Miracle shows evidence of Carnival's evolution

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- In 1972, Carnival Cruise Lines had one ship. Today, it operates 20. Its parent, Carnival Corp., owns 11 other cruise lines and is the biggest player in the industry.

Suffice it to say Carnival has come a long way. And it could be argued that its newest ship, the 2,124-passenger Carnival Miracle, serves as a worthy illustration of how Carnival has upped the ante in the contemporary market.

Everything -- from food to accommodations -- has gotten better over the years, and the Spirit-class ships, of which the Miracle is the fourth and final, epitomizes Carnival's evolution.

Agents really like these ships, and they have their reasons.

"The Spirit class of ships are my personal favorites," said Sandy Cleary, president of CruCon Cruise Outlets in Boston. "We're marketing to the Spirit-class yuppies and the more affluent. It's not that the price points are higher, it's just that they'll enjoy what's on board."

Cleary noted that the recent additions to cruise ships, such as Carnival's alternative-restaurant Supper Clubs and the balcony accommodations, are well-suited to a more affluent market. Eighty percent of the Carnival Miracle's staterooms are outside, and of those, 80% feature balconies.

I, for one, noticed subtle yet important changes in staterooms and suites. All ocean-view cabins now come equipped with bathrobes, and staterooms have minibars.

Even Vicki Freed, Carnival's senior vice president of marketing and sales, admits to having a sentimental attachment to the Spirit-class vessels. "I've sailed on the Carnival Legend twice on my own vacations," she said.

The Spirit-class ships have an extremely functional flow that lends an air of spaciousness to the vessels, Freed said. Public rooms are on two decks, which further enhances the flow.

But that's only part of the story. Passengers will find a whole host of onboard features, like 14,500 square feet of spa and fitness space, dining options and flexible conference space.

Miracle's gourmet tastes

Many agents also said they continue to like the traditional concept of one large, spacious dining room, another Spirit-class feature.

But it's hard to dispute the popularity of the ships' supper clubs. On the Carnival Miracle, the supper club is Nick and Nora's, which, like all the vessel's public rooms, is themed after characters from novels, songs, films, myths and theater. (Nick and Nora were characters in Dashiell Hammett's novel, "The Thin Man," and several films that followed.)

"The supper clubs are a five-star dining experience," said Cleary. "It's ... one of the main selling features I use when selling Spirit-class ships."

The Supper Club, which charges a reservation fee of $25 per person, is located atop the atrium and is illuminated by a soft red skylight. The room is appointed with vintage black-and-white photographs of New York. Versace china adorns the tables.

I found the food in Nick and Nora's to be superb, and it serves as another marker of how far Carnival has come in its culinary evolution. I also found the cuisine in the dining room and in the other eateries quite good.

Horatio's, the casual Lido Deck dining area, pays a maritime tribute to C.S. Forester stories about the British naval captain Horatio Hornblower.

The space features three-dimensional figures of the Napoleon-era captain along with a nautical theme.

It has a rotisserie, a deli, a 24/7 pizzeria, a salad bar and a grill. The area also houses a dessert station and a Taste of Nations station, which features a different ethnic cuisine every day.

The Spirit-class ships carry another sign of the times: gourmet coffee bars. The Carnival Miracle is the first Spirit-class ship to have two such venues.

The Chippendale Internet Cafe, meanwhile, offers guests a tranquil venue to check e-mails or surf the Web. The room is appointed with baroque Chippendale-esque furniture, including comfy couches and chairs.

Retaining onboard fantasy

Although the Carnival on-board product has become more sophisticated, it has not done so at the expense of an ambience that remains fanciful and fun (although perhaps a bit subtler than, say, the Fantasy-class ships).

Carnival ship architect Joe Farcus makes sure of that. In Farcus' view, he's designing an experience rather than architectural elements -- something that guests won't find in their everyday lives. "They know they're not in Kansas," he said.

Kansas the Carnival Miracle is not. Guests are more apt to feel like they've been transported to Batman's Gotham City or Superman's Metropolis -- two other Carnival Miracle themes -- but certainly not Kansas.

Other themed public areas include the Miracle's lower promenade, the Fountainhead, which takes its name from the Ayn Rand novel. The upper promenade, meanwhile, Kane's Way, comes from Orson Welles' movie, "Citizen Kane."

For the enclosed promenade, Farcus created a garden theme designed to resemble the garden from Gatsby's mansion in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby."

Dr. Frankenstein's Lab, the disco, features a larger-than-life Frankenstein. Stonewall facades provide the space with a Gothic castle ambience.

The Mad Hatter's Ball show lounge, meanwhile, transports guests into the world of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" with three-dimensional depictions of the story's characters.

In designing the Phantom Lounge, the main show lounge, Farcus took inspiration from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical "The Phantom of the Opera."

All things considered, the Carnival Miracle serves as an interactive stage for cruisers to enjoy their vacations.

To contact reporter Claudette Covey, send e-mail to [email protected].

How to sell the Miracle

ere are four tips on what types of clients to target for Carnival Miracle sailings:

Couples looking for romance

"The Carnival Miracle is a very romantic ship for couples," said Vicki Freed, Carnival Cruise Lines' senior vice president of marketing and sales. Nick and Nora's Supper Club, for instance, offers a romantic ambience and features dancing and entertainment. The ship's abundance of balcony accommodations also appeals to couples.

Empty nesters

Freed suggested targeting the Carnival Miracle toward empty nesters who might otherwise opt for vacationing at such Las Vegas hotels as Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino or the Venetian. "This ship falls into the same category," she said. "It definitely can compete with those hotels."

Weddings at sea

Carnival has a host of attractively priced wedding packages, and Jai George, president of Cruise Network in Raleigh, N.C., said his agents are looking to sell them. "We're working on one right now," he said. The Carnival Miracle's wedding chapel features stained-glass windows and depictions of the Old Testament.

Meetings and incentives

George said the ship's 59-person conference center is well designed for groups, and he likes the way in which it breaks down into three smaller rooms. The center is also equipped with audio-visual equipment. -- C.C.

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