Simply walking around Carnival Spirit is like taking a trip around the world. Legendary Carnival Cruise Lines designer Joe Farcus seems to have been inspired by every design style he could think of. The show lounge is decorated with Egyptian hieroglyphics and murals, the piano bar is an homage to Shanghai and "Chinoise" style, the Artists' Lobby highlights famed European artists, the Supper Club vibrates with the bright colours of Art Deco, the Chippendale Library is straight out of an English country manor house, and the Empire Dining Room is so French it has a statue of Napoleon. Initially, the hodgepodge of styles can be overwhelming, although the casino feels comparatively sedate because, despite the flashing lights and dinging bells, the room isn't done up as a Swiss alpine lodge or a Mayan temple. But once you start focusing on the activities in each room -- the dancers onstage in the show lounge or the food on the table in La Playa Grille -- the decor starts to fade into the background. It becomes the exuberant backdrop to a place that is more fun and whimsical than your daily life.
The ship, which introduced a whole new class for Carnival (its sister ships are Carnival Legend, Carnival Pride and Carnival Miracle), shares its basic design with Costa Atlantica and offers all the best of earlier Carnival vessels -- a waterslide, numerous bars and extensive children's facilities. It also introduced some firsts for Carnival that have since become standards, including a fabulous steakhouse and a wedding chapel.
In early 2012, the ship underwent a $7 million refurbishment to ready it for its new home in Australia. The cruise line added a new aqua park and waterslide called Green Thunder, a 180-foot-long twister that begins with a near-vertical drop; the Serenity deck space, Carnival's signature adults-only retreat (for those ages 18 and older); and a new top-deck barbecue venue named Fat Jimmy's C-Side BBQ. Aussies will also be able to leave the adapters at home, as all cabins and suites sport Australian three-slotted power points. Local Australian beers now share the bar with other brews, and coffee is much better thanks to the introduction of good espresso machines and trained baristas. More interconnecting cabins were also added.
Here are some of our favourite onboard offerings:
Nouveau Steakhouse. Look up the ship's soaring nine-deck atrium, and you'll see a striking red stained-glass dome. It's part of the fine alternative dining venue on top of the Spirit. You'll need to pay a service charge of A$35 per person to get in, but it's worth every penny. Many lines brag about bringing luxury elements to the mainstream cruise experience, but Carnival nails it with the food and service at this specialty steakhouse. From the first presentation of the cuts of meat available on that night's menu through to the exquisitely designed (and diet-murdering) desserts, we were convinced we were dining in some exclusive, five-star restaurant -- and we were the celebrity VIPs.
The Wedding Chapel. This light, wood-panelled space with its angel fresco feels important -- and it should be. Real weddings have been conducted there by the ship's captain when Carnival Spirit cruised in Canadian waters. Carnival Cruises says it is currently working on a weddings programme for Australians, which it will launch in 2013. The chapel is also the venue for vow renewals.
The Gym. Most cruise ship fitness centres look the same, but Carnival Spirit's gym is an original, tiered like a Roman amphitheater so you get a view of the ocean from every piece of its state-of-the-art equipment. While the arrangement is attractive and unique, you've got to be pretty self-confident in your spandex to work out there. The tiered layout means that, from your position on the cross-trainer machines, you may be staring directly at the stair climbers across the room, and the runners on the treadmill are looking down on everyone. But the people having the last laugh are the happy soakers enjoying the hot tub that's positioned smack-dab in the centre of the gym. (It's also the waiting area for passengers about to have a spa treatment.) We stuck to the cross-trainers at the base of the stairs, which are slightly more tucked away.
Carnival Spirit feels large but not particularly crowded, and despite a plethora of rooms, it's fairly easy to find your way around. The public areas are mostly contained on Decks 2 and 3 and then up and outside on Decks 9 and 10. Once we figured out that the restaurant is aft and the show lounge is forward, we plotted out the most efficient way to get anywhere we were going. Typically that meant determining whether the casino on Deck 2 would be extra crowded, which would slow you down right in the one of the few places where smoking is allowed onboard, or whether it would be prime shopping time, making the trip past the shops and photo gallery on Deck 3 an obstacle course.
With any Carnival ship, you have to understand what you're getting. Cruise travellers looking for lots of enrichment or destination-based programming, or those looking for a wide variety of athletic pursuits onboard, won't find what they're looking for on Carnival Spirit. Education just isn't the goal. And while we expect Carnival crewmembers to be friendly and to do their jobs well, don't expect to be bowled over by white-glove service. That said, we found the waitress in the Nouveau Steakhouse a mine of information as she explained the different cuts of meat, and the wait between courses was minimal.
What the ship is designed for is having a good time, whether that be socialising over a drink or two, getting into the campy spirit of pool games, enjoying a song-and-dance show or zipping down a waterslide. We didn't try the new Green Thunder waterslide, billed as the steepest and fastest at sea, not because we're wimpy but because there was such a long queue waiting to ride it. But we did have a go on the yellow Twister ride, with glimpses of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House from various twists and curves. And we weren't the only ones who found an excuse to get up and dance in the disco, in the atrium, out on deck or even in the dining room. From families with young children to senior couples, this ship caters to everyone -- everyone, that is, who's looking to spend their vacation having quite a bit of fun.
Carnival Spirit has heeded the Australian market (which hates tipping and always asks "why can't they just pay their staff a proper wage?") and moved to include all tips in the cruise fare. Even the usual 15 percent, which is normally added to the price of bar drinks, has been scrapped.
The 1,300-seat, two-deck Empire Restaurant has a Napoleonic splendour, the ceiling domes painted with murals and hung with crystal chandeliers. Even the large portholes are trimmed in gold, and the grand circular staircase is decorated with a sculpture of Napoleon at his coronation. Flanking the entrances are pilasters in the form of female statues. You'll either love it or find it over-the-top. (It grew on us.) Passengers can opt for assigned tables at one of two dinner seatings (6 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.) or choose Your Time Dining, open-seating on the starboard side of the upper level anytime from 5:45 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. There are tables for two, four and six, but fewer than usual for eight or more. (Intimacy was obviously the goal.)
Menus consist of starters (entrees, soups and salads), main meals and desserts, with healthier Spa Carnival choices and always-available Carnival Classics dishes like Caesar salad, French fries, grilled fillet of mahi mahi, grilled chicken breast and steak. Vegetarian items are always on the menu, but they aren't marked; be warned that the hot soups are typically made with chicken broth. Food quality ranges from mediocre to excellent, but waiters provide song-and-dance entertainment in the dining room most nights.
Breakfast and lunch are also served in the dining room for those who want waiter service (though lunch service may not be available on all port days). Couples will typically be seated with another party. The breakfast menu had all the standards without much innovation, but the food there was a better quality than in the buffet-style La Playa Grille Lido Restaurant.
The reservations-only, 156-seat Nouveau Steakhouse Restaurant at the top of the ship features aged prime beef, including a 14-ounce New York strip, a 24-ounce classic porterhouse, an 18-ounce prime rib and a 9-ounce filet mignon, plus other dishes, for a service fee of A$35 per person. All beef is imported from the United States. If you appreciate great food and service, the experience is a must and definitely worth the price. The service is on par with luxury lines. Of particular note are the waitresses who know their meat, so to speak, and the sommelier who can walk you through the wine list and help you choose the perfect vintage.
The food, served over four courses, was so delicious and hearty that we regrettably only had room for fruit salad for dessert. We don't normally eat tartare but opted for the tuna tartare entree, and it was lovely; the surf and turf (steak and lobster tail) was gorgeous, and everyone at our larger table ordered it, while tablemates were cooing about their more caloric desserts. The cuts of meat are plump, juicy and attractively decorated with sprigs of rosemary. Vegetarians should not be worried by the steakhouse moniker, as the vegetarian options are just as tasty. For A$35 a head, it's a steal, and the area has its own bar, which is the perfect place for pre- and post-dinner drinks. One enters this lovely restaurant via lifts or via a somewhat scary see-through glass staircase. It's OK walking up, but going down the staircase is a little disconcerting.
Previously, the restaurant was called the Nouveau Supper Club and featured entertainment, which Carnival has phased out. The stage area has been taken away to allow more room for dining. It better suits the gourmet cruiser, who wants to enjoy a special meal without loud music. However, entertainment does occur during the Chef's Table experience, which affords a dozen passengers a multicourse dinner with a master chef, a private cocktail reception and a tour of the galley and its operations. This dining option takes place in Nouveau and costs A$75 per person. It can be booked onboard at the information desk.
La Playa Grille Lido Restaurant is the casual alternative for buffet-style breakfasts and lunches. The buffet is arranged in stations to improve passenger flow and reduce long queues. At lunch, you'll find an international "Taste of the Nations" food station, featuring a different cuisine each day, including Japanese or Indian (our favourite nation was chocolate!); an all-Asian buffet line; made-to-order deli sandwiches; a rotisserie; a disappointing salad bar (limp lettuce, soggy veggies and a general lack of options); and a dessert bar. Breakfast includes a made-to-order omelette station, in addition to typical breakfast pastries, fruits, cereals and hot items like pancakes and bacon. A pizzeria is open 24 hours a day (with excellent Caesar salad), and a small outpost of the Fountains Cafe serves up specialty coffees for a fee.
We found the buffet choices reasonable but not as good as we'd experienced on other mass-market ships we've travelled on. However, another cruiser recommends you grab the ribs if they are on the buffet menu -- they're said to be yummy.
The Fat Jimmy's C-Side Grill by the pool offers hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled chicken breasts, hot chips and, Aussie favourite, barbecued sausages from noon to 6 p.m. Both ice cream and frozen yogurt self-serve machines are stationed fore and aft of the Playa Grille. (Look out for afternoon sundae bars when fun ice cream toppings are available.)
At night, one section of the buffet is open as the Seaview Bistro, a no-fee casual dining option that's perfect for those who want a quick bite without the formality of the dining room. There's typically one hot line with a carving station, salad bar and dessert bar. You'll find some repeats from that evening's main dining room menu and other dishes prepared specially for the Lido buffet.
For late-night munchies, there is the "late night bistro" from 11:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.
The Fountain Cafe coffee shop serves specialty drinks (from around A$1 for tea to A$3.50 for large cappuccinos and lattes), milkshakes (A$3.95) and cakes, cookies and chocolate-covered strawberries (A$1.25 to A$4).
Afternoon tea is served in the Artists' Lobby. Waiters come around with hot water, a choice of teas and a cart with scones, pastries and finger sandwiches. The treats vary in quality (go for the scones), and the tables are too small for pots of tea (they're pretty crowded with the tea cups and dessert plates), but it's a delightful way to pass an hour in the afternoon. Just be prepared for the sugar rush that is bound to follow.
Twenty four-hour room service is also available from a limited menu of soup, sandwiches, salads, pies, pizza and desserts. (You cannot order room service from the dining room menu.) Each item costs between A$3 and A$5, with the most expensive items being the pies, sandwiches and pizza. There is a separate room service continental breakfast, with items ranging from A$2 for fruits and cereals to A$3 for breakfast breads with spreads beverages, hot and cold. Full stateroom bar service is available from 9 a.m. until 3 a.m. at bar prices.
About 80 percent of the cabins are outsides and, of those, 80 percent offer balconies and sitting areas, meaning there are more than 600 balcony cabins. The 213 inside cabins measure 185 square feet (17.2 square meters) and are pretty spacious for standard cabins. Outside cabins measure 220 square feet (20.4 square meters), while balcony cabins are also 185 square feet with balconies measuring another 35 square feet (3.25 square meters), 60 square feet (5.57 square meters) or 75 square feet (6.96 square meters), depending on category. Standard balconies each feature two metal chairs with plastic mesh seating and a small metal table. Obstructed-view cabins located behind the lifeboats on Deck 4 (category 4K) have French doors that open to allow light and air, but have no balconies.
Sixteen cabins have been modified for wheelchair access.
All cabins feature attractive decor in pleasant, if a bit bland, earth tones; twin beds that convert to a king; new flat-screen colour televisions showing Carnival programming, regular TV and both free and pay-per-view movies; a vanity area with drawers, a safe, a hair dryer (in a desk drawer), mini-bar and a phone. Bedside lamps provide enough light to read by. The family-sized Ocean View Quad option and balcony staterooms have sofas that convert to third beds, while fourth beds drop down over the sofas. Cabins have now been fitted with Australian power points. Closets provide ample storage space, but the hangers are the kind that can't be removed from the rod. You can ask your steward for more, or bring your own hangers if it's important to you.
Bathrooms come with shower gel and shampoo dispensers in the shower, as well as bars of soap, but if you like particular shampoo brands and other toiletries, it's best to bring your own -- as well as moisturisers and cotton balls. The shower has a curtain on a curved rod to avoid the clingy curtain syndrome. The shower head is adjustable, and a retractable clothesline is perfect for hanging up wet bathing suits. There's plenty of shelf space in the bathroom for storing toiletries.
Carnival has never emphasized the uber-suites that some big ship lines have embraced, but there are options for more spacious accommodation. Suites measure 275 square feet (25.55 square meters) with 65-square-foot (6-square-meter) balconies, and Penthouse Suites measure 345 square feet (32 square meters) with 85-square-foot (7.9-square-meter) balconies. Suites each include separate dressing and sitting areas, double sinks and a bathtub in the bathroom, plus large balconies with lounge chairs in addition to the regular chairs and table.
The ship has 42 sets of interconnecting staterooms: balcony to suite, balcony to interior cabin, double to quad and everything in between to cater for families and large groups. Cabins with connecting doors tend to be noisier, regardless of whether you have the connecting door open or not.
On its Australia cruises, Carnival expects lots of families in the summer (December to late January) and Easter school holidays and then perhaps retirees from February to June and almost everyone in-between during the rest of the year, with an emphasis on the "middle Australia, let's have fun" crowd. Passengers will most likely have cruised before on local P&O, Princess or Royal Caribbean ships.
Carnival's nightlife is legendary and if you come aboard ready to party you will not be disappointed. The ship has 12 lounges and bars to suit every mood, many featuring live music (everything from country to old standards, jazz and modern dance music). The Atrium Bar is at the centre of pre-dinner socialising, and couples dance to the sounds of the guitarist or saxophonist perched above the bar. We loved to watch them and cheered when an 80-year-old man -- and one of the better dancers in the group -- berated the younger couples for not getting out on the dance floor. The two bars adjacent to the Deck 2 and 3 dining room entrances -- the Artists' Lobby (the backs of the banquettes feature reproductions of art classics from Gauguin, Klimpt and others) and Deco Lounge (done in Art Deco style) -- are great spots for people-watching to the sounds of jazz, especially on formal nights. We saw everything from Zoot Suits to designer jeans.
The popular Shanghai Bar, decorated in a "Chinoise" style with walls covered in Chinese fabric and silk screens illuminated from behind , is the singalong piano bar. The pianist on our sailing was fantastic and played all the "hits and memories." This is the place to be perched on a bar stool, night after night. Below the Shanghai Bar, in Club Cool, karaoke reigns supreme every evening. Karaoke, too, has a loyal following, with a fairly wide range of talents. However, be prepared for some great performances by the staff, who turn up to do a star turn every now and then. The Champions' Sports Bar offers wide-screen televisions for catching the big games and also doubles as the cigar bar. This bar has had a facelift, and the walls are now adorned with photos of Australian sports champions like superstar sprinter Cathy Freeman and swimmer Kieren Perkins. Rugby League posters for the various teams also have pride of place.
The three-level Pharaoh's Palace show lounge is decorated with hieroglyphics, 20-foot-tall stone figures and sarcophagi inspired by King Tutankhamun's golden mask, to set the scene for Vegas-style revues and guest comedians. Seating is in comfortable high-back theatre chairs, but bring a wrap or sweater -- they've got the air-conditioning turned way up in there. Song-and-dance shows on my cruise were toe-tapping fun with lots of energy, featuring songs from the Big Band era and an excellent homage to New Orleans called "The Big Easy."
Day or night, the Louis XIV Casino was always packed with hopeful passengers trying to win a few bucks. The casino has 220 slots, plus tables for roulette/dice, blackjack and poker (including Three Card Poker, Let It Ride, Caribbean Stud Diamond and video poker). Three tables are reserved for blackjack tournaments. All poker machines now take Australian coins. The Dancin' Dance Club (a disco with a none-too-imaginative but apt name) is a two-tiered dance club with a two-storey 20-by-20-foot video wall with 48-inch monitors and colourful, swirly-design banquettes and drink tables.
We referred to the Deck 1 Versailles Lounge as "Brigadoon" because we didn't even notice it until halfway through the cruise (stairs next to the Deck 2 Pharaoh's Palace entrance), and we could never find any events going on there. It's a whimsical space with walls decorated in fairytale scenes of village homes and a castle. (At night, twinkle lights embedded in the walls look like stars.) On the second-last night, we finally found the lounge listed in the "FunTimes" and enjoyed a cover band that played modern dance music.
During the day, Carnival Spirit focuses on fun in the sun. Passengers can participate in arts and crafts (visor-painting, needlepoint), lots of trivia contests, bridge and other games in the card room, silly pool games that might include Rubber Chicken Olympics and a Men's Hairy Chest Contest, the occasional wine-tasting, towel animal-making and bingo. The closest thing to enrichment lectures are the free spa seminars on health, diet and wellness, but that's Carnival's choice. The cruise line's focus is on having a good time and not about an educational vacation. On sunny days, the pool and sun decks are the places to be; on cool days, the casino is hopping.
There is a huge range of shore excursions available in the islands of New Caledonia, along with Vanuatu and Fiji. Many appear to be overpriced, particularly the Tchou Tchou train (le petit train) and the trip to Duck Island in Noumea, which can normally be had for half the price. Also avoid taking the A$59 Isle of Pines trip that ventures to Oro Bay. Once you get off the tender boat at Isle of Pines, there are two lovely beaches to relax at, and if you want to go to Oro (about 20 minutes away and said to be absolutely amazing for swimming and snorkelling), look out for local islander men who offer the trips for about A$20 in their own cars. Another overpriced ship excursion is the Cascades tour (to the Mele Cascades) near Port Vila, Vanuatu. If you want to go to the Mele Cascades (a series of waterfalls deemed by many to be the best attraction in Port Vila), organise a taxi with friends (about 7,000 vatu or A$73 return) to get there, and pay the normal gate entrance (around A$20) yourself.
Those who don't mind spending money and want to be looked after will be happy to do the ship's excursions, and it may be preferable to book adventurous trips or those with many components (such as a cultural tour/village visits) with the cruise line to avoid a lot of work for yourself.
|Fitness and Recreation|
The Grecian-inspired, Steiner-operated Spa Carnival incorporates Doric columns and hand-painted murals that feature a Greek vase motif and depictions of Olympic events. The two-level, 13,700-square-foot oceanview facility, located forward on Decks 9 and 10, offers sauna and steam rooms (free) in the men's and women's locker rooms, a beauty salon, a whirlpool in the centre of the gym and 10 treatment rooms for spa therapies, ranging from aroma hot stone massages and acupuncture to facials and body wraps. Prices are steep, as on all ships, ranging from around $65 for a pedicure and $95 for a man's shave to $155 for a 50-minute hot stone massage. Watch out for combo packages and port specials for discounted pricing.
Free fitness classes held in the decent-sized aerobics room include stretching, abs workouts, Chinese longevity exercises and boot camp; group cycling classes were held on a couple of days for around $12. The class options were minimal compared with other cruise lines: no yoga or Pilates and only two to three fitness classes held each day. The morning stretching class we attended was popular, despite the early start time, while the afternoon spinning class we peeked in at only had three participants. Perhaps by the afternoon, people are already ensconced in a sunny spot up on deck or too busy with other activities.
The gym itself features a tiered design, so you get ocean views from every piece of equipment. In addition to weight machines and free weights, the fitness centre offers stationary and recumbent bikes, cross-trainers, stair climbers, treadmills and a rowing machine. Be warned that the steam from the whirlpool does rise, making the temperature on the upper tiers a little warm. We went to work out first thing in the morning on the first sea day and had to wait in line for a spot on a cardio machine. (Every machine was in use, with the exception of a stair-stepper and a recumbent bike.) We were told that the crowd thins out after a few days, but we simply switched our workouts to a later hour. If you've got late-seating dinner, head to the gym at 6 p.m. The only people in there are crewmembers because they know it won't be crowded. (We saw several dancers and one of the ship's engineers.)
Nutrition programmes and body composition analyses are available for a fee, and the free seminars found on most ships (Secrets to a Flatter Stomach, Eat More to Weigh Less, etc.) are held on Carnival Spirit, as well.
There are two jogging tracks onboard. The longer Deck 10 track is only available for running in the early morning or evening because daytime runners would have to hurdle lounge chairs, dodge drink waiters and race past passengers snapping pictures of their friends at sea. As it is, you'll have to dodge walkers and early-bird sunbathers who take over the deck. Three-and-a-half laps equal a mile (or 1.6 kilometers). The Deck 11 track at the front of the ship is 14 laps per mile (or 1.6 kilometers), and you'll circle the nine-hole mini-golf course and basketball court again and again and again. Wear your seabands so you don't get dizzy! The mini-golf course isn't outfitted with crazy obstacles like windmills or water features, but its top-deck location with all the wind and ship movement make it a more challenging game than you'd expect. Ping-Pong tables are located on Deck 10 overlooking the pools. A golf simulator on Deck 10 mid-ship lets passengers practice their swings and putts.
Three swimming pools (two mid-ship, one aft) are each flanked by a hot tub and freezing-cold showers to wash off the salt water. Sculptures of evil-looking green birds tower over each pool; we're really not sure why. One of the mid-ship pools is covered by a retractable dome for all-weather use. Plastic lounge chairs with plastic mesh seats are plentiful throughout Decks 9 to 11; be careful when you recline or adjust the back height of the loungers, just in case they're broken. The Lido Deck stage is the place for poolside music and silly pool games, such as beanbag toss, the Chicken Olympics (a series of games involving rubber chickens) and ice-carving.
Carnival WaterWorks is a top-ship space comprising two waterslides (a traditional yellow Twister slide and Green Thunder, a 180-foot-long tube that begins with a near-vertical drop) and the Splash Zone for kids, which features a new Power Drencher -- a huge bucket that periodically dumps water on passengers -- and two purple mini-waterslides.
One deck below is the Serenity deck space, Carnival's signature adults-only retreat, featuring a pool, hot tub and plenty of super-plush loungers, hammocks and pod lounges -- two-person cane huts for luxuriating out of the sun. These cozy pods are extremely popular, and there have been complaints of partying types crashing out in them overnight (after too much booze) and commandeering them for the whole day or people getting up before dawn to stake their claim on a pod. Let's hope Carnival sorts out what could be a very contentious issue.
The line's complimentary children's programmes cater to all ages, from 2-year-olds to teenagers in five separate age groups with different hangouts on different decks.
Camp Carnival offers activities for children, ages 2 to 5; juniors from 6 to 8; and kids from 9 to 11 in a large space at the bow of the ship. Circle C is for 12- to 14-year-olds, while Club O2 is for those of ages 15 to 17 and is located at the top of the ship on Deck 10. Fun activities and facilities include big-screen TV's for movies or Nintendo Wii play, video game stations, toys and games, and materials for arts and crafts projects. The younger kids have toys and games galore, along with arts and crafts. There may be magic shows, face-painting and pizza-making on offer, along with the ever-popular scavenger hunts.
The ship offers late night baby-sitting in Camp Carnival, and a Night Owls programme (late-night parties for kids) is run at least once on each cruise. There is no in-cabin baby-sitting. Group baby-sitting is offered every night from 10 p.m. until 3 a.m. and is designed as a fun-filled slumber party. Kids can enjoy a variety of activities and light snacks, with pillows and blankets provided when the little ones get sleepy. The cost is A$8 per hour, per child.
The Night Owls programme is divided into three categories: Owl Jams, a night of high-energy fun that runs from 10 p.m. until midnight for 2 to 11-year-olds; Fun 'Til One, an action-packed night catering for 6 to 8-year-olds from 10 p.m. until 1 a.m. and Fun at Sea, 'Til 3:00, which offers late-night activities throughout the ship from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. for kids from ages 9 to 11. The fee is A$8 per hour, per child.
Accessible only via stairs down from Camp Carnival or up from the Jungle Walk, the Circle C hangout for 12- to 14-year-olds is located on Deck 4. The tweens certainly have a real hideaway; it took me half the cruise to figure out how to get there! The lounge features game consoles and a dance floor, and supervised activities include games like charades and Apple to Apples, themed dance parties and sports competitions. Next door, a video arcade is open to kids and adults alike, but many adults never find it. Kids have reserved arcade hours when all games are free and no parents are allowed.
The teen lounge is also tricky to find; it's outside the aerobics studio on Deck 10. Club O2 also has TV's for movie-watching and video-game play, as well as a dance area and a "mocktail" bar that serves up sodas and nonalcoholic smoothies and fruit drinks. Teen activities include movie trivia, Guitar Hero rock-offs, hot tub hangouts and late-night parties.
The almost-hidden location of Camp Carnival is fairly unusual; while some cruise ships will try to corral the kids into one section of the ship, we've never needed a detailed map to find the kids' areas before. However, we found many of the kids onboard our cruise to be rowdy and running amok.
Babies and toddlers, aged 6 months to 2 years, cannot participate in Camp Carnival activities, but they do have additional baby-sitting hours (fees apply) on port days, with hours varying from port to port. On sea days, parents can drop toddlers off from noon to 2 p.m. for a fee or use the facilities for parent-child playtime for no extra charge. The regular late-night baby-sitting is available for children younger than 2, as well. Camp Carnival counsellors do change nappies.
Children of all ages can use the onboard pools, including nontoilet-trained kids in swim diapers. A children's wading pool, complete with nearby mini-slides, is located on Deck 11 by the waterslide. Waterslides are subject to a height and weight restrictions.
Children's menus are featured in the main dining room, and kids aged 2 to 11 can dine with the counsellors on the Lido Deck most nights. A Fountain Fun card, good for unlimited soft drinks, costs around A$37 for eight-day voyages. (Adults can also choose a soda package for around A$50.)
Carnival has a pretty laid-back dress policy. Most evenings are "Cruise Casual" when passengers can wear anything from nice jeans and dress shorts to trousers and casual skirts or sundresses. As long as you're not wearing swimwear, workout clothes or a man's sleeveless T-shirt, you won't be turned away. One or two nights per cruise will be designated "Cruise Elegant" -- men are requested to wear at least dress trousers and shirts, with the option of a jacket, suit or tuxedo. Suggested attire for women is cocktail dresses or gowns, or dressy trouser suits or skirts. Most people do seem to dress to the nines on these nights, creating a festive atmosphere as couples and families pose for photos while other passengers people-watch in the Atrium Bar and Artist's Lobby.
By day, the dress code is tropical as the ship visits the gorgeous isles of New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji (with the occasional foray to New Zealand, where it's a little bit cooler).
Decks 2 and 3 form the hub of the ship, with a combination of public areas, bars and lounges. Passenger flow is excellent. The public rooms are connected by a two-level promenade with a grand staircase leading from one level to the other. At the ground level of the atrium on Deck 2 are the guest services and shore excursions desks. Farther forward on that level is the Monarch's Card Room, often packed with bridge and other game players, while the Fountain Cafe seating area is the spot for trivia and arts and crafts.
Upstairs on Deck 3, the Art Deco Walk combines a seating area with the ship's main shopping boulevard. Heading from fore to aft, the Jungle winter garden is a walkway with seating areas and porthole windows, decorated with jungle animals like giraffes and orangutans. It accesses the stairs leading to the kids' areas one flight up, and it's a favourite hangout for teens and tweens. The Wedding Chapel is the location for vow renewals, but there are plans for wedding ceremonies.
The Chippendale Library and Internet Cafe has a small collection of books, 10 computer terminals and a printer, as well as comfy chairs. Internet packages cost around A$100 for 250 minutes, A$55 for 100 minutes, or pay as you go at around 75 cents a minute. Carnival does not offer any computer education classes.
Continuing along, the Fun Shops on either side of the walkway sell jewellery and watches, makeup, perfume, alcohol, Carnival logowear, resort wear and sundries. Formalities is a combination candy shop and formalwear rental shop. The photo gallery surrounds the atrium; photos are priced from A$7.99 to A$21.99 (based on photo type, not size), and you can add a digital image file to your purchase for an additional A$9.99. They also sell cameras, photo frames and scrapbooking materials, or you can print out photos from your own digital camera on special machines, again for a fee. Every evening a selection of backdrops is available for portrait sittings. The most clever one we saw was a Christmas tree and gifts background, so you can take your family photo to make Christmas cards.
A conference room is located outside the Deco Lounge at the aft end of the deck. On our cruise it housed the Park West art auction collection.
Self-service launderettes are located on the stateroom decks. There are two or three washers and dryers, as well as one iron and ironing board in each launderette. The costs is A$3.25 per washing load and A$3.25 per dryer load. Tokens for the machines can be bought from the guest services. Vending machines dispense small boxes of detergent and water softener at A$1.50 per box, and this is charged to your Sail & Sign Card.
A medical centre is located on Deck A.
|Expert reviews are provided by CruiseCritic.com, an award-winning cruise community. This objective information can help you choose just the right ship for your next cruise vacation.|