It’s the most popular cruise line in the world in terms of the number of passengers it carries and if you think Carnival Spirit and Carnival Legend were popular here in Australia, it’s just a little piece of the overall pie that makes up the entire fleet.
Spirit and Legend make up just two in a fleet of 25 ships, with the other 23 dotted in various parts of the United States of America and ranging in size from 2,000 passengers up to the comparatively large 4,000 and over. But fleet-wide, the emphasis on family fun remains true.
Many are based in Florida and sail regularly to the Caribbean, but you’ll also find Carnival ships cruising in Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico and New England, with multiple ships cruising from large ports such as Miami and Los Angeles all the way down to a single ship in small, regional ports such as Baltimore, Maryland; Mobile, Alabama or even from the tiny Norfolk, Virginia.
Newer ships such as Carnival Vista and Carnival Dream are equipped with the most modern features the line offers and which many modern cruisers have come to expect, such as the first IMAX theatre at sea debuting aboard Vista, while Dream offers a range of dining options with alfresco seating areas.
Older vessels such as Carnival Inspiration and Carnival Imagination, based in Los Angeles, still offer a wide variety of amenities but due to their smaller size, are slightly lacking in some features which passengers have come to love aboard other ships, such as balcony staterooms and a selection of alternative restaurants outside the main dining room. Recently, attempts have been made to refurbish the older vessels in the fleet, with a program known as “Funship 2.0” launched a few years back to facilitate the upgrade of these vessels.
Typically busiest during the Northern Hemisphere summer school holiday periods (May to September), Carnival also offers cruises sailing from some of America’s more exotic locations such as San Juan, Puerto Rico and Charleston, South Carolina.
These allow passengers the opportunity to explore more of the US and still combine a cruise into their travel plans. If you happen to find yourself sailing from one of these off-the-beaten-track ports, it’s highly likely you will be among the few non American passengers aboard, as Cruise Advice once found when sailing aboard Carnival Paradise from Tampa, Florida.
Naturally, to accommodate this primarily American-focused passenger base, Carnival has adjusted the passenger experience to accommodate the tastes and standards suited to this core market.
Menu items such as lamb, typically a delicacy in America but by far a staple in the Australian diet, generally won’t appear on the menu as often as it will on locally-based vessels. Wine lists generally include drops from the Sonoma and Napa Valleys in California instead of the Yarra and Barossa. Don’t bet the house on never finding these though, however they will be much more expensive than you’d pay back home.
Entertainment is another area where you will notice a slight difference. The aforementioned Carnival Paradise sailing featured three comedians largely spinning jokes based on local events – many were a little lost on us but seemed to appeal for the majority of the audience, with the crowd erupting at every punchline.
Thanks to recent modifications to the stage shows produced by Carnival, guests will now find modern song and dance routines intertwined with classic stages productions. Again, references aimed at American culture are played up in each show, however they are much more universally geared and easy to understand to even a traveller with a fleeting knowledge or understanding of the American way of life.
Carnival’s international voyages also offer beverage packages known as the “Cheers!” program. Offered on all Carnival sailings from North America, except on Trans-Pacific repositioning voyages from Hawaii to Australia, this package is currently priced at US$58 per person per day and if desired, must be purchased on the first or second day of the cruise for the remainder of the voyage.
Under the Cheers! drinks system, each guest can enjoy a maximum of 15 alcoholic drinks per day from an eligible selection of beers, wine and spirits from all of the different bars onboard. For the cheapest price and most convenient way to purchase the Cheers! program, you can log onto Carnival’s American website to pre-purchase this package.
Carnival is also one of the few lines which offer the opportunity for guests to purchase access to the exclusive priority boarding lines. The program known as ‘Faster to the Fun” is offered from selected ports and opens up priority check in and security screening, access to your stateroom before other guests and most importantly priority access to tenders in ports which require this. For the nominal fee which starts from US$49.95 per stateroom (not per guest), the time saved waiting in lines can prove highly valuable.
All in all, the experience you’ll find on Carnival Cruise Line’s American ships is very similar to Carnival Spirit and Carnival Legend, albeit with a slightly more exotic twist. If you’re familiar with the two Aussie ships, you’ll quickly find everything you love and sometimes more across the rest of the fleet.