Cruise editor Brian Major recently sampled a three-day preview
cruise to nowhere aboard Carnival Cruise Lines' newest ship, the
2,124-passenger Carnival Spirit. His review follows:
MIAMI -- Carnival Spirit isn't the biggest ship in Carnival
Cruise Lines' massive fleet nor is it a neon-lighted center of
constant activity, like 1980s-era Carnival vessels.
Instead Spirit, which entered service in early May, represents
the company's evolution from the days when Carnival stood for
The core audience that once celebrated Carnival's cruise ships
as party vessels has matured.
While some traditions die hard (there are still
bathing-suit-stuffing contests on Carnival ships), the character of
Carnival cruises has changed so much that company officials say
they will host more weddings and vow-renewal services in 2002 than
another high-profile vacation resort, Walt Disney World.
According to Vicki Freed, Carnival's senior vice president of
sales and marketing, "We haven't changed the 'Fun Ship' experience;
"Years ago, one of the main benefits of cruising was that you
got away from it all," said Freed. "Now, passengers don't really
want to get away from it all; they want more options. Their concept
of 'fun' has changed."
To be sure, groups
of partying singles can still be found aboard Carnival ships, but
you're just as likely to run into young couples with children, 40-
and 50-something baby boomers and multigenerational families.
In many respects, Carnival Spirit reflects this change in the
line's core audience.
Like other Carnival vessels, Spirit features a soaring,
nine-deck atrium lobby.
But the Las Vegas-inspired themes of past Carnival ships have
been replaced here by an art deco flavor, which gives the room a
more sophisticated character.
The lobby has two grand staircases and a bar with a dance floor,
and furnishings are tasteful with rich wood and antiqued
The ceiling features stained-glass domes, and walls and
elevators feature marble inlaid frames and embossed copper
On the third deck, the Deco Walk, a long corridor that connects
several shops and lounges, is disappointingly similar to walkways
on other Carnival ships, but it is among the few spots that are
reminiscent of the line's past.
Overall, Carnival has adopted a more fanciful approach that
emphasizes diversity. Club Cool, Spirit's jazz club, is a good
example of the line's changing approach.
With its smooth, black-and-red leather decor, Club Cool has the
authentic feel of a Greenwich Village jazz club.
Unfortunately, the two-member band that performed during my
sailing played contemporary soft-rock music. Carnival would do well
to hire authentic jazz musicians to play this room.
Carnival Spirit uses the line's revamped
Carnival Total Choice Dining program, another concession to
consumer demand for more shipboard options. The system allows
guests in Spirit's Empire Restaurant (the ship's formal dining
venue) to eat when and with whom they want or opt for the
traditional two-seating dining experience.
In addition to the main dining venue, Carnival features several
other dining options, including a 24-hour pizzeria, a poolside
restaurant and the ship's lido restaurant, which offers breakfast
and lunch buffets.
At night, the lido transforms into a seaview bistro, offering
casual-style dinner service. During the day, the lido restaurant
also includes meat-carving and pasta stations, a New York-style
deli and Asian and Italian specialty stations.
Another specialty restaurant, the Nouveau Supper Club, is
located above the lido dining area on deck 10.
The supper club is a welcome addition to the Carnival fleet.
Located under a red-tinted glass dome that forms the front of
the ship's funnel, the venue gives off the upscale, exclusive feel
of a private dinner club.
The decor combines pillars shaped like Tiffany-style flower buds
with hand-painted wall murals. There is a display cooking area with
bar stools, where passengers can watch the cooks at work. The venue
also features a stage and a dance floor.
I enjoyed a very good meal at Club Nouveau, although lighting
problems plagued the early portion of our dinner as table lamps
occasionally gave way to obtrusive flood lighting. This is a venue
that's best appreciated under soft lighting.
Spirit houses a variety of other venues noteworthy for their
The three-level Pharaoh's Palace show lounge is decorated in
Egyptian Revival style. The entrance features sarcophagi modeled
after King Tutankhamen's, and 20-foot-tall stone figures flank the
The Chapel, decorated in elegant Gothic style, is designed in
the style of a traditional house of worship and is available for
weddings and other ceremonies.
The two-level Dancin' Dance Club is one of the best of its sort,
with a large dance floor on the lower level and a bar and seating
that overlook the dance floor on the upper level.
The two-deck construction even allows wallflowers to play it
cool, as they can observe the proceedings from a comfortable
Diversity also extends to the ship's stateroom categories.
Besides 624 standard outside staterooms with balconies, the ship
offers 68 staterooms with French doors, 52 suites and six penthouse
Of course, one thing that hasn't changed much is Carnival's
emphasis on fun. Everyone seemed to have a good time during our
brief voyage, which isn't too hard to understand since this ship
has a little bit of everything.