In something of a surprise move, Carnival Corporation has announced a ship swap for 2020; the proposed transfer of the Carnival Splendor to P&O Australia has now been cancelled, and the Australian company will now receive the 2001 built Golden Princess from Princess Cruises instead.
There’s little real difference in the size or passenger capacities of the two ships: I suspect the decision to retain the Carnival Splendor is simply a desire to keep a major fleet unit based permanently in Long Beach, California, where the Splendor will transfer to as of next year.
Ironically, the one off Carnival Splendor first began her regular career on that same, Mexican Riviera run in 2009. Launched in 2008, she did a few maiden sailings in Europe before making an epic circumnavigation around South America- Carnival Cruise Line’s first ever such voyage- before she took up station in the port of Los Angeles for regular, seven night Mexican Riviera cruises.
Once there, the Carnival Splendor endured a much publicised loss of power for two days, resulting in her having to be towed back for emergency repairs in San Diego. Since then, she has sailed successfully on many itineraries, including her current role in the Caribbean.
It was intended to send her back to California as a stop gap replacement for long standing veteran, Carnival Miracle, and then replace her in turn with another vessel out of Long Beach when she transferred to P&O Australia in 2012. That, as we now know, is not going to happen, and it’s more likely than not that the Carnival Splendor will become a more or less permanent Long Beach resident, at least for the next few years.
She beefs up the Carnival line up out of Long Beach with an increased passenger capacity in excess of 3,000, and joins the smaller Carnival Inspiration and Carnival Imagination to round out the company’s west coast roster. While the two smaller ships sail on a series of three and four night options each week, the Carnival Splendor will almost certainly run the line’s prestige itinerary down to Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, and Cabo San Lucas.
I recently returned from a week long cruise out of Long Beach down to the Mexican Riviera aboard the Carnival Miracle. Quite apart from the fact that it was a fun fuelled, seven day fiesta to a trio of feisty Mexican highlights, more importantly it gave me the chance to get an up close and personal look at a class of ship I’ve been interested in for quite some time.
Carnival Miracle is one of four so called Spirit class ships. Built in Finland, the 88,500 ton ship entered service in April of 2004.
Size wise, she falls neatly into the middle between the 70,000 ton Fantasy class vessels and their huge, 100,000 ton Destiny class siblings. The result is a ship that encapsulates a kind of ‘big ship’ feel with a slew of smaller, more intimate areas on board.
Like the earlier Carnival ships, the Carnival Miracle has interiors designed by the legendary Joe Farcus, very much the Andy Warhol of cruise ship interior design. Like all of his ships, she has a specific ‘theme’; in this case that of legendary fictional characters. This is carried through most of the ship’s interior decor.
Here, enshrined amid acres of glass, brass, mirrors and neon lighting, you will find a disco featuring a twelve foot high replica of Frankenstein’s monster, complete with flashing overhead ‘electric bolts’. Further forward, a quartet of glass lifts swoop silently up and down the ten story high Metropolis atrium.
The main dining room is called Bacchus, and represents a two story high decorative tribute to the mythical god of wine. Here, lighting is concealed behind chains of grapevines the adorn the walls and ceiling, and fanciful, Da Vinci-esque frescoes line the walls at random intervals.
It goes on and on and, like all of the Farcus designs, it represents a wonderful, fanciful brew of the intricate and the bizarre. Mad Hatter’s tea party is a forward facing show lounge that features full size wall depictions of various characters from the Lewis Carroll story, including the Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts and, of course, Alice herself. Somehow, it would all still only work on a Carnival ship.
And yet… for all that, there are traces of a newer, far more modern look in some of the Fun Ship 2.0 enhancements that were added during a recent dry docking. Many of these come as something of a complete contrast to all that mesmerising Farcus fun stuff.
At the end of the main run of public rooms on Deck Two, the new Alchemy Bar is cool, spare, and almost totally bereft of real gimmickry. In some ways, it seems like a kind of stark, almost spartan contrast to all the glitz and glitter of the lobby that precedes it. Ditto the Red Frog pub, with it’s faux Caribbean palms trees, beer barrels and signature real ale.
These facilities are, of course, familiar standouts on the more recent Dream class trio, and will be further showcased aboard the imminent new Carnival Vista. But this combination of the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ aboard the Carnival Miracle makes her something of a floating anachronism; a warm,whimsical look at a colourful, fondly remembered past and yet, at the same time, a window into a vibrant, new, future Carnival.
Passenger flow through this vessel is the best that I have ever seen on any Carnival ship. She absorbs something like 2,100 passengers quite beautifully- far better than the more recent, larger ships in many ways. The only exceptions to this are when the dinner line for second sitting gets mingled helplessly in with those posing for portraits at no less than five- and I do mean five- photographer’s hot spots set up along the same side of the ship. It’s maddening, and completely needless.
Most of the bars, as well as the huge casino and the lounges, flow one into another from forward on Two Deck, to the entrance to the Bacchus dining room, right aft on the same deck. There are a handful of public rooms up on Three Deck but, in the main, Two Deck is the true heart of the ship, and there is literally something for everyone along it.
Live entertainment suffuses this vast, sassy ship from bow to stern, and includes some excellent live bands, as well as a pair of really deft acoustic guitarists. What is sadly missing is any kind of live jazz or big band; an anomaly that Carnival is supposedly looking at changing in the near future.
Two highlights from my trip; firstly, Nick and Nora’s Steakhouse has possibly the most spectacular setting of any such venue on any ship. Achieved via a spiral glass staircase from inside the buffet, it sits nestled in the forward base of the vast funnel, and offers stunning views out over the ocean. Food and service is sublime from start to finish and, at a supplement of just $35 per person, it is both a visual and actual feast that represents far and away the best buy on the ship.
Second is the aft facing Serenity zone; an adults only, 21 plus oasis sprinkled with hammocks, comfy circular pods and padded loungers, as well as comfy chairs, sofas, a pool, and a hot tub that overlooks the ship’s wake. On the face of it, it seems nothing unusual compared to similar, sometimes larger such zones on other Carnival ships.
But here, the location is perfect. Overlooking the stern, it is protected from most breezes, and it has a canopy shading the main seating area from the sun. With a nearby bar and buffet area, this trim, tidy little eyrie adds hugely to the pleasure of a cruise on this cool, comfortable ship.
Cabins run the gamut, from inside grades to decent sized suites with balconies. I had one of the Seven Deck balcony cabins. It boasted a good sized Queen bed that could convert to twins, a powerful shower in a bathroom that had good storage for toiletries, more than adequate wardrobe and drawer space for clothing, a nice sitting area and- most importantly for me- a tidy little teak lined balcony with a couple of chairs and a small table.
That balcony proved to be a perfect little window box to watch some amazing sunsets (and one magnificent sunrise), as well as the perfect venue for some great, end of evening stargazing. Say what you will but, for my money, having a balcony cabin enhances the pleasure of a cruise no end.
So; there we go. Some of the highlights of the Carnival Miracle. If you really want to sail on this ship, my advice is to do it now, while you still can. Come 2018, she is slated fro transfer to the Chinese market, along with the larger Carnival Splendor.
Get out there while you can.
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