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Carnival and Carnival Splendor: What’s New

By Candyce H. Stapen
 
In the atrium aboard the Carnival Splendor, the line’s newest ship, we’re standing in the back of the crowd, trying to move sideways with a bit of hip hop style as we watch our braver shipmates in the center of the circle tackle a few spins and breaks taught by G-Force. The routines so entrance the crowd that they wait until G-Force finishes before entering the dining room.
 
The Splendor, Carnival’s largest ship at 113,300 tons, has two important enhancements for families:  an emphasis on interactive programming, such as G-Force, as well as enlarged children’s areas. The Splendor, according to spokespeople, has the fleet’s largest children’s area, one that is 30% larger than on any other ship in the line.
 
The Carnival Splendor debuted July 2008 in Europe and through January 2009, the Splendor sails the Caribbean from Port Everglades, FL, then offers a series of 14-18-day South American cruises—a first for Carnival— before launching 7-day, year-round Mexican Riviera voyages from Long Beach California in March 2009.  The Splendor remains Carnival’s largest ship until the late 2009 appearance of the much anticipated Carnival Dream, a mega-ship weighing 130,000-tons. 
    
Carnival Splendor’s Enhancements

G-Force and Interactive Programming 

Mike Garcia, G-Force’s founding director, calls his troop’s dance moves “stunt acrobatics.”  The spins, flips, jumps and stylized moves combine gymnastics with break dancing. G-Force is a big hit. Although G-Force also appears on Carnival’s Valor, Fascination, and Sensation, the group aboard the Splendor is employed in new ways.
   
“We’re an experiment on this ship,“ says Mike. “We’re used whenever there’s some sort of entertainment needed, where there are crowds before dinner or on the Lido
deck to start a party.” 

Initially G-Force came onboard to interact with the adults, but the team found the children so interested that G-Force became part of the children’s and teen’s activities.

“When G-Force came to Camp Carnival this morning, “ says youth director Crystal Edwards, “every single child—even the shy ones—went into the middle of the room to dance. G-Force taught them some moves. It was the loudest and the most interactive it’s been in this room. And afterwards, I noticed that the kids’ confidence changed. They were less tentative and interacted more with each other.”

Teens as well as tots proudly strut their stuff, doing cool moves, in the camp show put on for parents.  G-Force exemplifies Carnival’s emphasis on two trends: interactive programming as well as the creation of experiences to appeal to guests who define fun in different ways.

“People who select a Carnival cruise” notes Rubén Rodríguez, executive vice president of marketing and guest experiences, “are more social and more gregarious than on other lines. We cater to this. And we are finding ways and creating spaces for smaller groups to celebrate and enjoy the cruise together.”

Along with the use of G-Force, Rodríguez cites Carnival’s Seaside Theater (poolside LED screen that’s on several of the line’s ships) for group fun, as well as Serenity, the adult –only pool, for people who like quiet spaces. (We’re one of those some of the time).

Children’s and Teens Areas:

Although Carnival states that the “expansive 5,500-square-foot children’s play area—(is) roughly 30 percent bigger than the largest facility in the Carnival fleet,” the statement is a bit misleading. To arrive at the 5,500 figure, Carnival counts the children’s outdoor water park located on a separate deck.

Although a good idea, the water park, with its spray apparatus, never functioned on the inaugural cruise. The water park is much smaller and less inviting than similar areas on some NCL and RCI ships. We were told that on future ships the water park will be improved. Look for the new Dream to have a larger and much improved water play area.

The rest of the children’s areas work well. Carnival offers one of the best children’s programs at sea. The Splendor hosts the line’s first purpose-built Circle C club, situated on deck 4 forward. While other ships offer the program for ages 12-14, Circle C may take place in a lounge or in a renovated space initially constructed for something else.

Every time I check in, teens are doing crafts, talking with each other or even waiting for the club to open.  Along with using the in-club computers and games, the teens go outside the room for basketball tournaments, mini-golf, cake decorating parties and lots more.
 
As on some other Carnival ships, Club O2, for ages 15-17, is on promenade deck 5 where many adult lounges are found. That’s good. The space has a Deejay area, juice bar, and lava lamps edging an area of banquettes.  According to Jessen, the teen facilitator on our voyage,  “The trick is to be updated with what’s going on music-wise. The space is designed for teens to chill, to party and to have a good time.“  The teens seemed happily engaged, talking or challenging each other with Guitar Player 2.    
 
Cabins and Spa

 Carnival’s cabins are comfortable. On the Splendor all cabins feature wireless Internet, a convenience we really like. In addition, the Splendor offers 68 non-smoking, spa cabins, a first for the line. Book one of these cabins located near the spa and you get priority spa appointments, complimentary fitness classes and unlimited access to the spa and its facilities.

That includes the thermal suite’s Turkish bath (a wet steam room), rock sauna and heated lounge chairs. Non-spa guests can use these facilities for $20 per day or $35 if you want to combine these options with a soak in the Thalassotherapy pool. I realize that a fee is necessary to keep the small pool from filling up with people, but the fees seem high to us.

The Splendor also offers a separate, post-treatment room with bamboo beds and chairs for relaxing. Apparently, this is available to all guests who book treatments although once a staff member asked me to leave upon discovering that I did not have a spa cabin. Another time, however, I was welcome to stay.     
    
Food

The buffets, especially for lunch, seem to be organized more in stations than on other Carnival ships and also to feature at least one cooked-to-order area.  At the popular Asian Wok, which always has a line, you pick the ingredients and sauce and the chef prepares just what you want.  At several stations, instead of merely having unattended steam tables, chefs cook dishes, replenishing the offering frequently.  As a result, the buffets, especially lunch, offer freshly cooked food that tastes good.
 
The Splendor also features a rotisserie, offering roasted chicken. Despite the tasty chicken, the place was mostly empty. We think its location upstairs from the main buffet area is partly to blame. It’s hard to find the place and easy to forget it exists when confronted with all the options in the main buffet area.

Also, since our last Carnival cruise a year or so ago, the dining room menu presents the meal as four courses instead of five. Previously, soup and salad were listed as separate courses; now these are bundled together, suggesting that a guest choose one or the other.  The Carnival maitre D’ denied that this results from cost-cutting measures, stating that “people do not want so much food.” 

Of course, you can still order whatever you like, choosing both soup and salad, as well as two dinner entrees and three desserts. For foodies, that’s part of the fun of a cruise.

The Pinnacle Steak House, the ship’s specialty restaurant, is worth the extra fee.

Entertainment

The Splendor, like many other Carnival vessels, features a poolside LED screen, something my husband David really enjoys. One afternoon at sea he watched a repeat of a Bee Gees’ concert and another day he catches part of a Wimbledon match broadcast live before we go to dinner.

Carnival is known for its powerhouse entertainment. The full-scale, musical productions feature talented singers. One night Markus Anthony, one of the original Temptations sings the group’s hits, getting the crowd clapping and dancing in the aisles to “My Girl” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”

Carnival’s entertainment is top-notch. We lament, however, the phasing out of the “adult” comedy routines. Carnival is one of the only lines to offer adult comedy shows. Typically around 11:30 p.m. or midnight a few times each cruise, the headlining comics would deliver an adult show with riffs on marriage, sex, children and the foibles of modern life. Although the routines may include some non-PG language, they focus on behavior and often present witty reflections of real life. The comics make us laugh at ourselves and we look forward to these shows.
 
Décor

What can we say? Joe Farcus’ imaginative designs appeal to some and not to others. Farcus’ focus is “architainment” — architecture as entertainment.
 
“When people book a cruise,” says Farcus, “they want to get away from their homes. So I create a different experience, a place for fun.”
 
The ship’s décor is themed around splendid things. The El Morocco lounge features zebra striped banquettes and palm trees, after a famous New York City club, and the Royal Casino has high-relief sculptures of kings and aces—part of splendid hands—protruding from the wall.

We like the Red Carpet dance club best. Even kids who aren’t interested in dancing enjoy entering the club to a flash of camera lightbulbs, aimed at making guests feel like VIP celebrities.  

Overall

Carnival offers a great product, one that’s affordable for families and comes with the services and amenities that families need from comprehensive children’s and teens’ programs to comfortable cabins and good food and entertainment. For more information on Carnival Cruise Lines, visit their website at www.carnival.com.

Award-winning travel journalist Candyce H. Stapen has authored 28 family travel books, including two for National Geographic. She has written more than 2000 travel articles and is the Adventure Living editor for BellaOnline.com. She lives in Washington, D.C.




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