BARCELONA, Spain -- Travel by cruise ship can be an overwhelming experience -- in a good way. There are endless dining and entertainment options and myriad ways that crew aim to please, whether it be the serenading maitre d's or cabin stewards who transform ordinary towels into exotic animal shapes and place them on your bed each night.
"I always believed the star should be the guest," says John Heald, who is surely one of the most affable (and funniest) cruise directors in the industry.
And nowhere is that philosophy more true than aboard Carnival Cruise Lines' new Carnival Breeze. The 3,690-passenger ship debuted June 3, and is sailing 12-day Mediterranean itineraries from Barcelona through Oct. 25 before repositioning to Miami for year-round Caribbean service beginning Nov. 24
Heald, who is cruise director on the Breeze, has seen a lot of changes during his 26 years in the industry. Chief among them is the increasing attention on children.
"I love how we're now giving so much real estate to children's entertainment," Heald says. "When we go back just 10 years, we'd put them in the lounge somewhere and give them some colouring pencils. There was really nothing."
Here are some highlights from a recent cruise on the Breeze:
Some 1,765 sq.-metres of indoor and outdoor play areas cater to children and teens. The most notable attraction is the sprawling WaterWorks aqua park and waterslide. Other activities include everything from video-game consoles linked to plasma-screen TVs, sand-art machines for little designers, scavenger hunts, T-shirt decorating, and a dance floor and jukebox for teens. Outdoor activities include a suspended ropes course, miniature golf and basketball.
Supervised programs for three age groups: Camp Carnival (2-11), Circle "C" (12-14) and Club O2 (15-17) allow family members the freedom to go their own way during the day, then meet up at mealtimes. Meanwhile, adult passengers don't have to worry about encountering boisterous kids, as the youngsters tend to hang out in their own recreational spaces.
New on board
The Breeze has expanded and raised the bar in entertainment and dining.
-- Playlist Productions is wowing passengers with hi-tech shows that combine live performances with LED staging and colourful special effects.
-- The Thrill Theater is an interactive, multi-dimensional experience that makes you feel as if you're part of the movie.
-- WaterWorks is said to be among the largest, most elaborate facility of its kind at sea with a massive 95-metre-long spiral water slide, a 1,135-litre tipping bucket that fills with water then empties out onto those standing beneath it, and more.
-- Hasbro, The Game Show, entertains families with larger-than-life adaptations of the brand's iconic games and activities.
-- In addition to the Caribbean-inspired RedFrog Pub, the Cucina del Capitano Italian restaurant, and the SportSquare outdoor recreation area that debuted on Carnival Magic, the Breeze has added new culinary choices including Bonsai Sushi, and a free open-air outdoor dining venue called Fat Jimmy's C-Side BBQ.
Cruise your way
In some ways, a cruise ship is a destination in itself and guests can create their own at sea itinerary.
-- When I wasn't in the Library Bar reading guidebooks about our upcoming ports of call, which included Marseille, Florence/Pisa, Rome, Venice, Dubrovnik, Messina and Barcelona, I'd head off to one of the many educational seminars. These ranged from talks on the art of Rome and Venice, to the art and life of Thomas Kinkaid -- one of America's most collected artists -- where I learned about the symbolism and hidden messages in his work. Photography tips, food and wine pairings, and dance classes are also offered.
-- One of the ship's most pleasant movie experiences takes place outdoors at the Seaside Theatre with its giant screen. Where else can you sit back with your feet up on a lounge chair, enjoy the pleasant summer evening air and munch on unlimited popcorn, while stars twinkle above. Also new is the Thrill Theater, which combines a high-definition projection system with interactive features -- be prepared for squirting water, a shifting seat, blowing air and having your legs tickled! Many films are geared to kids (Sponge Bob & Mumble's Wild Ride and Bamboo Express, and Planet Earth Shallow Seas) but there are adult offerings, too. And you can also watch films on TV in the air-conditioned comfort of your stateroom. where two channels screen different movies daily.
Yes you can be naughty and have ice cream at breakfast, which at least one boy did, or freshly made thin crust pizza at 3 a.m. or even 24-hour room service. You won't be hungry or starved for options on the Breeze with no fewer than a dozen eateries. Menus in the elegant Blush and Sapphire dining rooms offer everything from lobster to crocodile fritters, while the Indian Tandoori (very authentic) and Mongolian Wok stations are among the many standouts at the Lido Marketplace. Or treat yourself to dinner at Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse (extra charges apply) designed to impress with its fine service, ambiance and culinary offerings.
There is so much on offer, it's impossible to experience it all on one cruise. For example, the thoroughly enjoyable Punchliner Comedy Club (which had both family friendly and adults-only shows) had four comedy shows on each of five nights. The Ovation Theatre presents four different shows highlighting popular music encompassing a variety of styles, genres and eras. The Brits, for example, features music from The Beatles, the Who, The Rolling Stones and more, while the other revue-style shows are Divas, Latin Nights and Motor City. The audience participation nights were often achingly funny, while award-winning juggler Niels Duinker was a hit.
A real crowd pleaser in the dining room is Ken Byrne, the singing maitre d', who laughed when I told him he should be famous. But if you close your eyes you'll swear you're listening to Frank Sinatra.
Additional diversions cover the gamut from the casino, piano bar and nightclub, to participatory activities such as bingo, trivia competitions, or -- wait for it -- the hairy chest competition!
NEED TO KNOW
For more check carnival.com or call 1-800-CARNIVAL.