Cruising Europe, American Style
Ralph Grizzle reports from Carnival Freedom inaugural events in Venice
Shortly after noon this past Saturday, Venetians and vacationers lined the waterfront of the Italian island city to view an American spectacle. Floating past them was the world’s newest cruise ship, the 3,700-passenger Carnival Freedom — practically screaming Americana.
Reminiscent of an American flag, the ship’s trademark red, white and blue funnel, more than 13 decks up, soared well above the Venetian skyline. Passengers in the Freedom Restaurant (on Lido Deck) peered past an ice-blue Statue of Liberty (towering two decks) on Venice’s age-old basilicas, while the ship’s signature blue “Twister” waterslide snaked against the backdrop of Saint Mark’s Square.
Though Carnival Freedom was built in Marghera, Italy (on the mainland shore just west of Venice), she appeared to be a long way from home. Whereas ships operated by cruise lines with roots in Europe (Holland America Line, P&O Cruises, Costa Cruises) might appear at home cruising the waters of the Northern Adriatic Sea, Carnival’s colorful and colossal ship looked like an American tourist waving his national colors.
The resemblance to an American abroad should not be disregarded by U.S. travelers. Indeed, the predominant story of this past weekend’s christening of Carnival Cruise Lines’ 22nd ship (and its first in two years) was one not of the ship itself but of the line’s commitment to introducing Americans (primarily) and families (particularly) to the wonders across the Big Pond — at affordable prices.
Underscoring that emphasis, Carnival chose Kathy Ireland, the former supermodel turned businesswoman, to serve as godmother of the ship. Ireland, who broke a ceremonial jerboam of Veuve Clicquot across the bow, remained on board after inaugural events to cruise with her husband, three children (ages 12, 8 and 3) and their grandparents. “It’s a wonderful way to see the world, particularly if you have children,” Ireland told The Avid Cruiser. “The ship is really family friendly. There’s something for everyone.”
“Based on the combination of the amenities aboard the Carnival Freedom and the ports we chose, it really is a perfect family vacation,” says Terry Thornton, vice president of marketing planning for Carnival Cruise Lines. And while almost any North American cruise line operating in Europe could make such a claim, Thornton says what distinguishes Carnival is that the line brings to Europe “a kind of a youthful vitality” to a travel destination that is becoming increasingly popular with young children and families.
The combination of the ship’s amenities and features along with the ports of call and shoreside activities makes Carnival Freedom a good bet for families. “It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s active,” he says. “And it’s evident in everything from the architecture of the ship to the way we design our facilities for families.”
From Camp Carnival for kids to the new teen Club 02, Carnival “really put together a spectacular product for the younger market,” Thornton says. “And when you combine that with family friendly activities ashore, it makes for a vacation ideally suited for mulitgenerational families. There’s not a hotel or a resort in the region that offers the variety of experiences that Carnival does — and at such an affordable price.”
With lead-in rates priced below four figures, Carnival appears well-poised for families reluctant to pony up total vacation costs expected to approach or exceed five figures on another North American cruise line celebrating its inaugural season — the Disney Magic, sailing from Barcelona. Indeed, Carnival executives expect the line’s European itineraries to be especially popular among Carnival’s repeat guests.
Following the nine-day inaugural cruise underway this week, Carnival Freedom will offer the line’s first foray into the Greek Isles and Turkey. She will sail seven 12-day Mediterranean & Greek Isles cruises and a dozen 12-day ‘Grand Mediterranean’ voyages through October 16. Cruises will operate round-trip from Civitavecchia, the port for Rome.
The 12-day Mediterranean & Greek Isles cruises include eight ports: Naples, Italy; Rhodes, Greece; Izmir (Ephesus) and Istanbul, Turkey; Athens (Piraeus) and Katakolon, Greece; and Livorno, Italy, as well as an overnight call in Rome (Civitavecchia).
The 12-day ‘Grand Mediterranean’ cruises visit seven ports: Naples, Italy; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Venice, Italy (two-day call); Messina, Sicily; Barcelona, Spain; Cannes, France; and Livorno, Italy.
These cruises offer guests a variety of landside experiences, including visiting the legendary Acropolis and the Temple of Poseidon in Greece, as well as the ancient cities of Olympia, Priere, Didyma and Miletus, which are four of the best-preserved settlements of Grecian history. Also included is an overnight call in Civitavecchia, allowing time for shore excursions to Rome to see the centuries-old Coliseum or to Vatican City to tour St. Peter’s Basilica. Extended calls in Istanbul give guests time to visit the fabled Blue Mosque and Topkapi Museum.
A number of shore excursions have been designed to appeal to families. In Barcelona, for example, family bicycling tours are offered. On board Carnival Freedom, kid-friendly dining options include special children’s menus in the main dining room, 24-hour pizza, ice cream at the poolside restaurant and a special children’s turn-down service providing freshly baked cookies.
The fifth in Carnival’s Conquest class, Carnival Freedom strives to provide for its past passengers the comfort of cruising Europe with a familiar name. And with an on-board passenger mix expected to exceed 90 percent North American on each sailing, the ship also may appeal to less intrepid travelers who want to cruise Europe, true (red, white) and blue.
Note: Carnival Freedom repositions to Miami following its inaugural season in Europe to offer a series of seven-day cruises. She returns to Europe in 2008.