Carnival Cruise Lines, founded in 1972 and headquartered in Miami, is the world’s largest cruise line. The company’s humble origins pigeonholed the line as the cruise industry’s version of a floating fraternity party for a long time. But that was yesterday, and while Carnival still commands a certain reputation for a flashy, neon atmosphere — and by no means skimps on elaborate lounges and discos — its ships continue to evolve.
In particular, Carnival earned kudos for enhancing cuisine (never a high point in the old days), investing in a top-notch children’s program, and expanding its itinerary offerings beyond traditional Caribbean and Bahamas trips to regions like Alaska and Atlantic Canada.
Carnival offered its first European itineraries in 2002 (Carnival Legend sailed a few cruises after its inauguration in Harwich), and in 2005, Carnival Liberty spent a full season in Europe — a first for the line, which has since offered cruises to the Continent regularly. But the company’s bread and butter has long been three- to seven-night cruises embarking from regional U.S. ports, including Miami, Boston, Charleston and Los Angeles.
Carnival Cruises is one of the world’s most innovative cruise lines. In 1996, it debuted the first passenger vessel to exceed 100,000 tons: Carnival Destiny. It was also the first major cruise line to build and operate a completely smoke-free cruise ship, Carnival Paradise. (After nearly six years of butt-free sailings, the ship went to a “limited smoking” policy.) Effective December 1, 2011, smoking will be prohibited in all staterooms across the fleet.
Standard cabins include robes, and the “Comfort Bed” sleep system features deluxe plush mattresses, soft duvets, high quality linens and upgraded pillows. (Suite passengers have a “suite pillow menu” from which to select a specific pillow of their liking.)
In addition, the line offers a vacation guarantee program that allows passengers unhappy with their cruise the chance to disembark at the first port and get a refund. It also provides senior discounts via AARP, as well as very successful weddings at sea and golf offerings.
Carnival Cruise Lines Fleet
For nine years, starting in 1990, Carnival designed, produced and launched its immensely successful Fantasy-class ships, 2,052-passenger vessels measuring 70,367 tons; these include Carnival Fantasy, Carnival Ecstasy, Carnival Sensation, Carnival Fascination, Carnival Imagination, Carnival Inspiration, Carnival Elation and Carnival Paradise. Market changes, however, dictated new designs with more balconies and cushier staterooms. Carnival Destiny, a 101,353-ton ship carrying 2,642 passengers, debuted in 1996; two sister ships followed — Carnival Triumph in 1999 and Carnival Victory in 2000 — both of which added 700 tons and 58 staterooms, bringing their capacities to 2,758 passengers each.
Carnival continued to add to its fleet through an aggressive new-build program, with Carnival Spirit launching in 2001 and three new additions in 2002: Carnival Pride, Carnival Legend and Carnival Conquest. In 2003, Carnival Glory, the second in the Conquest class, debuted. The year 2004 saw two more vessels emerge from Italy’s Fincantieri shipyard: Carnival Miracle in March 2004, part of the Spirit class, and Carnival Valor, another Conquest-class vessel. A fourth Conquest-class ship, Carnival Liberty, launched in 2005, which brought the fleet total to 21. Carnival Freedom, the fifth and final in the Conquest class launched in 2007. Carnival Splendor, slightly larger than Conquest-class vessels, debuted in July 2008.
In 2009, Carnival introduced its largest ship yet — Carnival Dream — measuring 128,251 tons and carrying 3,646 passengers double occupancy. The ship is mainly an evolution of its predecessors, but does feature a few innovations, such as deluxe oceanview cabins for five with two bathrooms, a two-level adults-only Serenity area, and the longest waterslide at sea. Sister ship Carnival Magic, which carries 3,690 passengers, entered service in June 2011. Carnival Breeze will debut in June 2012.
In October 2012, the line announced that it had signed an agreement with Italy’s Fincantieri to launch a 135,000-ton, 4,000-passenger ship in winter 2016.
While there is only one post-Breeze ship order on the books, Carnival is far from stagnant. Since 2007, Carnival has been pumping big bucks into fleet upgrades, and “refurb not new-build” appears to be the mantra moving forward. Over the past few years, it’s committed $350 million to its eight Fantasy-class vessels, adding new deck spaces, waterslides and kids’ facilities as part of the “Evolutions of Fun” initiative. “Fun Ship 2.0,” a $500 million program launched in 2011, will cover much of the rest of the fleet. Numerous ships will gain new themed bars, dining venues and comedy clubs, among other additions. The program will also include one of the most dramatic single-ship refurbishments in contemporary cruising: In 2013, Carnival Destiny will undergo a $155 million transformation culminating with a name change. After its release from a 49-day dry-dock (from February to April 2013), Destiny will become Carnival Sunshine.