Carnival Breeze: Updated

| Tuesday, 03 Dec. 2013

More impressions of the New Carnival from a full 8-day cruise; the good and the bad

[note: see part one of this report here: Carnival Breeze]

I am now on day six of my 8-day Southern Caribbean cruise on Carnival Breeze. This is the newest ship in the Carnival fleet, the first one to be built fully within the FunShip 2.0 program and the first carnival ship built under the direction of newer CEO Gerry Cahill and without with the eclectic “decor-on-steroids” approach of former Carnival designer Joe Farcus.

I remain as impressed with this ship as I reported in part one. Ultimately, this review is not about me, it is about the people who vote with their vacation dollars. I see a ship full of very satisfied cruisers. People are well-dressed and polite. They are not drunk, loud or disrespectful of others. I don’t hear anyone complaining or dissatisfied about anything.

I also see an onboard experience that is much classier than I might have concluded based upon recent editorial views in the media. These are experienced cruisers, and experienced crewmembers; all confident and comfortable in this “well-oiled machine” cruise where everything happens as expected.  

Here are a few additional observational surprises compared to what I had heard about FunShip 2.0. Some are good, some could be better and some are just different.

Entertainment

Although no one is vastly upset, one repeated comment says the shows are less “spectacular” than in the past. The former “Las Vegas-style” cruise revues had large casts with singers, dancers and lots of costume and set changes.

The new “Playtime Productions” shows on this ship have smaller casts – but they are still better than I expected. I had heard the cast was just four members, but in the two shows I saw on this cruise: “The Brits” and “Divas” both had eight performers. However, while the theme of the Brits was one I should like – “the British Invasion” in music – there was no chronological context for the songs presented making the show confusing and unrewarding for me.  Also, while some artists were featured repeatedly, other iconic British hit-makers were oddly left out.

I do not know nearly as much about the Motown legacy, so “Divas” seemed entertaining to me, but similarly staged with few set or costume changes. It was an adequate show, but both shows rely heavily on nonstop video projection for background images. Even some “cast members” are recorded into the video and not real people. This overdone trick wears thin quickly.

On the plus side – Carnival also recently created shipboard stage versions of well-known Hasbro games like Sliders and Monopoly as shown on the Hasbro Television game-show channel.  I didn’t expect these shows to win me over until I saw my first one on night four. Even if it isn’t my cup of tea, I still can’t ignore the families and especially the kids onboard who went to entertainment heaven during these shows.

Contrary to my expectation, the Hasbro shows are not over-exposed at all. There were only two during this entire 8-day cruise.  One was held at 10:30 pm, surprisingly late on the fourth night. Many kids were still awake, but there were far more adults jumping and screaming to get in on the action. Despite the obviously juvenile premise and prizes there was enough spirit to make you think the grand prize was a new car.

Other main showroom features included a “comedic juggler” named “Edge” on night three, and a “comic hypnotist” named “Abhu” on night five.  I guess four-letter names for show people are popular, which makes more sense than the name of the ship’s DJ, which in the program reads as “DJ Duh! Dork” every time he is mentioned. I guess I’ll have to look up “DJ Duh! Dork” in the phone book to see if it’s his real name.

Of course, Carnival is just keeping up with the times and you can’t knock success. You have to give them credit for giving their audiences what they apparently want.

The cruise also started with two different comedians performing in the Limelight Lounge, the room that is also called “The Comedy Spot as sponsored by George Lopez.” They left on night four and the room had karaoke and football on night five – Starting with night six there are two new comedians working the same room. Every Carnival cruise with the “Comedy Spot” features four different comedians on each cruise. It’s a very popular feature.

Demographics, Kid’s Programs and Solo Cruisers

Some parents told me the children’s programs are now much better than the “enhanced babysitting” of a few years ago, with more extensive and varied activities. There are many kids on this holiday cruise but very few adults traveling solo. The almost complete absence of solo cruisers really surprised me for Carnival. If anyone had asked me to guess whether there would be a number of solo cruisers on any Carnival Breeze cruise I would have said yes, and I would have been wrong; this is definitely a family cruise and not a party boat by any means.

And even though I am not a great solo cruiser, I am happily surprised by the friendliness of everyone here. It is a very mixed crowd in terms of ethnicity and even nationality, but people of all ages talk easily and openly with no awkwardness. Every age group is also out in force, from infants to seniors which makes the friendliness factor even more impressive. The crew is an added factor, they are not only more professional than I have seen on many cruise lines, but they do their jobs with ease and aplomb.

[note: see part one of this report here: Carnival Breeze]

Cuisine

The dining room is a largely overlooked asset of Carnival cruising.  Many cruise lines now have a reputation for minimizing the dining room quality to entice you towards the upscale restaurants with premium charges, but Carnival does not push a lot of expensive alternative dining options on their cruisers.

There is only one truly premium dining option on this ship; the Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse, which I tried last night and it is as good as any steakhouse anywhere – definitely worth the $35 surcharge for a special occasion. There are other a la carte options that are not expensive at all: the Italian Cucina del Capitano (a free pasta bar for lunch with a slight surcharge for dinner).  The pub-style food in the RedFrog Pub only costs $3.33 per serving for whatever you select; sliders, fried shrimp or conch fritters.  The Sushi Bar only charges $4 for California Rolls or Spicy Tuna, $6 for the eel or tempura rolls, and just $15 for a “Ship” with soup, salad, three different rolls and six pieces of sushi (tuna, salmon, shrimp) – enough for two people.

But once again, the dining room food is surprisingly good – better than the cuisine on what most consider more premium cruise lines. Carnival still offers the same nightly menu of flat iron steak, baked salmon, shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, chicken breast, baked potato (with all fixings) and chocolate melting cake. But the varying nightly options are equally tantalizing. Throughout the cruise they offer lamb chops, prime rib, a large lobster tail (Caribbean, but not langoustine), New York strip steak and more.

The food in the Lido Buffet is even surprisingly good, although I think the hours of operation could be more efficient. For example, if you want breakfast after 10:30 then prepare to wait in one long, singular line. The same is true if you want dinner between 2:30 and 6:00.

However, I give the Lido the highest mark for cleanliness, which is a notorious problem on other cruise ships. On a different cruise line I just sailed I had to eat at a dirty table because no one was cleaning up – and the workers who saw me there didn’t even try to clean it as I ate. Here all empty tables are spotless – which shows good workers and great management.

Some of the best food venues have too short hours, however, both the Mongolian Buffet and the Blue Iguana Taquito Bar for example. I don’t know about you, but both of those choices are high on my list for a quiet dinner, but the Mongolian Barbecue closes at 5:00 and the Blue Iguana closes at 2:30 p.m.  I didn’t have a convenient opportunity to try the Blue Iguana Burrito Bar until day six. This is one of the two poolside eateries, opposite Guy’s Burger Joint which runs from noon to 6:00 p.m. Another poolside eatery is the aft 24-hour pizza parlor.  I just don’t understand the short hours for many of the food options. The burrito was too good to make it so hard to get.

Another hard to use food option is Fat Jimmy’s C-Side Barbecue – only open on days at sea between noon and 2:30 p.m.

[note: see part one of this report here: Carnival Breeze]

Guy’s Burger Joint

Now let’s talk about the most famous food item on any Carnival ship; Guy’s Burger Joint. These are the burgers specially designed for Carnival by the Food Network star Guy Fieri. Are the burgers good? If the thought of any certain food item makes your mouth water does that mean it is good? Of course it does, and I felt that drool forming more than once.

But do they deserve a spotlight in the Hamburger Hall of Fame? Probably not. If anything I think their appeal comes from reminding people of the burgers they cook at home. The beef is 80/20 (which means 20% fat; more than I prefer) but it appears they start with 8 oz. and cook a lot of that fat out, so in the end they are not as big and beefy as you probably expect, but they are still hot and tasty and bigger than a McDonald’s Quarter-pounder.

The patties are misshapen and crispy on the bottom, as if smashed down while cooking. Then they are steamed to melt the cheese before they are put on the bun. You can top one with almost anything ever put on a burger; bacon, shoestring potatoes, peppers, mushrooms, raw or cooked onions or 10 kinds of salsa (the salsa bar remains open even after Blue Iguana closes so people can use it for the burgers).

One thing I was really hoping to try sadly doesn’t exist. I distinctly recall Guy Fieri introducing a “salted caramel milk shake” when Guy’s Burger Joint was first announced. The recipe is still on the Carnival web site, but no one onboard has ever heard of the drink. It might seem a little unfair to criticize something that doesn’t exist, but I don’t think my mind invented it. I heard about it from Carnival’ own press releases – and I really wanted one.

Here is another thing I expected to see on board that I did not find. The pretty highly touted comedy brunch no longer exists. It turned out the comedians would only perform about five minutes apiece during a brunch that lasted several hours. Predictably there were complaints. Now the “City Buffet” is offered on sea days with no entertainment.

EDITORIAL UPDATE:  I just tried the new  brunch and once again I am surprised at the quality of the food on this ship. To be honest, I had heard complaints about the food being unexciting, and not as good as it once was (and to be clear, Carnival previously had a reputation for having excellent food, especially for its price range). I think the cruise-included food here is still as delicious as ever – and that it is much better than the included food on competing cruise lines in this price range. In my buffet breakfast the eggs had a wonderful presentation, in a mustard seed cream sauce atop sliced potatoes with tomatoes and spinach. The waiter was smart enough to recommend bacon and hash browns on the side. The hot coffee came immediately and was kept fresh. Once again, these have been some of the best waiters I have ever encountered on a cruise – not once have I been kept waiting longer than usual for anything, including room service.

The ropes course appeared to be abandoned – I had checked several times during the cruise and never saw it open. But it is open today as I checked it about two hours after first putting this article online.

 Another great feature is the 4-D movie theater. They have four different features that cost $7.50 apiece, or you can get an unlimited pass for the entire cruise for $15. I would have gotten the unlimited pass and gone every day had I known the shows are so much fun. The seats move but not too violently (you don’t need a seatbelt like on a different cruise line I just left). Some of the extra special effects include sprays of water, and blasts of wind actually made chilly cold for the “Happy Feet” penguin theme.

[note: see part one of this report here: Carnival Breeze]

Internet Service Could be Better

The Internet is very slow - especially for the prices they charge (from 33 to 75-cents/minute). It also will not reach “secure” sites, which includes brokerage and banking accounts.  You can’t take care of financial matters from this ship. Wi-Fi became popular on ships so people could use their own laptops to do “secure” networking, but even laptops are blocked from secure sites.

That is it for the negatives. In the big picture these are not things to make or break a cruise, and judging by the happy faces I see – the vast majority of people here don’t even know or care about what I expected. So let me reiterate …

 

Impressions of the New Carnival

These days the only mainstream reporters writing non-sensationalized and non-negative articles about Carnival are financial analysts wringing their hands about the most recent quarterly reports. They constantly mention the bad “image problem” they say could take years to shake off. Once again, an “image problem” is a schism between perception and reality. That kind of problem can be fixed quickly. Carnival is a top value, high quality cruise line – and the mainstream press needs to get over its Carnival bias and start reporting responsibly again.

If the things I mentioned above are the worst things I can say, when I am also saying the value, crew, food and hardware are better than ever, then I challenge any reporter to judge this cruise line objectively by the spirit of its customers. I see a lot of people having the time of their lives - and that is the bottom line.

[note: see part one of this report here: Carnival Breeze]

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