Carnival Cruises To Revamp Food, Entertainment

Carnival Cruise Line announced plans to upgrade the on-board entertainment and dining options on several of its ships, in a new program the cruise line is calling “Funship 2.0.” The new changes are expected to run through 2015, and are expected to first be seen on the Carnival Liberty which will re-enter service this month.


Guy’s Burger Joint – a custom burger place that will offer pool-side service, hand-cut fries, and burgers created by Food Network’s Guy Fieri.

Blue Iguana Cantina – offering guests freshly-made tacos and burritos built to their liking. Homemade tortillas, chips, and salsa will also be available.


George Lopez – Carnval has named Lopez the ‘curator of comedy’ – which means he’ll oversee which comedians getting hired and will also star in videos shown to introduce the commedians and welcome guests to the comedy club. We only hope George has read our article on the comedy clubs, since it doesn’t matter how great the comedian is if passengers can’t see the show because the venue is too small.

Hasbro The Game Show We’re assuming this will take the place of the ‘newlywed game’ and ‘minute to win it’ or whatever the lawyers make Carnival call it these days (the marriage game/60 seconds to win).

Playlist Productions This really sounds like a new name on an old standard in Carnival cruising. These are the productions that involve singers and dancers in the largest lounge. They’ve been doing musical reviews for years, and now they’ll be doing them with themes like Latin Nights, Motor City, The Brits, and Divas. Unfortunately, the stage shows will will pale in comparison to other lines that have Blue Man Group (Norwegian Cruise Line) or Broadway shows like Chicago/Hairspray (Royal Caribbean).

Carnival has clearly stepped up their comedy game, which was already very strong, and faltered failed to bring any sort of competition to the big-stage productions. PREDICTION: Carnival will realize that its Comedy shows are so successful, that they will start bringing those shows into the biggest lounges, replacing or moving musical review programs to a lounge more more consistent with the turnout. The biggest question is how long this will take.

DJ Irie I had no idea that the Miami Heat had an official DJ other than the guy clicking the play on the jock-jams CD at games, but now he’s the official DJ of Carnival Cruise Lines as well. He will oversee play lists in the clubs.


EA Sports Bar If you don’t know EA Sports, your kids probably do – they’re behind some of the most popular sports video games ever like Madden and NCAA Football. They will help in creating the design of the new sports bars – which – may or may not be able to pipe in your game from anywhere in the world (i.e. good luck watching the NFL if you’re on a Euro cruise).

BlueIguana Tequila Bar These are your basic pool bars re-branded with some cool signs and an influx of frozen tequila drinks and Mexican beers. I’m guessing they will still have daily drink specials served in ridiculous vessels like a giant blow fish that my wife will insist on buying. Yours will too.

RedFrog Rum Bar Carnival saw with its ThirstyFrog Red beer that it’s great to not only be the server of the drink, but also the manufacturer of the drink too – especially if it tastes good and people buy it. Now they’ll be expanding that branding and ale-availability poolside. This is a welcome change, since on our last cruise, the ThirstyFrog Red was only available in the Sports Bar which never seemed to be open, so I never got to try it.

Alchemy Bar This looks like a classy place to grab a drink, not unlike the bars in the specialty restaurants on-board. Carnival may have taken it a little too far for me though when they said the bartenders will be wearing lab-coats in the ‘vintage-themed pharmacy.’

Library Bar The Library bar sounds like my kind of place. Self-serve wine dispensers or bartenders for a mixed drink all wrapped up in a quiet & relaxed atmosphere.


None of the above changes is drastic, but put them all together and it’s a solid revamp for a cruise line that (save from a few new ships) seems to be stuck in entertainment and style of 10 years ago. Instead of having a pool bar, you’ll have the Cantina or Rum Bar, which is basically the same thing with some branding behind it.

The upgraded entertainment is a nice touch, though it still seems to fall short in execution and when compared to other cruise lines.

We’re excited about the new changes Carnival put forth, but to tout them for anything more than re-branding and re-modeling of what they already have would be irresponsible.

Carnival’s Your Time Dining: A Review

Carnival Cruise Your Time Dining - Monet Dining Room

On all of our past sailings with Carnival, we’ve always opted for dining in the late seating to ensure everyone in our group would be able to dine together – regardless of shore excursions, on-board activities, etc. that may run into the late afternoon making it difficult to herd everyone together for the early seating. Since the summer of 2010, Carnival has offered “Your Time Dining” on its entire fleet, and we decided to try it on our last cruise.

When booking, one has the option of early seating (6pm), late seating (8:15pm), or your time dining. Carnival’s literature indicates that your time dining is available from 5:45pm to 9:30pm, though from experience, the preferred time is between 6 and 9. On the first day, when our cabin stewardess introduced herself and reminded us about our dining choice, she indicated the best time was between 6 and 9 because of how the kitchen works. We’re not sure if she has friends in the kitchen that just prefer this, but this advice would likely serve you well in any land-restaurant, too. If you go in 10 minutes before close and spend two hours having dinner with five appetizers and two entrees (you know who you are), the staff may have some choice words for you – but they’ll still serve you with a smile.

Carnival’s dining options guide also says you may have to wait up to 20 minutes for a table. It was our experience, eating anywhere between 6:45 and 7:45 with a party of 7, we never had to wait longer than 5 minutes, and most night the longest wait was just getting everyone’s cabin number entered into their system (you can’t just walk in and say you’d like a table for 7, each guest must provide their cabin number before being seated).

The hostesses (assistant maître ‘ds?) can even take special requests – such as where you’d like to sit and if you prefer a specific waiter or waitress. We enjoyed sitting in the atrium area of the dining room, but we also requested a specific waiter a few times that we had on our first night who knew us by name. Even with special requests, the wait-time was minimal or non-existent.
We were very happy with the implementation and flexibility of Carnival’s your time dining. We rarely had any kind of wait, special requests were always accommodated with speed, and the flexibility was priceless – especially when traveling with a larger party.

Carnival Punchliner Comedy Comedy Club: Great Idea, Faulty Execution

A little over a year ago, Carnival Cruise Lines saw how popular its comedy shows were and decided to repurpose lounges so that each ship would have a dedicated “Punchliner Comedy Club.” On the surface, this sounds like a great idea – if something is really popular – why not have a spot dedicated to it on the ship? The problem arises when you take a popular program out of a 1400 seat theater and put it in a 400 seat theater.

In general, Carnival has activities and programs in venues that make sense. Trivia isn’t that popular (maybe 20 people out of 3700 will show up) so it’s held in a small seating area adjacent to the faux-Starbucks on the promenade. However, we attempted several times to attend the comedy shows in the new dedicated lounge, but were unable to find a seat – even with arriving 10 minutes early.

Now, we could have gotten there 30 minutes early and gotten great seats – but that still doesn’t help the next 300 people who wanted to see the show but couldn’t find a seat. Not everyone turned around and left, though – there were probably 60 people standing along the walls and another 25 standing OUTSIDE the venue. On the Conquest, the Degas lounge (AKA Punchliner Comedy Club) has a wall of windows into the lobby where many just stood and tried to listen through the open door.

The comedy shows often coincide with the main entertainment in the large lounge which holds about three and a half times that of the comedy club, but there were times when nothing was happening in the 1400-person theater at the same time.

Carnival knows that its comedy shows are extremely popular – and in some cases – even more popular than the shows being performed in the main-lounge at the same time.
If the comedy shows are so popular that many people are turned away and 100 are willing to stand in the back and outside – why would they be moved to a theater a fraction of the size of where they were held just over a year ago?

Review: Carnival Smoking Policy Changes

SmokingCarnivalCruiseShipWhen we got the email from Carnival back in June about the revised smoking policy – we were relieved – and just last week we got to experience some of the new changes first-hand. Pardon the pun.

Starting June 15th, smoking was restricted to staterooms, balconies, dance clubs, jazz clubs, open decks on the starboard side, and certain areas of the casino and casino bar. Starting December 1st, 2011, smokers will not be allowed to light up in their staterooms (or risk a fine), but the balcony will still be fair game as with the above-mentioned areas.

For those of us that really dislike the smell of cigarette smoke – the new rules made it much easier to avoid the fumes and have minimal impact on our cruise. When walking across the open deck on the way to breakfast or lunch on the Lido, we would always steer ourselves to the port-side (smoke-free side) to avoid the smoking area on the Starboard side. Sometimes we found ourselves on the wrong side – which is immediately apparent since all the smokers have been condensed into a smaller area – but we’ll take the blame for that.

The Casino, though there were ‘non-smoking’ areas, still had an overpowering smoke smell coming from it – especially in the evening hours. The design of the ‘smoking sections’ was a little troubling, though. The table games were setup in a “U” shape – and the smoking tables were intermixed with non-smoking tables. This design doesn’t seem to make sense, since you could have a non-smoking table and still be surrounded by smokers on all sides. I’m not sure if it was just the right time of day or coincidence – but the designated smoking tables were typically less full or even empty when it was hard to find a seat at a non-smoking table. Surely Carnival will be tracking gaming behavior more closely than our casual observation, though.

We were lucky that we only had light smokers as neighbors on our balcony – and only once or twice did we notice the smell of smoke when using our balcony – and we used it a lot. We were on the port side, though – and it may be possible that cruisers are choosing to be closer to the starboard-side smoking areas. Prediction: The next smoking policy changes will limit smoking to starboard balconies only, and following that will be all balconies. That is probably a few years away, though, so don’t hold your breath (Sorry…I’ll stop with the puns).

The only time we encountered the smell of smoke in interior areas of the ship was in the hallway to our stateroom. There were some folks who seemed to be trying to smoke everything they could in their stateroom before the rule changes in December. Luckily it seems like Carnival has really figured out how to de-smoke a room for the next guest, at least in most cases.

Overall we’re happy with the changes – and fully expect that over the next few years smoking will eventually be phased out completely. It will only take one of the major lines to make the first move, but the rest will follow. Until then, we applaud the efforts of Carnival and others who have made the smoking policy less restrictive – as were able to more easily avoid the smoking areas and enjoy elements of the ship (like the piano bar) that were previously too smoky to enjoy.

Taking a Cruise During Hurricane Season: A First-Hand Look

Carnival Conquest and Carnival Liberty
Carnival Conquest and Liberty make an unexpected stop in Cozumel Mexico after Hurricane Irene changes 24 itineraries
The cruise industry calls it “Wave Season” and the rest of us call it “Hurricane Season.” It’s the time of year in late summer and early fall when cruises in the Caribbean are available at bargain prices due to the higher probability of your vacation being interrupted by Mother Nature. Depending on how you look at it, I was either fortunate enough or unfortunate enough to have a cruise planned for the Bahamas and Key West at the exact time Hurricane Irene was delivering between category 2 and 3 winds on those islands.

On-Ship Announcement

I was on the Carnival Conquest which set sail from Galveston, TX on the 21st for a seven day itinerary to the Bahamas and Key West – an Eastern Caribbean itinerary I had not experienced. The vast majority of sailings from Galveston, which is the closest port to our home in Austin, TX, are only to islands we refer to as the Holy Trinity of Western Caribbean cruises: Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel.
Upon boarding, we were told by the captain that they were keeping a keen eye on the weather in our scheduled ports, but that no changes had been made. Since every forecast model had Irene blasting through the Bahamas in just a few days, we suspect the determination had been made to not proceed to the Bahamas and that representatives in the home office were scrambling to find ports that were both available and out-of-dodge from Irene.

It was no doubt a busy time for Carnival, as we were only one of eleven ships that required an itinerary change. In all, over 24 ships from Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, Celebrity, and Holland America had itinerary changes.

About mid-day through our first day at sea, the captain announced that we would not be sailing to any of our original ports of call, and that we would instead be visiting three ports in Mexico: Costa Maya, Cozumel, and Progreso.


We were on deck near the shops when the announcement was made, and there was a huge array of emotions among the other passengers. Several were excited about the new ports, and some were disgusted. “I’ve already been there!” “Progreso is a dump – don’t get off the ship!”

Admittedly, we were a little bummed that we would not be sailing on our original itinerary – but those are the chances you take when taking a cruise during hurricane season. And considering, at that point, Jamaica and Grand Cayman could potentially be affected, staying on the other side of the Gulf was the only reasonable decision both for the safety of everyone on board – and being able to enjoy ports of call that weren’t experiencing 115 sustained wind speeds.

Benefits of Booking a Cruise during Hurricane Season (Wave Season)

The biggest benefit to booking a cruise during hurricane season is the price discount – the same itineraries in peak months can run several times higher than those in late summer and early fall. The price is lower, but the guarantee of sticking to your original itinerary diminishes significantly.

Not far behind is the oft forgot benefit of mobility. If you had planned a normal vacation to the Bahamas (flight, rental car/taxi, several nights at Atlantis), you most likely would have had to cancel your trip and received minimal money-back unless you had purchased some form of travel insurance. Even if you got all your money back, timing a vacation between two jobs and kids’ school can be anything but easy – so rebooking something else in the last minute can be daunting at best.

Cruises have the benefit of just turning and going somewhere else – your itinerary may have changed, but you don’t have to re-pack, look for available last-minute lodging and travel arrangements, etc.

Cruise Excursions

Booking excursions through the ship is always a safe bet – but as with any safe option – the price is always a little higher. We’re fans of booking outside the cruise lines to save a little money, but you may want to re-think during hurricane season.

For those who booked excursions through Carnival on the original itinerary, cancelations were immediate and credits to the ship account followed. For those booking outside – many were left paying high on-ship telephone or internet rates to make cancelations for trips they had booked themselves. The deposit/refund policy is different for every private vendor – but undoubtedly some folks lost a few bucks by going on their own.

We had one excursion planned (Horseback riding in Freeport), though they only take cash on the day you leave – so no money had exchanged hands. Once we returned home, we had an email from the vendor letting us know horseback riding wouldn’t be available during the hurricane.

I normally spend quite a bit of time searching and reading about excursions prior to booking outside of Carnival, but when the itinerary changes mid-cruise, you are nearly entirely at the will of the cruise’s excursion desk. In Carnival’s case, excursions can be viewed and booked from the TV in the stateroom – and we found that clicking through this was a quicker way to spend $600 than even the Casino. The only problem was availability – since so many choose to book on their own, and with everyone on-board forced to go through Carnival for excursions, many were quickly sold out and lots of people who waited to sign up were left with nothing to do.

Overall Experience

We would have loved to go on our original itinerary to the Bahamas and Key West – but we gambled when booking during hurricane season and lost. In the end we weren’t surprised, but pleased that even though our plans were changed we could still relax on warm sandy beaches, enjoy quality excursions in each port we went to, and enjoy the on-board activities and dining with our family – which was ultimately our main goal.

Massive Glacier Calving Sends Ice Flying Towards Tourists

One of the reasons to go on an Alaskan Cruise is to see the massive ice structures in areas like Tracy Arm Fjord. When ice breaks off it’s known as calving – and when it breaks off in huge chunks – it’s known as “DANGER DANGER” according the the camera woman. There was only one injury – and it was actually because a 60 year old woman fell down and broke her leg. To her credit, you can see smaller (volley-ball sized) chunks of ice shooting toward the boat at dangerous speed.

Via: Cruiselog

Norwegian Cruise Line Smoking Policy Becomes More Restrictive

In the wake of several other cruise lines reducing the areas guests are allowed to smoke, Norwegian Cruise Line has decided to ban smoking in cabins/staterooms starting in January of 2012.

Carnival Cruise Line announced changes to it’s smoking policy in June, and NCL’s changes seem to be similar. After January 1st, smoking will only be allowed on balconies (excluding cigar and pipe smoking), certain cigar bars, and in the casino aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s fleet.

Interestingly, after Carnival announced their changes, many nicotine-raged cruisers vowed to start sailing with Norwegian. It looks like they still have a little time.

Carnival’s New Smoking Policy Takes Immediate Effect

June 15, 2011 – Carnival Cruise Lines has made changes to its smoking policy on board its entire fleet of 23 ships – and some changes take effect as early as today.

Starting today, Carnival is restricting smoking to designated open-deck areas, the Jazz clubs (only certain ships), and certain areas of the casino and casino bars.

After December 1st, 2011 – Carnival will prohibit smoking in all staterooms and assess a $250 cleaning fee if smoke is detected. Smoking on the balcony (unless you are booked in a spa suite) will still be permitted.

This is a great change, which means that effective today, cruisers can go the piano bar, wine bar, sports bar, and most public open-deck areas and not have to worry about breathing in cigarette or cigar smoke.

We’re proud of Carnival for making the change, even though it will undoubtedly upset some of their customers. Carnival believes that only about 10 percent of its passengers are smokers, though the debate raged with they did a trial run on certain ships which prompted this editorial on the matter.

Carnival sent an email discussing their reasons for the changes which we’ve included below. Continue reading “Carnival’s New Smoking Policy Takes Immediate Effect”

Cruise Ships and Ports: What Charleston can Learn from Mobile

Charleston South Carolina DowntownLocal officials in Mobile, Alabama were “shocked” when Carnival Cruise Lines announced it was pulling the Elation from the port and moving it to New Orleans. Carnival at this point hasn’t made any plans to pull the Fantasy out of Charleston, but local groups are putting strain on the line and they may reconsider.

The Carnival Fantasy started docking in Charleston in May of 2010 – the only year-round cruise ship for the port.

Since then, there have been several sources of resistance:

National Trust for Historic Preservation
We know it’s important to preserve important sites in the U.S. that may otherwise not be if it weren’t for this group. However, the NTHP put Charleston on it’s “watch list” at the same time it released its 2011 most endangered sites, and blamed the cruise industry for the rating on the city.

The NTHP says:

In the case of Charleston, expanding cruise ship tourism could jeopardize the historic character of the city, historic downtown Charleston and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Since the cruise ships can’t park in downtown Charleston or “its surrounding neighborhoods,” it’s safe to say the NTHP is worried about an influx of people, and what that would mean for the city.

Other motivations appear to be at play (environmental? anti-cruise industry?) since the cruise industry currently only accounts for under 4% of the city’s 4.4 million annual visitors.

If the NTHP is truly concerned about the number of visitors to the city, perhaps they should be looking at all industries – but regulating 4% of visitors brought in by a single industry is the obvious work of special interests.

Southern Environmental Law Center

With anti-cruise industry mentality growing from the NTHP, the Southern Environmental Law Center decided to strike while the iron is hot by filing a lawsuit saying that the cruise lines aren’t operating within local zoning ordinances, causing traffic problems, and violating state environmental laws.

“Charleston relies on a careful balance between tourism and preservation that cruise ship interests shouldn’t overwhelm,” says Blan Holman, an attorney from the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Local Government
The mayor of Charleston says the lawsuit against Carnival is “bogus” and “rogue,” and cites the fact that cruise traffic is minimal compared to the cities annual tourism figures.

The chairman of the South Carolina Sate port Authority is calling the lawsuit “irresponsible.”

“Their goal is to cripple our port system to satisfy their anti-growth agenda. First it’s cruise ships, then cargo ships. Next it will be trucks and rails. They don’t seem to care that their agenda would irreparably damage economic development and kill jobs all across South Carolina.”

Mobile and Charleston

The local officials get it in Charleston, but it may not matter what they think in the end. Any port operator will tell you that vying to be a home port for a cruise ship is extremely competitive – especially with newer markets opening up and the ability for cruise lines to pack-up and move operations with relative ease.

When special interest groups force cruise ships into lawsuits that even the mayor thinks are bogus, they can increase a cruise line’s cost of operating in that port by millions of dollars.

One of the big reasons Carnival pulled out of Mobile, Alabama was they couldn’t raise profit enough to offset local environmental laws that are set to be in place by 2012, and calculated the ship would be more profitable in nearby New Orleans.

If Carnival decides its not worth the added cost and headache to do business in Charleston, we hope the local officials aren’t “shocked” – because the writing is on the wall today.

Carnival Magic: Three Reasons it’s Unlike any other Carnival Cruise

The Carnival Magic is just getting its sea-legs and wrapping up its first few voyages. USA Today’s cruise log says it looks like Carnival Magic is a hit – and we take a look at three reasons why cruising on Magic is different from any other Carnival cruise.

1) RedFrog Pub: Carnival is billing this as the first pub in its fleet and claiming it’s the brainchild of CEO Gerry Cahill (Whether it be Caribbean Pub or Irish Pub – what took so long??). Initial reports are that the new venue is always packed and even ran out of it’s signature beer, ThirstyFrog, on the maiden voyage. Perhaps some of the blame can be assigned to the fact one can order a 101oz tube of the brew for around $25. Appetizers and deserts are also available for a few bucks. Check out the full RedFrog Pub Menu.

2) Cucina del Capitano: The “Captain’s Kitchen” is an relatively informal Italian eatery that serves family style meals. In the evening, the venue has a surcharge of $10 for adults and $5 for kids – not bad considering the Signature Steakhouse option on some Carnival ships is double that. More and more we’re seeing a move away from traditional dining room settings to more niche venues – both more formal (steakhouse) and less formal (Cucina) – depending on what suits you. It’s worth noting that during the day, Cucina del Capitano offers pasta options for no additional fee. Check out the full Cucina del Capitano Menu.

3) Carnival Sports Square Ropes Course: A first for a cruise ship. While it may not be a ‘high ropes’ course, it’s located on one of the highest points of the ship and about 150 feet above sea level. It may not be looking down that gives you a dizzy feeling on this one – it’s looking OUT! Adrenaline junkies need look elsewhere, though – Carnival has designed it to be family friendly and kid friendly which suggests you’ll have to get your fix elsewhere. That said, it should get your heart pounding a lot more than shuffleboard or mini-golf.