CARNIVAL MIRACLE TO GET STRING OF SPRING UPGRADES

Carnival is making substantial enhancements to the Carnival Miracle in March

Carnival is making substantial enhancements to the Carnival Miracle in March

Carnival Cruises has announced that the Carnival Miracle will receive a string of enhancements and upgrades during a two week dry dock over late March.

One of four Vista class ships originally built for the line, Carnival Miracle will then sail year round from the Los Angeles port of Long Beach, on three different, week long Mexican Riviera itineraries. The ship will also offer some longer sailings to Hawaii and back later in the year.

The 92,000 ton ship will be upgraded as part of the continuing Funship 2.0 fleet wide roll out. From the end of March, passengers sailing on the relaunched ship can expect to find some sizzling new dining, drinking and leisure venues on board. Among them are;

Alchemy Bar

A vintage themed alcohol ‘pharmacy’ where trained mixologists can conjure up individually prepared cocktail ‘potions’ to order.

Cherry On Top

A kind of ‘olde worlde’ cave for sweet tooth lovers to indulge to the max. You’ll find bins of bulk candy to purchase, plus novelty items and branded clothing.

Hasbro; the game show

A uniquely interactive, audience participation show where guests can participate in such perennial, popular brand games as Connect 4 Basketball, Sorry Sliders, and Yahtze bowling.

New Sports Bar

A specially dedicated venue for sports fans of all disciplines, featuring live games and a full time, 24/7 screen ticker.

Playlist Productions

A quartet of sizzling, soulful new high energy theatre productions- Getaway Island, Heart and Soul, 80’s Pop To the Max, and 88 Keys. Each one promises to be a high intensity, visual treat from start to finish.

Red Frog Pub

Carnival’s signature, on board bar, serving up its very own Thirsty Frog beer, enjoyed in an ambience that combines the laid back style of the Caribbean with the free wheeling, bohemian fun lifestyle of Key West.

Seuss At Sea

Relive the whimsical world of Doctor Seuss, with such surreal treats as a Green Eggs and ham breakfast at sea with the Cat in he Hat and his friends, plus story time with Seuss-a-Poloosa, and more.

Spin U

A kind of master class academy for would be ‘teen jays’ between the ages of 15 and 17, developed in association with the renowned DJ Irie.

Carnival Miracle already has a slew of luxury lounging and dining options in place, including an adults only, outdoor Serenity Area, a Punchliners Comedy Club in association with George Lopez, a ‘Taste Bar’ that offers bite sized samples from all the menus right across the ship, an elegant, authentic American style steakhouse that serves up a whole conga line of prime cuts and succulent sea food.

As the Mexican market continues a slow but steady recovery, the substantially enhanced Carnival Miracle should prove to be a formidable, year round presence on the west coast, and a real alternative to the traditional Caribbean market.

 

IT’S A MIRACLE! CARNIVAL RETURNS TO YEAR ROUND MEXICAN RIVIERA CRUISING

Carnival is going back to Mexico

Carnival is going back to Mexico

In a move that should prove hugely beneficial to the Mexican economy, Carnival has announced that it will return to year round, Mexican Riviera cruises from the port of Long Beach, in Los Angeles. The Vista class Carnival Miracle will undertake a series of three different, seven night itineraries, as well as a couple of longer swings out to the islands of Hawaii and back.

The seven day Mexican Riviera market had been in decline for several years; with on shore violence in Mazatlan especially being a reason cited for many companies withdrawing ships from what had once been a popular cruising circuit.

With the return of the 88,000 ton Carnival Miracle, the route gets it’s first year round vessel for several years. Carnival Miracle has yet to receive the series of Funship 2.0 series of dining and entertainment upgrades being gradually rolled out across the Carnival fleet; but she is scheduled for a dry docking in March, 2015 which is expected to bring her fully up to specification.

The first of the seven night offerings is a return to what was the original classic run; a seven night round trip that showcased day long stops in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and the famous seaside resort of Cabo San Lucas.

The second itinerary should prove really popular, combining a two day, overnight stop in the popular destination of Puerto Vallarta with another, day long stop in Cabo San Lucas.

Itinerary number three showcases a day in Puerto Vallarta with a two day, overnight stay in Cabo San Lucas. However, those contemplating sampling some of Cabo’s legendary night life are in for a disappointment. The resort is a tender port, and tenders do not run at night.

As also mentioned, the Carnival Miracle will also make a couple of exquisite, fifteen night forays from Long Beach out to the Hawaiian Islands and back the first in October 2015, and the second one a month later.

Los Arcos, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Los Arcos, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

In addition to the seven night runs, Carnival also operates two smaller sister ships, Carnival Imagination and Carnival Inspiration,  from the ports of Long Beach and San Pedro, the main port of Los Angeles, on a weekly series of three and four night cruises.

Three night cruises call in at the Mexican port of Ensenada, while the four night sailings add in the resort of Avalon, on Catalina Island.

Combined with the return of the rival Norwegian Star to seven night Mexican Riviera sailings out of San Pedro, the arrival of Carnival Miracle in Long Beach offers another, no doubt welcome sign of better days ahead for this once popular cruise circuit.

CRUISE NEWS ROUND UP; GHOST SHIPS, CONCERT TRIPS AND OTHER BITS…..

"Oh, look, Jack! There's a ghost ship!"

“Oh, look, Jack! There’s a ghost ship!”

Well, we’ve seen it all this week, one way and another. What with ghost ships running amok, and Leann Rhimes singing for her supper on Carnival ships, there’s a boatload of high jinks going on in cruise land right now. Here’s a few of the things that have made me sit up and take notice over the last few days….

GHOST SHIP ON THE LOOSE

The story of the Lyubov Orlova has surfaced again this week. What was originally the sad tale of a dilapidated, derelict former expedition ship that had broken loose from an under powered tug in the middle of some vile Atlantic weather, has now been elevated to a ghastly saga of a grisly, fog shrouded ghost ship, looming menacingly toward the coast of Ireland, and all under the evil hegemony of a crew of ‘cannibal rats’, no less. Wow.

I think what we have here is a simple typo. What they actually meant to print was ‘cannibal rates’. This is obviously some kind of rodent theme cruise, I think. And, if I am wrong and these are, indeed, a crew of ‘cannibal rats’, does said crew have any kind of pecking order?

Still, I suppose we should be grateful that the media has, as yet, not found a way to connect the word ‘cannibal’ to ‘Carnival’. And, speaking of Carnival….

CARNIVAL ON SONG

At a gala event in New York last week, Carnival announced a stratospheric upgrade of its live, on board entertainment. The line will be bringing a whole raft of top of the range entertainers on board their ships to perform for passengers on certain cruises. Names in the frame include Olivia Newton John,  Leanne Rimes, and soul siren Jennifer Hudson, among many others.

These headliner performances will incur an extra charge, and there is also a supplement for a ‘meet and greet’ option, complete with a commemorative photograph. In recent years, Carnival has hosted a couple of short cruises, featuring the reformed New Kids On The Block, which have been hugely successful. These have obviously been the sounding board for this new, very extensive programme.

On other fronts, Carnival has also ramped up its live on board shows, with a greater emphasis on visuals and high tech features, as well as shorter, more punchy presentations. There is now a considerable emphasis on the quality of live music on board all the ships, all part of the Funship 2.0 evolution.

I’ll be on the Carnival Breeze next week to check out the new on board vibe. Stay tuned for an upcoming review.

SEABOURN TO BE FOUR

In a move that surprised absolutely no one (if you discount the crew of cannibal rats supposedly still adrift in the Atlantic), Seabourn has announced that it will build a fourth ship in the very popular Odyssey class, but with certain as yet unannounced enhancements.

Due to be delivered from the Italian Fincantieri yard in 2016, the as yet nameless ship will have a capacity for around six hundred guests. That puts her mid way between such rivals as Silver Spirit and Seven Seas Voyager in terms of capacity. More to the point, it almost makes up for the total number of berths that will be lost as the original trio- Seabourn Pride, Spirit and Legend- make the gradual transition over to Windstar.

THE CHANGING FACE OF CARNIVAL CRUISES

Sailing to the sun, Carnival style

Sailing to the sun, Carnival style

Of all the major cruise lines, none in the last couple of years has experienced such a painful learning curve as Carnival. With a string of PR disasters ranging from the Carnival Splendor breakdown off Mexico, to this year’s Carnival Triumph debacle, you could be forgiven for thinking that the line had shot every albatross in existence out of the sky. The line’s image took a battering on the same scale as the Bismarck.

It was clear that far reaching changes were needed right across the line, and these would be addressed in due course. But the fact is that Carnival was already in a state of transition before the incidents cited above. While maintaining its core ‘fun’ product, some of the old eighties and nineties mainstays were being discreetly dumped overboard in favour of a more refined, all encompassing style of product delivery.

First, there was the Evolutions Of Fun programme, designed to breathe new life into the jaded, mid life, eight ship Fantasy class ships. The revamping of the pool deck areas was accompanied by the addition of around a hundred small balconies to each ship. Most significantly, each was upgraded with a new, adults only Serenity Deck, with padded loungers, ambient music, and a couple of whirlpools. It gave the whole class a new life. And, with it came a new look.

A lot of the original, whimsical neon, granite and glass fixtures- they were the creations of Carnival’s very own Andy Warhol, Joe Farcus- were stripped out and replaced with a more restrained, but still subtly vibrant palette. It was a theme already presaged by the most recent Carnival new builds- Carnival Dream, Magic and Breeze- and it has been universally well received. Twenty years of changing tastes is not something any cruise line or hotel chain can afford to ignore.

With these new ships came a whole new host of bars and eateries that have now spread across the entire Carnival fleet, such as Guy’s Burger Joint, the Red Frog Bar, and the Blue Iguana Cantina. There was also a shift away from the old fur, feather boas and fillet steak kind of evening options, with the introduction of a dedicated, late night comedy club. The entire project was known as Funship 2.0.

Carnival's distinctive funnels remain their trade mark

Carnival’s distinctive funnels remain their trade mark

So, in truth, Carnival was already well on the way towards morphing into something more upmarket, while at the same time attempting to preserve its mass appeal, long before the conga line of media cuts and kicks started to tear into its profit margins. Wounds were inflicted here that clearly required a lot more than simply cosmetic surgery.

The main step involved upgrading all the safety, engineering and back up systems right across the Carnival fleet, so that, in the event of a loss of propulsion, the ships would not be left without lighting, cooking facilities, functioning elevators, and working sanitation across the board. This was a huge but necessary task in and of itself. In fact, it was the single most important facet in restoring faith in the entire Carnival brand.

Next came the return of the savvy, highly regarded Bob Dickinson, Carnival’s marketing genius of the eighties and nineties, in a new consultation role. This was seen as a very positive move on the company’s part. There followed a massive, 155 million dollar transformation of the Carnival Destiny into the ‘new’ Carnival Sunshine. Though not without its own birth pangs and bad headlines, the relaunched ship has generally been very well received. However, Carnival chairman Gerry Cahill has said that there will be no more similar conversions across the fleet- a move that surprised some, including this writer.

Carnival is also coming back to a more responsive level of interaction with travel agents; brochures are now being printed again and made available for the first time in a few years, and both Arnold Donald and Micky Arison have recently been fulsome and complimentary in emphasising how important good agents are to the Carnival brand. And, signs are that the industry is responding positively to this.

After a period of painful and expensive retrenchment, it appears that the Carnival ship of affairs is making sluggish but steady progress forward once more. But no one should be hanging a ‘mission accomplished’ banner up anywhere yet.

Carnival Dream

Carnival Dream

2013 has been another bad year for lines in Europe in general, and Carnival is withdrawing completely from the continent for 2014. However, Arnold Donald remains bullish about the possibility of a return in 2015. We shall see.

Elsewhere, the line has upped its commitment to the Australian market with the deployment of a second ship down under, and there is also a renewed presence on the Mexican Riviera run out of Los Angeles; all indicators of a more ambitious strategy to come.

Right now, it is Royal Caribbean who are seen as the headway makers, with their giant Oasis class ships being genuine, world beating game changers in their own right. This is their time in the ‘nice’ spotlight and, naturally, they will ride that wave for all they are worth.

But it would be a foolish man indeed that would underestimate a quartet as formidable as Arison, Cahill, Dickinson and Donald, or a brand with the scale, style and pulling power of Carnival. The next few years will be interesting, indeed.

My advice? Stay tuned….