Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
On Sunday, I disembarked Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Breeze on a hazy morning in the Port of Miami. Along with her were Carnival Conquest and Carnival Glory, each preparing to set sail on their own Caribbean adventures from the cruise capital of North America.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Carnival has disembarking a 3,000-plus passenger vessel down to a science. Those who wanted to could take their luggage off themselves and be some of the first guests to disembark, while others – like myself – could linger onboard longer if their schedules permitted.
With an overnight stay in the Miami area, I was assigned Group 28 and disembarked the Carnival Breeze just after 9:30am; prior to that, I’d sat happily drinking my coffee on the outer aft portion of Deck 10.
Over the course of eight days, my very first Carnival Cruise took me to some of the Eastern Caribbean’s most popular ports. It even included a few places I had never been to before, like Grand Turk and the gorgeous city of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The full report:
|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|
Carnival Breeze is Carnival’s latest-and-greatest. At 1,004 feet in length and weighing in at 130,000 GRT, she typically carries 3,690 guests – a far cry from ships that can routinely carry nearly twice as many at double-occupancy.
But she also represents an entirely new direction for Carnival, and it only took me a whole five seconds of being onboard to realize that.
Gone are the harsh colours and the sometimes Gaudi-esque interior design that characterized the Joe Farcus era. Farcus’ interiors always gave Carnival their own unique and distinctive look, but it was one that was quickly becoming outdated as other cruise lines also shifted their interior decors from the brasses and polished metals that characterized 1990’s cruise ship design.
The new look is still Carnival – no doubt about it. But it’s a more subdued, refined Carnival. Fun, yet not overbearing. Bright, but not gaudy. Definitely Caribbean, but owing more of its inspiration to a cool seaside resort than the Miami Vice pinks and blues that are typical of the South Beach area.
From the outside, Carnival Breeze is nearly identical to her sisters, Carnival Dream and Carnival Magic. But the similarities end there. Every cruise line has a ship that hits all the right notes with guests, and Carnival has definitely found that in the Carnival Breeze.
Accommodations – always Carnival’s strong suit – were extremely spacious. My Category 8A Veranda Stateroom located forward on Deck 6 was well laid-out and boasted a soothing colour palette that looked even better at night. I had the chance to peek into the inside stateroom across from mine before leaving my room for the last time; it was on par – and perhaps even a little bigger than – inside staterooms on Holland America.
Food was very good overall, if not particularly adventurous. One neat feature appearing on the dinner menus in the Sapphire and Blush Main Dining Rooms was the “Didja” category – as in “Did You Ever – food you always wanted to try, but did not dare.” This was my favorite menu selection, with dishes like sushi, escargot, smoked salmon and capers, and even alligator one night. Delicious!
The real culinary stars, in my opinion, are split between the Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse and the FunShip 2.0 enhancements like the BlueIguana Cantina, Guy’s Burger Joint, and the oh-so-tasty Bonsai Sushi. Bonsai and Fahrenheit 555 carry an additional charge, but are more than worth the price of admission. In fact, Bonsai was consistently the busiest specialty dining venue I saw onboard.
The Cantina and Guy’s are both provided complimentary, and are surprisingly tasty. I’m not a huge hamburger guy, but I went back to Guy’s on three separate days. I just couldn’t get enough! When I wasn’t there, I was enjoying a fresh burrito from the BlueIguana Cantina.
Sadly, there were venues I never had the time to sample, including the Italian-themed Cucina del Capitano and the food offerings in the RedFrog Pub, which I hear are delicious and worth the extra cost.
The average Carnival Fun Times daily program aboard the Carnival Breeze listed over 80 different activities for the average Fun Day at Sea, from dawn until dusk. What’s more, they impressed me by managing to offer activities that I’d never seen before aboard a mainstream ship, like the Muppets-esque Towel Animal Theatre; daily Trivia marathons that were always well-attended; and the best comedy performances I’ve seen at sea in the Punchliner Comedy Club.
This is normally the part of the recap where I say that Carnival isn’t for everyone – yet I’m not so sure I can say that this time. Between the activities, dining and the itineraries that Carnival offers, the line has a broader appeal than many competing mainstream lines, even those within the Carnival Corporation umbrella.
Go Carnival if:
- You want a good, fun cruise at an affordable price.
- You’re travelling with a multi-generational family or group. Frankly, these ships have something for everyone, and their kids programs are well organized and thought-out.
- You’ve never sailed with them before, but have been curious. Like me, you might come away pleasantly surprised by the experience.
Avoid Carnival if:
- You don’t like kids. There were approximately 600 on my off-peak sailing.
- You prefer the intimacy of smaller ships. Carnival’s ships are big, boisterous and fun.
- You’re looking for an all-inclusive cruise. Carnival’s cruises are some of the most affordable out there but, like any mainstream line, you’ll have to plan and budget for onboard costs including drinks, specialty dining experiences, and spa treatments.
At the end of the day, these ships are just plain fun, and my Carnival Breeze voyage around the Eastern Caribbean was just that. I met people who had sailed with the line over 20 times, and I met those who were on their first-ever cruise vacation.
One of the most interesting people I met was a gentleman in his 80’s who was travelling with his daughters and their spouses. The entire family has been sailing Carnival for decades now, but their travel experiences were far from being cocooned on the Fun Ships. They’ve been around the world, including South Africa’s famous Blue Train – one of the most luxurious train journeys in the world – yet they keep coming back to Carnival time after time.
That, to me, says a lot about Carnival as a cruise line. The old saying goes, ‘Never Judge a Book by its Cover.’ If you’ve never sailed with Carnival before but think you have them all figured out, think again.
These Fun Ships have more to offer cruisers – first time and repeat – than you think.