library Bar âœstars❠a crowd-pleasing machine for self-serve wine. The latter also offers âœreading drinks❠(well-balanced cocktails), along with a better-than-you’d-expect selection of actual books. They tempt tipplers alongside the swanky Alchemy Bar, the RedFrog Pub and Brewery (which brews up batches of Carnival’s own ale right onboard) and the brand-new Havana Bar, a surprisingly authentic representation of Cuba with its teal faux slatted window, low-slung leather chairs and selection of tropical drinks and food. These are just a few options on a ship that has an unusually rich array of nightspots, even for party-hearty Carnival.

While there are three pools onboard Carnival Vista, only the first two (âœBeaches❠and âœTidesâ) are open to all guests. The Havana Pool the prettiest of all is reserved exclusively for guests staying in Havana category staterooms until 5pm, when the rest of the ship is allowed to have a go at it. As a result, the main pools and hot tubs can get pretty competitive, especially on sea days.

Carnival Vista also has the largest-ever Water Works aquatic park, with a kaleidoscope-themed waterslide, the usual Twister waterslide, a splash park for the kids, and a PowerDrencher bucket that tips gallons of water onto the deck surface at random intervals.

Happily, keeping fit aboard Carnival Vista, is no problem at all. It can also be a lot of fun, too. In addition to the usual Fitness Center (well stocked!), you might want to go for a spin along the new SkyRide. A recumbent bicycle course, guests can pedal their way around the track, which is elevated 150 feet above sea level. (Note: High winds and inclement weather can close it, and it’s free which can lead to some pretty long lines.) The ship also has a ropes course with two levels of difficulty; a nine-hole mini-golf course, a basketball and volleyball court, and a jogging track.

The Cloud 9 Spa is the largest spa the line has constructed to-date. It offers spa treatments designed for both adults and teenagers, and an expansive thermal suite with heated ceramic loungers, aromatic showers and steam rooms, sauna rooms, and a hydrotherapy pool. A salon also offers a variety of hair and nail services for men and women.

Of course, you should also be sure to head up to Deck 6 to check out the Carnival Thrill Teeter (4-D fun) and the first IMAX theatre at sea.

Dining There are two main dining rooms aboard the Carnival Vista, but it’s the aft-facing, two-story Horizons Restaurant that really impresses. With its polished woods, aquamarine carpeting and soft lighting sources, it elevates the Carnival dining experience to new heights.

Steaks and surf-and-turf are the name of the game at Carnival’s Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse (extra charge). Across the hall, Bonsai Sushi serves up some of the best sushi and sashimi we’ve had on a ship. Other specialty restaurants include Italian Cucina del Capitano and Ji Ji Asian Kitchen.

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