Pay to Play: Carnival Cruise Line Offers Fee-Based Early Boarding, Priority Tenders

Carnival Liberty Ship 2012Regardless of cruise line, one of the largest annoyances of the cruise experience is the embarkation. For what it’s worth, herding thousands of passengers through what seems like miles of rope-line through the registration and security process – in the time that they do it – is no easy feat. But Carnival is testing a new pilot program to assess the viability of offering a fee-based perk program that allows passengers to experience an expedited process and quicker access to the ship.

Carnival Cruise Faster to the Fun

The program is being called, “Faster to the Fun,” and is being piloted on two Carnival ships. For a fee, passengers will be able to enjoy the benefits previously only awarded to experienced Carnival Cruisers in the Diamond and Platinum level programs (Don’t worry Diamond passengers, you’ll still have a separate line).

Participants will be eligible to bypass many of the long lines during embarkation through a priority line. And, instead of waiting until the afternoon for your stateroom to be ready, and sometimes late evening for your luggage to arrive – your stateroom will be among the first available to enter and your luggage will be hand-delivered inside your room.

While the fast embarkation is getting most of the attention, the program also includes priority dinner times and faster access to ship-to-shore tenders.

Carnival Cruise Early Boarding Price

All these benefits come at a price – and that price is $49.95 per cabin. So, if you’re traveling as a family of four, it means for 12 dollars and some change per-person, you can avoid many long lines throughout your voyage. (Maybe….one day…there will be priority access to the buffet lines….)

Availability and how to sign up

Undoubtedly Carnival is using the pilot program to see how many cruisers want to take part in such a program and if the logistics are feasible (read: profitable). At the time of publishing, Carnival Cruise Line had declined comment on just how many passengers would be able to purchase the “Faster to the Fun” package, only that there is limited availability.

To book the early boarding package, passengers can access the excursion area of

Two ships will host the pilot program. The Carnival Imagination will begin offering the program on August 20th sailing, and the Carnival Liberty a few days later on August 25th sailing.

Final Thoughts

This program will be a success for Carnival. Once they figure out the maximum number of cabins to which they can offer this service, it will likely be profitable. Aside from the person handling the luggage in the beginning (what Carnival is paying that person is a topic for another day) – there is very little company cost involved in a program facilitation.

A poll on indicated that a large number of people would rather spend this money on something else – but we suspect that those scouring message boards and cruise forums are savvier than the average cruise passenger and willing to sacrifice convenience to save a little cash.

We don’t blame them – but this program will be popular. Very popular.

Carnival’s Costa Concordia Cruise Ship Accident – Picture Gallery and Video

UPDATE: 2:30 US Central Time: The Italian captain of the Costa Concordia has been arrested. The Guardian is reporting that an announcement was made after the ship had collided with underwater rocks stating that it was just an electrical failure. Passengers are also alleging they were attempting to board life-boats but the crew wouldn’t allow them to since the Captain hadn’t given the order. Skynews is indicating the captain was arrested officially for abandoning ship hours before everyone was rescued and out of harm’s way as well as several counts of manslaughter.

Normally when we hear of cruise ships running aground, becoming half submerged, it’s typically an old, small ship from a non-leading company. That changed overnight when the Costa Concordia, a roughly $700 million ship put into service in 2006, ran aground off Tuscany Italy and forcing over 4,200 on board to evacuate in a panic.

As of this morning, nearly 70 people are unaccounted for and three have been confirmed dead, though local officials believe some of the missing are likely taking shelter in private residences on small island of Giglio where the ship made contact with large under-water rocks (as seen in the picture gallery below). Passengers who escaped the horror described the experience like a scene from the movie “Titanic,” with plates crashing and climbing around hallways that had been turned on their side.

Costa Cruise Lines is owned by Carnival Corporation, whose 10 cruise lines makeup nearly 50% of the world’s cruise market share. Costa is second in Carnival Corp’s book of business to Carnival Cruise Line, and closely followed by Princess, AIDA, and Holland America lines. Costa is also Europe’s #1 cruise line. In comparison, Royal Caribbean’s various lines (including Celebrity) only makeup about 24% of the world cruise market.

Costa and Carnival are so closely related, that the ship that just ran aground has a sister-ship in the Carnival Cruise Lineup – the Carnival Splendor. The Splendor is actually considered part of the “Concordia Class Ships,” but is a slightly smaller version.

To those who have cruised from the United States, you know that a safety drill is required at the very start of the cruise – but for some reason (whether it not be a priority or a breach in policy)- the safety drill was schedule for later in the day. Some of the U.S. passengers on-board joked, “what if something happened today?” What if.

We hope that the remaining missing passengers are safe and sound – since in this day and age, the largest cruise company in the world with a ship a little over 5 years old shouldn’t be running into islands.

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?

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”

Carnival to offer Roundtrip Cruises from California to Hawaii

Taking a Hawaiian cruise just got a little easier thanks to Carnival Cruise Lines. In December of 2011, Carnival will offer a 15-day itinerary to the Hawaiian Islands departing and returning in California.

This is the first time Carnival has offered round-trips to Hawaii, which they hope will provide customers with “a more convenient and cost-effective means for visiting the breathtaking island chain.”

Flying into your cruises departure port can be a tricky balance. Arriving a day ahead of time is preferred, but not always the most convenient or cost-conscious. Arrive too late and you’ll spend even more money trying to catch up with the ship at another port. This airfare/hotel gamble gets even more expensive with an exotic location like Hawaii.

Carnival should expect to see plenty from California and neighboring states take advantage of the new offer – which will leave first from Los Angeles, and San Diego will follow a few months later.

The Hawaiian Islands expected to be on the itinerary are Hilo, Kahului, Honolulu, Lihue, and Kona.