In July, while the rest of the nation was celebrating the 100th birthday of the Statue of Liberty, Carnival Cruise Line set out on the inaugural sailing of its new Jubilee, the seventh in what will be a fleet of eight Fun Ships (the celebration is due next spring).
At the sailing from the Port of Miami, champagne was poured and serpentine streamers passed around. Then fully two-thirds of the passengers gathered in the enclosed center patio to look, not out to sea or at the skyline of Miami, but inward at a swimming pool full of red, white and blue balloons under a restraining net, ready to be released to the sky.
For any cruise line traditionalist, the message was clear: The focus is on the ship and its whirl of nonstop fun rather than the experience of going to sea.
The Jubilee's promenade deck has a single, wide enclosed avenue called Park Lane, which runs partway along one side of the ship, sans salt air breezes.
Glittering public rooms draw the passenger's eyes down to the lushly patterned carpeting, onto the decorated tabletops or up to the dazzling lighted ceilings, but rarely outside the vessel to the ocean. One could almost say Carnival has succeeded in taking the sea out of cruising.
Ship as Destination
Carnival's resident marketing genius, Bob Dickinson, has always insisted that his ships are "destinations within themselves, with the ports of call secondary." Because 96% of Americans have never experienced a cruise, Dickinson says, they have no direct experience of what cruising is about.
The Fun Ships, therefore, set out to alleviate the fears of first-time cruisers--that they might get bored, seasick, confined, lonely or restless--by scheduling a nonstop round of activities and entertainment that the passenger is free to participate in or ignore.
Entertainers double as cruise staff, so bingo players or Knobby Knees Contest entrants meet good old Freddie informally, then are eager to catch his ventriloquist show one evening in the lounge.
As with all the Carnival ships the Jubilee promotes fun, and the minute you walk up the gangway, the razzle-dazzle decor lets you know you're in for a lively time.
In a lily-gilding exercise, the line has added another 10 feet to the Sporting Club casino and bar over the dimensions of the Holiday, last year's new ship, making the Jubilee's casino the largest one afloat, with 22 blackjack tables, 141 slot machines, three craps tables and two roulette wheels.
About 1,500 passengers a week are expected to board the Jubilee bound for Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios (until the end of November, when the itinerary changes to Nassau, San Juan and St. Thomas).
What they'll find on board ranges from the ultramodern Oz Disco in shades of Emerald City green to the fairly sedate Churchill's Library, which doubles as a bar, with wood paneled walls, antique stone fireplace and four suits of armor.
There are big, posh veranda suites with spa tubs and private balconies overlooking the sea (and, in some cases, the lifeboats). All cabins are at least 180 square feet, with twin beds that can be made into one king-size bed, a TV set broadcasting feature films and live satellite coverage on special events, and 24-hour room service.
In the cabins and in public rooms throughout the ship, Danish artist Bjorn Wiinblad has created a series of bright-colored Harlequins and carnival figures.
Above the Gazebo Bar and in the ceiling of the casino, stained-glass face cards gaze down on the lucky and unlucky alike, and designer Joe Farcus has introduced a decorative melange that encompasses everything from Victorian gazebo bandstands to a stylized forest of a lounge/showroom called Terraces in the Grove.
A weathered corrugated tin warehouse in Sweden was torn apart to line the walls of the Smuggler's Lounge; a bright red piano and closed wooden shutters decorate the Speakeasy Lounge. Anywhere you go on the Jubilee, if you're uncertain how you feel, the decor will remind you that you're having fun.
The Burgundy and Bordeaux dining rooms are graceful and pleasant in shades of rose, mauve, burgundy and grape; wide windows all around let in plenty of daylight; and a raised center section and sunken waiter service areas keep down mealtime din.
The Funnel Bar & Grill with a collection of steamship memorabilia laminated onto the tops of tables to read while you munch a hamburger or hot dog is appealing, but, unfortunately, standing in line in the food service area is like walking into a stainless steel closet.
There's plenty of space spread out over three decks for swimming, sunning and playing Carnival's deck games (plus a children's pool and deck above the playroom). A glass-walled gymnasium looks down on a sheltered center patio and pool with water slide amidships; saunas, hot tubs and massage rooms are nearby.
The dazzling two-deck-high, 900-seat showroom called the Atlantis Lounge boasts a raised stage flanked by two huge golden seahorses and six levels of seating, from theater lounge chairs to conversational groupings with sofas and banquettes. Two slick nightclub revues play during each seven-day cruise, plus lounge and cabaret shows nightly.
Prices range from $975 to $1,995 per person, double occupancy, for the week, depending on season and accommodations, and include round-trip air fare from most American cities, but not a $25-per-person port charge. Any passengers not wishing to use Carnival's air program can deduct $200.
Third and fourth passengers sharing a cabin with two full-fare passengers pay $395 (over 16) and $195 (under 16) plus air add-ons. Singles over 18 may book a guaranteed-share cabin for four (the line assigns your same-sex roommates) for $595 per person plus port charges and prepaid gratuities of $43.75.