Eight nights cruising the Caribbean on the stunning new Carnival Breeze gave me ample time for an ‘up close and personal’ look at the evolution of a product that itself revolutionised the cruise industry. But, with a new look, a completely new palette, and a series of fun and culinary enhancements that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago, the Carnival Breeze is anything but just another big ship, and here’s why:
It is not so much the size of the ship-though, at 130,000 tons she’s no baby- so much as the intelligent use of space, that marks this ship as a thing apart. The promenade that encircles Five Deck is especially impressive. With umbrella shaded, outdoor dining and lounging areas, the look is far more Crystal than Carnival old school. And a quartet of expansive hot tubs, cantilevered out over the sides, provide a series of stunning vantage points to take in the sunsets.
This area raises the game for the entire industry, and was a theme so wildly successful that Norwegian subsequently ran with the idea, and expanded the concept over three full decks on their stunning new twins, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway. At any time of the day or night, this area is just a delight to kick back in. Note that as, on the rest of the ship, smoking is allowed on the port side, but not the starboard.
The Red Frog Pub forms a kid of indoor crossover point to this area, together with the raffish, opulent Ocean Plaza. The Red Frog features live nightly, mainly acoustic entertainment that plays to a packed house most nights, while Ocean Plaza rocks, rolls and sizzles to the sounds of sultry samba and platinum chip Motown. This entire area has become the social hub of the ship on so many levels.
Indoors, the ship is simply stunning. The old, Warhol-esque style of famed Carnival chief designer Joe Farcus, has been eschewed in favour of a ship that manages to be more refined, without ever falling over into being simply bland or coma inducing. The neon, brass and marble have given way to subtle, soothing earth tones, reflected in the beautiful furniture groupings in the lower lobby, and mirrored in a succession of dusky beige, brushed walls that frame the ship quite beautifully.
Deck space is dominated by an upper deck, forward facing Serenity Area, an adults only, 21 years plus enclave that spreads to both port and starboard. It comes with its own bar, twin hot tubs, and swathes of padded loungers, double beds and circular pods. With an ambient musical sound track, it gets busy quite early, but it is best in late afternoon, when the crowds thin out, and the ship is sailing head on into some blazing Caribbean sunset. A marvellous chill out spot from the noise and hugger mugger of the lower decks.
Behind and below this is a vast kiddie’s water park, a multi layered, many shaded mega mix of numerous water slides, drenching buckets and other such fun. While it is hugely popular, it seems to do little from stopping swarms of kids from populating the aft pool and hot tubs. Maybe this should also be reconfigured as another adults-only area.
The vast real estate of the central pool area features the colourful, beach themed Thirsty Frog and Blue Iguana bars on opposite sides, as well as a Taco Bar, and Guy’s Burger Joint. This latter serves up the most amazing, free form burgers that I have ever sampled in my life. Walking past it without grabbing something to eat became a supreme test of my resolve; one that I frequently failed on a pathetic, regular basis. Addictive hardly covers it.
There are two levels immediately surrounding this area; the upper, open one is packed with sun loungers, while the lower, enclosed one has plush couch chairs in ochre, complete with foot rests. The entire area is suffused most of the day with the sounds of a DJ, as well as numerous deck games, and open air bingo. This is about as close to the ‘old’ Carnival as this vast new ship comes.
Indoors, the two main dining rooms extend through two levels. Sapphire is midships, while Blush looks out over the stern. Both have identical menus at night, and passengers can choose between early or late seating, or even a more flexible, ‘anytime’ approach.
Here too, echoes of the ‘old’ Carnival live on, with fondly remembered favourites such as the famous Chocolate Melting Cake, as well as Flat Iron Steak being available every night. Food and service were consistently good, though the food service is faster than British tastes might like. There is still the tradition of singing and dancing waiters; as always on a Carnival ship, the dining rooms are an extension of the entertainment programme. It’s boisterous, good natured fun, and most of the passengers seem to love it.
For those looking for alternative eateries, the vast Lido Marketplace features everything from traditional roast carvings, a deli counter, right though to a decent Mongolian Wok. There is a tandoori area, and 24 hour pizza and ice cream. This area is as vast as the amount of choices it encompasses for all main meals, including dinner. Despite the size, it is surprisingly easy to navigate, but it gets very crowded just before arrival on most port days.
For evenings, there is also an extra tariff Italian restaurant, and a high end steak house. The former carries a cover charge of $12 per person, the latter comes in at $35.
Cabins are still spacious but, again, the palette has been toned right down. Vibrant burnt pink hues have given way to ochre sofas, and the beds now come with beautiful throw wraps. As for the beds themselves, they remain comfortable enough to present a real hazard to activity of any kind. The showers are still among the best at sea.
Three wardrobes come with flip up shelves in one- a very clever idea indeed. There’s a plasma screen TV and, if you get the balcony grade, these come furnished with two mesh slung chairs, and a small drinks table. It’s an ideal place to enjoy a last nightcap, with just the sound of the ocean swishing alongside for company.
This is by no means a full, in depth review of the Carnival Breeze, but rather a ‘taster’ of some of the highlights that she showcases. If you want the vast casino and late night disco action of old, all that is still there. But in truth, this ship is the future direction of Carnival.
You can see it in the more restrained, formal interior staircases, and the random groups of casual, comfortable furniture that are scattered around the entire ship that are reminiscent of many an outdoor South Beach resort. Above all else, the Carnival Breeze is supremely comfortable, open and airy; a unique mixture of ‘hang loose’ beach party vibe and sleek, clubby comfort that verges on the louche in places.
Spending her entire year in the sunny Caribbean, the Carnival Breeze operates six to eight night, Western and Eastern Caribbean itineraries, out of Miami. The ship is a particularly great choice for families (there are a good number of five berth cabins), as well as couples and groups of friends.
The Carnival Breeze is not a quiet ship but, truth be told, there are more than enough very nice places to get away from all the noise, as and when you want to. There is enough of the old, confident Carnival swagger around to make a cruise aboard her feel like soul food, but also so many new, classy touches to make you realise that the line is evolving, diversifying and expanding its offerings, right across the board.
If this is anything at all, it is the evolution and elevation of fun at sea. Recommended? Oh, my word, yes.