Industry giant Carnival Cruises introduced its newest ship, the 88,500-ton, 2,124-passenger Carnival Spirit, in Los Angeles in mid-May. The ship, the first of its class for Carnival, is termed a Panama Max, meaning that the vessel's width and length are the maximum that will allow a ship to transit the Panama Canal.
The Carnival Spirit's arrival, en route to a summer season of Alaska sailings, was timely because the visit also marked the last sailing from Los Angeles for the line's Holiday. That ship was replaced on May 18 by the bigger, newer Ecstasy for three-and four-day cruises to Ensenada
The Spirit's designer, Joe Farcus, is notable for his glittering and sometimes glitzy ships decorated in a fashion he terms "entertainment architecture." Farcus said the ship's motifs borrow from a mix of styles including Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Moderne , Louis XIV, retro, Egyptian revival, Empire, funk, rustic and Chinese Chippendale.
But for cruise passengers who don't know a Biedermeier from a bulldog, bigger news might be the large cabins, most of them with private balconies; a posh new supper club with dancing between courses; and the easy-to-get-around public areas, with a promenade between the show lounge forward and the two-level dining room aft.
Carnival Spirit is a good ship for families because of its 2,400-square-foot enclosed children's playroom, kids' pool, spiral water slide and swimming pool area covered with a sliding sky dome for inclement weather.
Connecting cabins with private balconies and staterooms with upper berths for third and fourth passengers make convenient family accommodations.
For passengers who want optimum views, there are 10 corner suites on the aft end of the ship with wraparound verandas. Dance floors turn up everywhere, from the Dancin' Disco with its wall of video screens, glass dance floor and Jackson Pollock-style wall covering, to the Champions Sports Bar with life-size bas-reliefs of contemporary sports heroes such as Magic Johnson and Mary Lou Retton.
Gilded mummy cases and giant pharaohs line the entrance to Pharaoh's Palace show lounge.
Three-dimensional replicas of French chateaux outside the richly adorned "windows" of the Versailles Lounge set the scene from dawn to midnight's starry skies.
A first for the Carnival fleet is the wedding chapel, a studiously nondenominational setting for weddings at sea when the ship is sailing into or out of Vancouver. The wedding-at-sea package ($795) includes a civil ceremony, champagne toast, flowers, wedding cake, music and photographic services.
The reservations-only Nouveau Supper Club is high atop the ship in a romantic area with a red-tinted glass roof reached by a glass staircase. There's a $15 cover charge per person.
The dining room is handsomely decorated with more tables for two and four than Carnival has had before. Here meals are served at assigned tables at two seatings.
There's also a grill with bistro service and a Chinese restaurant, and food stations serving burgers, ribs, pizza, salad, deli fare, ice cream and so on.
The 13,700-square-foot Nautica Spa combines a multilevel fitness center with gym, beauty salon, exercise areas, whirlpools, saunas, massage rooms and European-style treatments.
Entertainment is professional, with a spirited company of 18 singers and dancers. Two different Las Vegas-style revues are staged each week.
In Alaska, Carnival Spirit sails weekly between Vancouver and Seward (for Anchorage), visiting Ketchikan, Skagway, Juneau and Sitka and cruising Prince William Sound, Lynn Bay and Yakutat Bay past Hubbard Glacier. Prices start at $889 per person, double occupancy, with early booking discounts.
The Glacier Route itinerary continues through the sailing of Sept. 5, followed by two Glacier Bay itineraries Sept. 12 and 19. These sail round trip from Vancouver, calling in Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan and cruising Glacier Bay. Fares begin at $859.
Carnival Spirit then embarks on a 12-day sailing from Vancouver to Honolulu Sept. 26 and a sailing from Honolulu to Ensenada (for Los Angeles) Oct. 8. The ship winters in the Caribbean, with eight-day southern and western Caribbean sailings from Miami.
For information call (800) CARNIVAL, or visit the Web site http://www.carnival.com.
Shirley Slater and Harry Basch travel as guests of the cruise lines. Cruise Views appears the first and third week of every month.