Carnival Spirit is on her way Down Under for her ground-breaking Australasian season, and we check out her credentials as a romantic getaway after a recent refurbishment which has added a little luxury to her facilities.
There’s no doubting Australia and New Zealand is flavour of the month in the world of cruising, with a slew of new ships heading Down Under for the 2012-13 season. And the announcement by Carnival Cruise Lines that it was sending Spirit into the region grabbed the travel headlines.
Not only will she be the first Carnival ship to be based outside of the USA permanently, she will also be the largest ship to call Australia home year-round with a capacity to take 2,124 guests. Launched in 2001, Spirit was the first in a new class of ship for Carnival and she’ll also be one of the newest to be based in Australia.
We had the chance to check out Carnival Spirit on a five day hit-and-run cruise from San Diego with Cabo San Lucas in Mexico as the only port of call, but it was enough time to get acquainted with a ship that will have a big impact on the Australian cruise scene.
When we were on board, Spirit had gone through phase one of a two part “Aussification” upgrade which cost seven million dollars. In the first upgrade, public areas were treated to new carpeting, and her interior and exterior benefitted from a fresh coat of paint. Her spacious staterooms were also updated and Eighty per cent have ocean views, 632 with private balconies; there are interconnecting stateroom rooms across most categories, ideal for families, and several large suites. Standard amenities are generous for a mass market ship, including a hairdryer and toiletries.
A major addition, however, is the construction of Serenity. Occupying the aft section on deck nine, the former fantail pool area, it’s a spacious, stylish retreat for adults over 18; free of charge to enter, it features a cocktail bar, heated spa, hammocks, and comfy lounges. This is a real plus if you’re a couple looking for a romantic getaway or honeymoon getaway in what is effectively a luxury hotel on the water.
Our accommodation for the cruise was a balcony stateroom, which will be popular among couples in her new Australian home. The decor featured plenty of orange tones in the wood and soft furnishings, and it was surprisingly spacious with plenty of storage, a decent sized bathroom, and standard amenities including a mini-bar, flat screen television, hairdryer and toiletries.
Spirit has also had US $450,000 spent on her vast front-of-ship fitness facility, with new top quality cardio and strength training equipment, and a large heated spa sitting beneath a giant skylight with 270 degree views of the ocean.
Originally built at a cost of US $375 million, Spirit launched a new class for Carnival, and from her sleek exterior styling to her colourful decor, there’s no denying she’s a ship with a big personality. Designed by the legendary Joe Farcus, walking her decks is like taking a trip around the world.
Spirit pays tribute to some of the world’s great architectural styles, from the elaborate Egyptian themed show lounge, the Pharaoh’s Palace, to the red and black Shanghai Piano Bar. Her decor sweeps from one dazzling style to another; whether you love it or hate it, there’ no denying this ship is eye catching.
Carnival is known as a leader in family cruising, and junior cruisers haven’t been left out of the upgrades. New facilities include the SplashZone, a kids haven featuring a giant bucket called the Power Drencher which fills up with water then tips over soaking everyone beneath it. There’s also WaterWorks. Located on the top deck, it’s the home of the Twister water slide, and the much hyped Green Thunder, the steepest and fastest water slide at sea, providing adrenaline junkies with a heart-jolting, exhilarating ride.
Back to grown-up pursuits, and Spirit has an impressive line up of bars and lounges, and the menus of alcoholic drinks and food are also a major focus in her “Aussification” to include more local products but they won’t change until after she’s completed her season in Alaska. She is expected to retain her existing three dining venues, with the only confirmed addition being a yet-to-be-built Aussie Outdoor Barbecue serving homegrown casual fare including sausage sandwiches. The Sports Bar will also have its memorabilia transformed to reflect local sports and sporting heroes.
Although Spirit already has an Australian cruise director, the Sydneysider Stu Dunn,
entertainment will also be overhauled to better reflect the tastes of her new home, and the final stage of her transformation will take place in Sydney, where she’ll receive Australian power points, new pokies, and adopt the local currency.
The main dining rooms will remain pretty much the same as they are now: the Empire Dining Room will be the primary restaurant, boasting an elaborate Napoleonic decor and a combination of fixed seating and flexible dining. The La Playa Grill is a buffet style venue, a huge space packed with stations offering everything from pizza to New-York style deli foods, and to date, the only by-reservation alternative is the Nouveau Steakhouse. Tucked away above the Empire Dining Room in a colourful if bizarre circular space, it attracts a per head surcharge and offers a traditional surf ‘n’ turf menu.
With her big facilities and even bigger personality, Carnival Spirit will be a welcome addition to the Australian market. Besides cruising here year round, her attractions are many, from her spacious accommodations with balconies, to a lineup of facilities appealing to both couples as well as families.
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