Carnival executives say their newest ‘˜Fun Ship’ provides the perfect family vacation in Europe. Does it?
Venice, Italy — On a sunny Saturday afternoon in March, Venetians and vacationers lined the waterfront of the Italian island city to view a true American spectacle. Floating past them was the world’s newest cruise ship, the 2,974-passenger Carnival Freedom — practically screaming Americana.
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 at the 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,’ adds 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.
‘It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s active,’ Thornton says. ‘And it’s evident in everything from the architecture of the ship to the way we design our facilities for families.’
Family Friendly Facilities
Featuring four swimming pools, Carnival Freedom’s upper deck features many facilities designed to be family friendly, including a signature 214-foot-long ‘Twister Waterslide,’ probably the one single cruise ship feature that my kids (ages 10 and 11) rave about the most; and the ‘Seaside Theatre,’ a 270-square-foot LED screen located poolside for presenting movies, concerts and other programming.
New for Carnival and making its debut on Carnival Freedom: ‘Water Wars,’ consisting of battle stations that allow families to catapult water balloons at each another.
For kids only, Camp Carnival spans 4,200 square feet and is divided into five areas: 1) a ‘movie room’ featuring a 16-monitor video wall displaying kids’ favorite films and cartoons; 2) an arts-and-crafts center with spin and sand art and candy-making machines; 3) a ‘soft play area’ with padded play equipment for the under-2 set; 4) a gaming room with PlayStation 2 consoles; 5) and a children’s library with youth-oriented books.
Teens also have a dedicated area called ‘Club O2.’ The 1,800-square-foot teen club, designed for teens ages 15 to 17, features a dance floor, a DJ, and a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system, a lounge serving non-alcoholic specialty drinks, and a video game room with 60 of the latest video and arcade games. There is also a library with popular teen-oriented books and magazines. Also, through Carnival’s teen shore excursion program, teen counselors accompany kids ages 12-17 who can participate in a variety of ‘just-for-teens’ shoreside experiences.
For families who want to remain close to one another, Carnival Freedom offers dozens of interconnecting accommodations, along with special discounts for third and fourth guests staying in the same stateroom.
Special kid-friendly dining options include children’s menus in the main dining rooms, 24-hour pizza and ice cream at the poolside restaurant, a children’s turn-down service providing freshly baked cookies at bedtime, and Carnival’s ‘Fountain Fun Card,’ which, for a one-time fee, provides unlimited soft drinks throughout the voyage. Children can also have dinner with the youth counselors in the Lido restaurant.
Europe On A Shoestring
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.’
The Bottom Line
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 — and particularly families — who want to cruise Europe, true (red, white) and blue.