Surprises abound aboard Carnival's Jubilee

Claudine Dervaes, president of Tampa, Fla.-based Solitaire Publishing, sailed aboard Carnival Cruise Lines' Jubilee. Her report follows:

ABOARD THE JUBILEE -- Carnival Cruise Lines' Jubilee now sails from Tampa in place of the Tropicale.

This is good news for passengers and travel agents. The ship can accommodate 1,486 passengers (about 400 more than the Tropicale) and is in good condition, featuring large cabins and well laid out public areas.

Clients who haven't sailed on a Carnival ship in some years should be pleasantly surprised by how the line has changed.

There's one word that kept coming to mind from my Jubilee experience -- no, it wasn't "fun," it was "comfortable."

If the past reputation of a Carnival ship was that it was a bit rowdy with nonstop action, gambling and mass-market food, my cruise was far from it.

If anything, the activities were fairly few and far between: Public address announcements were almost nonexistent, except for on the day at sea, and the atmosphere was laid back.

Carnival's Jubilee docked in Tampa, Fla.The food was varied and of good quality. So let me repeat: Carnival has changed.

Jubilee, a 47,262-ton liner built in 1986, offers four- and five-day itineraries from Tampa.

The four-day cruise leaves Tampa on Thursdays and sails to Key West, Fla., and Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, Mexico.

The five-day voyage sails Mondays and Saturdays, visiting Grand Cayman, Playa Del Carmen and Cozumel.

Carnival also operates seven-day cruises from Tampa aboard the 2,052-passenger Sensation.

As on most Carnival ships, the cabins are quite spacious.

In our cabin on the Empress Deck, there were three areas for hanging clothes (with lots of hangers provided), five drawers and a vanity desk area and chair.

Fairly new on Carnival ships is the basket of branded amenities: shampoos, razors, breath mints, deodorants and other goodies, some packaged with money-saving coupons for future purchases of the products.

The bathrooms are of good size, but I would suggest some additional air fresheners to overcome the bit of drain odor I kept encountering.

Outside cabins on the Empress Deck have a nice-size oceanview window.

There are 10 suites on the Verandah Deck with large private balconies. These outside suites also have whirlpool bathtubs.

The ship has 453 outside and 290 inside cabins, almost all of which have two lower beds that can be combined to create a king-size bed.

The ship's public area, called Park Lane, is particularly appealing. It has the ambience of an old English garden and leads into an area with a gazebo set amongst wooden arches softly lit with antique ceiling fans.

Situated on the Promenade Deck, this area includes the Espresso Cafe, the Gazebo Bar, the Sporting Club (a large casino), Smuggler's Lounge and the OZ disco, which is used during the daytime and early evening for children's and teens' activities.

The Jubilee on the open sea.At the two ends of the ship are the Atlantis Lounge and Terraces in the Grove Lounge. Down one deck takes you to the Trafalgar Square shopping area.

The duty-free liquor shop is small and somewhat limited. However, the clothing, jewelry and other gift shops were much more standard in size with a variety of items available.

The beauty shop also is in this area and offers innovative spa treatments (cellulite reduction, seaweed massages, French facials), hair styling and face and body care.

On the way to the Burgundy Dining Room are the glass-enclosed Speakeasy Lounge and Churchill's Library.

If I could change something, it would be to make this large, open lounge area conducive to passengers wanting to have drinks and conversation before dinner, maybe even a specialty wine bar.

The Speakeasy Lounge was used a few times during the cruise for private parties, so another area would have to suit that purpose.

Jubilee has three pools, two hot tubs, a gymnasium and men's and women's spas with saunas.

The gym is well equipped and has oceanview windows overlooking one of the pool areas.

The Burgundy and Bordeaux dining rooms were both nicely decorated. Entrees included chateaubriand, lobster, prime rib and quail plus a variety of vegetarian and pasta dishes.

In addition to the dining rooms, the Funnel Bar and Grill offered buffet meals for breakfast, lunch and alternative dinner service.

In addition, there's a popular 24-hour pizzeria, an ice cream machine, an evening sushi bar and complimentary 24-hour stateroom service.

Carnival's "total choice" dining became fleetwide this year. Changes include four staggered seating times in main restaurants, a new "team service" system in dining rooms and enhancements to the line's casual alternative restaurants.

Seating times in the main restaurants are offered at 6 p.m., 6:45 p.m., 8 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.

This schedule streamlines the overall dining room operations because the volume of orders received by the galley is spread out over intervals.

Team service enables waitstaff to be more attentive to passengers due to an increase in the number of personnel serving each table. For each section of approximately 30 guests, there's a headwaiter and two team waiters.

Camp Carnival, the cruise line's children's program available on all 15 "fun ships," offers a long list of activities.

I spoke with some passengers who had been on four or five Carnival ships. They said they were pleased with their cruise experiences.

A mother and her two adult children traveling with a group of 95 people and their travel agent had plans to book the same ship and itinerary for a family reunion cruise next summer.

I met another group of 55 passengers -- again sailing with their travel agent -- and a large group that wore T-shirts commemorating the cruise.

For my part, I found the ship, staff, food and cruise experience to be quite good. The entertainment consisted of some pretty good comedians, a Las Vegas-style show, a Mexican folkloric show and a Broadway-style show.

Jubilee is not jam-packed with activities, making our time on board very relaxing and very comfortable.

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