With the addition of Dr. Seuss characters and the makeover of Camp Carnival into Camp Ocean on some of its ships, Carnival Cruise Line has more appeal than ever to the family cruise segment.
The changes, announced a year ago, bring an instantly recognizable name to Carnival's kids offerings.
"For Dr. Seuss, as soon as you mention Cat in the Hat, they already know who it is," said Ana Klacinski, youth director on the Carnival Freedom.
It's a step up for Carnival, which competes at sea with characters from Nickelodeon (Norwegian Cruise Line), DreamWorks (Royal Caribbean International) and, of course, Disney on Disney Cruise Line.
Now Carnival offers a kids parade through the Freedom once each cruise, led by characters from "The Cat in the Hat," as well as a Green Eggs and Ham breakfast featuring Sam I Am.
At the same time, Carnival has significantly improved the kids facilities on the Freedom and other ships. Seuss is now playing on 10 of Carnival's 24 ships, and Camp Ocean has been installed on the Freedom, Breeze, Magic and Triumph.
The big change is to give each age group its own themed space to play in, from Penguins (ages 2 to 5) to Stingrays (6 to 8) to Sharks (9 to 11). Klacinski said kids are excited to see the play space has lost its day-care vibe.
"They have a name, but not only that, they have their own space that they don't have to share with anybody," she said. "And they love it."
The Freedom also received a Dr. Seuss Bookville area adjacent to Camp Ocean. It provides space for unscheduled time that children and parents can play together and an introduction to Seuss books guests may not know.
Part of the magic of the Seuss parade is its mystery, Klacinski said. It begins with an announcement that Seuss characters are onboard and an invitation to gather in a lounge 15 minutes before the parade. No one knows quite what for. When the time is ripe, a chant begins: "Dr. Seuss is on the loose!"
One by one, the characters are introduced and then the parade begins, through the ship, with kids banging noisemakers and keeping the chant going until arrival at the ship's main theater, where they're invited on stage for a group reading of "The Cat in the Hat" while parents watch.
"It's like a good, family-friendly event and comedy show at the same time," Klacinski said.
The Green Eggs and Ham breakfast, held later in the cruise, attracted about 50 kids and parents on the cruise I was on. Food, including mint-green scrambled eggs, is served by wait staff attired as Thing One and Thing Two from "The Cat in the Hat," and Sam I Am appears to greet and hug kids.
Chuck Soukop, a passenger from Punta Gorda, Fla., said he was delighted with the upgrades to Freedom's kids programming. "It's nice to have something for the kids to do that isn't as expensive as Disney [Cruise Line]," he said.