Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Today is a major milestone for me, personally. On this first day of February, 2014, I’ve embarked on my very first Carnival Cruise Lines’ cruise aboard the brand-new Carnival Breeze at the Port of Miami. And I couldn’t be more surprised at how today has gone.
Even if you haven’t sailed with Carnival, chances are you know about Carnival. After all, they’re the world’s most popular cruise line. But how much do you really know about the line? As it turns out, my own knowledge of the line was about to get a major overhaul.
I arrived at the Port of Miami just after 11:45 am, which was still in advance of the 1pm arrival time Carnival recommended. I was surprised to see so many people there so early; clearly, I was one of the latecomers to the party!
With a double-occupancy capacity of 3,690 guests, I was concerned that embarkation would be a bit of a nightmare. After all, that’s a lot of people to manage. But I can think of a few airlines that could take lesson from today’s simple, straightforward embarkation experience.
Carnival’s terminals at the Port are absolutely beautiful, and extremely well-organized. Upon arrival, guests are warmly welcomed with cheerful, smiling Carnival representatives that usher guests first through passport formalities before proceeding through a simple security check.
After that, guests are directed to check-in on Level 2, unless they are Platinum or Diamond members with the line, or are occupying a suite.
Each guest is given a large rectangular plastic card that contains an embarkation number. Once that number is called, those guests then give that card to a representative who checks to ensure only those with that number are embarking. Unlike when boarding an aircraft, there’s no sneaking in line here!
Not even twenty minutes had elapsed from the time I entered the terminal to the time I received my Sail & Sign keycard. Carnival really knows how to handle a crowd, and their terminal is bright and airy, with a two-story high ceiling and banks of windows that looked out onto the Carnival Breeze.
Now, even just after Noon, the waiting area was jam-packed. If you don’t want to wait, I’d recommend purchasing the line’s Faster to the Fun! Pass that allows for early embarkation. Or, you could always just arrive later. Something tells me that had I arrived after 1pm, the waiting area would have been deserted.
For me, the best part of embarkation are those few seconds where I am walking across the gangway. You’re tantalisingly close, and the Carnival Breeze looms large overhead. The glass walkway lets you see every inch of her. The terminal is disappearing behind you, and you start to smell the sweet mixture of seawater and the ship’s air conditioning systems as you get closer. And then suddenly, you cross the threshold and you’re onboard, walking into the Deck 3 level of the Breeze Lobby, complete with an atrium that stretches up to Deck 12.
Here’s what surprised me: Carnival Breeze is a really beautiful ship. Literally Queen Mary 2 beautiful, but in a different way. It’s bright, vibrant and open; not nearly as dark and closed-off feeling as some of the line’s other vessels. I had the opportunity to tour the Carnival Splendour three years ago and found her contrasting pink-and-black colour scheme to be quite enveloping. Not so here; even the stateroom corridors are Caribbean-themed, with large murals painted on the walls and faux wooden slat texturing on the stateroom doors.
On this voyage, I have a Category 8A Balcony Stateroom situated on Deck 6, just a single deck aboard the expansive Promenade Deck – dubbed The Lanai – that completely encircles Carnival Breeze.
Carnival has always been known for having larger-than-average staterooms, and my balcony stateroom aboard Carnival Breeze doesn’t disappoint. In addition to having two beds that convert to a Queen, it has a full-sized couch and sitting area and can accommodate a maximum of three guests. If you love the beds on Holland America Line, I have great news for you: the beds on Carnival Breeze are every bit as comfortable.
Storage is also uncommonly well-thought out, with three closets offering a mixture of shelves and hangers. There’s also a desk-slash-vanity area with two North American-style outlets and one European two-pronged outlet. For someone like me who absolutely needs to bring a laptop (for obvious reasons!) the full-sized desk is a welcome feature.
The desk also holds a fully-stocked mini-bar and has four drawers on the left-hand side. No surprises on the mini-bar front; prices are well in line with other Carnival Corporation vessels: about $1.95 for a can of soda, and $5.95 for an imported beer.
The best surprise ever: a full-sized coffee table that I’ve already enjoyed. You can actually sit on the couch, put your feet up on the coffee table, and watch the interactive flat-panel TV that, in a cool twist, pivots 90 degrees on its right-hand frame to complete face the bed. Awesome!
In a very European move, lights are controlled by inserting your keycard into a small slot near the doorway to activate the power. Electrical outlets remain on regardless, so no need to keep your keycard in there if you’re letting the iPhone or the camera power-up. Removing the keycard causes the lights to turn off about 60 seconds later.
My balcony is a generous size; larger than comparable balconies on Norwegian and Royal Caribbean, and very similar to those found on Holland America’s Vista-class ships. Furniture is Princess-style: two blue chairs and a steel-frame table. Railings shine in the glint of the bright Florida sun, and glass is spotless. It’s exactly what I expect out of a balcony stateroom.
But the real fun is outside the stateroom, so let’s take a walk around the striking Carnival Breeze!
There’s only one thing that I haven’t been impressed with today, and it concerns the lifeboat, or Muster, drill. Not that Carnival is doing anything wrong; it’s very well organized and announcements are clear and concise. No, my issue lies with the absolute disregard that some of their guests treated the drill with.
My designated Muster Station is 3A, located on the Deck 3 level of the Ovation Theatre all the way forward. But even though Carnival gave detailed instructions on where our actual lifeboat is, I wasn’t able to pay attention to it because of the kids screwing around next to me and a large group of people who had been having a great time at the bar and insisted on making stupid jokes throughout.
I love kids, and I happen to enjoy the odd drink or three. But there’s a time and a place. The muster drill could save your life in the event of an emergency, and I can’t help but think that the folks who aren’t even giving it the time of day will be the first to lawyer-up in the event of an incident at sea. So please: respect your fellow guests and respect the drill and the crew who areconducting it.
Now that I’m off my soapbox, let us continue!
At 4:15pm, we cast off our lines and Carnival Breeze thrusted away from her berth at the Port of Miami. We sailed past Carnival Liberty, which was looking spotless, and proceeded to do a slow spin to starboard in the turnaround basin at the end of the cut. The weather could not have been better for sailaway: hot, sunny, and barely a cloud in the sky.
Even with her thrusters activated, Carnival Breeze barely vibrates; only the slightest mechanical whirring is felt up on the Deck 5 promenade. Which, incidentally, brings me to my absolute favorite feature of the Carnival Breeze. If you walk all the way forward on Deck 5, you can ascend to Decks 6 and 7 for a forward-facing vantage point right beneath the ship’s Navigation Bridge. How special is this? Incredibly. Many cruise ships don’t even offer a forward-facing vantage point anymore, let alone make it easy for you to enjoy not one, but three separate viewpoints.
Once we’d left the Government Cut and sailed out into the Atlantic Ocean, I strolled up to Decks 10, 11 and 12 for a look around. The party was in full-swing up on deck, with thumping music and the sound of kids running and screaming and adults laughing and having a great time.
Carnival’s moniker has long been “The Fun Ships”, and I am happy to report that’s not just lip-service or PR spin: this is a really fun ship!
Take, for instance, what happened to me: I was standing on Deck 12 near Carnival’s WaterWorks aqua complex that features dual waterslides and a whole host of waterpark activities for the kids. I had my eye to the lens of my Nikon, ready to snap a photo of the setting sun behind Carnival’s iconic funnel, when I got good and soaked by a cascade of water that splashed up around my feet and back.
Turns out a giant bucket of water slowly fills up in the waterpark, and when it’s reached the tipping point it does just that, sending tons of water cascading through the waterpark. Some of that jumps the barriers erected at the end of the park, and yours truly got a darn good soaking. A guy next to me got the brunt of it, but he just smiled and took another pull from his Heineken. I let out a huge laugh and decided that was the perfect time to get a sailaway drink.
I think Carnival’s best strength is that there are people from all walks of life onboard. There’s families intermingled with retirees sitting next to heavily-tattooed biker types who are laughing with middle-aged married couples. And there’s something for each of them here. It’s a bit like Disneyland: at a certain point, you just give in to the fun.
As I alluded to earlier, I’m an old man when it comes to my cruising habits – and one thing I’ve always loved is fixed-seating dining. Great news here, too: Carnival offers both casual “Your Time” dining and traditional, fixed-seating dining where your tablemates and waiters remain the same for the duration of the cruise.
I took the Early Seating option, and was assigned a table on Deck 4 of the Blush Dining Room, located all the way aft. The Blush Dining Room spans Decks 3 and 4, and features windows that wrap 180 degrees around the stern of the ship. It’s also a gorgeous dining room reminiscent of some of the ones aboard Holland America’s Statendam-class cruise ships, only on a larger scale.
Food: much better than I expected. Service: way better than I expected. And this coming from someone who regularly sails on river cruises and luxury lines that come at a much higher price point.
This evening, I find myself embarrassed. Embarrassed that in nearly 50 cruises, I’ve not once tried Carnival. Embarrassed that my preconceived notions of the line turned out to be outdated misconceptions. The frat-house days of the 90’s are dead and gone. Am I ready to sail on one of the Fascination-class ships? Perhaps not, but I’m tempted. It’s only Day One, and Carnival Breeze can hold her own with the likes of Holland America, Princess, and Royal Caribbean.
If this keeps up, Carnival may just best more than a few of them.
|January 31, 2014||Prepping our Fun Ship Journey|
|February 1, 2014||Miami, Florida||Embark Carnival Breeze||4:00 PM|
|February 2||Fun Day at Sea|
|February 3||Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos||7:00 AM||3:00 PM|
|February 4||San Juan, Puerto Rico||11:00 AM||7:00 PM|
|February 5||Philipsburg, St. Maarten||8:00 AM||6:00 PM|
|February 6||St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands||7:00 AM||5:00 PM|
|February 7||Fun Day at Sea|
|February 8||Fun Day at Sea|
|February 9||Miami, Florida||8:00 AM||Disembark|