The 3,690-passenger Breeze represents the future of Carnival: a somehow more caffeinated yet more cohesive breed of Fun Ship. On the first new-build to emerge from the “Fun Ship 2.0″ initiative, a fleetwide overhaul focusing on 25 food-, booze- and entertainment-related elements, I’ve been busy tasting, drinking and laughing (or scowling) my way across the Western Mediterranean.
Here are some initial impressions:
Casual Food Is King
Holistically, the casual dining options on Breeze equate to a diverse shopping mall food court. There’s sushi at Bonsai (the line’s first stand-alone sushi venue; a la carte); pub grub at the island-themed RedFrog ($3.33 for appetizers like sliders, onion rings, fried conch), coffee and sweets at the Plaza Cafe (a la carte); burritos at Blue Iguana Cantina (surcharge-free); cheese-whiz-and-fried bacon-smothered burgers at Guy’s (surcharge-free); a 24-hour pizza counter (free); an Indian food spot (free); a BBQ setup open on sea days (free); and a station-oriented main buffet with a deli bar, “Mongolian wok” (stir-fry) and “Comfort Kitchen.” It’s a greased-out list to make any heart quiver with fear.
With some exceptions, the options have been respectably satisfying albeit blissfully disdainful of the rising chorus of howls over American diets. I know, it’s a vacation. Guy’s burgers in particular are suspiciously addictive — grease, cheese whiz and bacon may be to blame — and execs said 1,200 beef-and-bun sandwiches were served on one sea day during Breeze’s inaugural June 3 cruise. The old “pool grill” typically doled out 400. Blue Iguana Cantina, with its expansive hot sauce and salsa bar, and tasty house-made tortillas puts on a strong initial showing, but was ultimately disappointing. A first burrito was so salty it seemed inspired by the Dead Sea.
Brands You’ve Never Heard of But Will Remember.
Speaking of the Blue Iguana, who also lends his reptilian form to a tequila bar, Carnival has never been so focused on creating “brands.” These have mostly been built in-house from scratch, but some are designed in conjunction with land-based personas like Guy Fieri, whose bleach-tipped spikes and backward Oakleys can be seen on the Food Network, jars of salsa in Shoprite and, now, at-sea burger venues.
Bars on previous Carnival ships were mostly defined by the sparkling, surrealistic work of Joe Farcus, a man who dreams in neon and polished marble, and, frankly, the only cruise ship architect who could end up as a Jeopardy question. Farchitecture’s whimsical grandeur has been traded for characters (like the red frog) with back-stories (why he’s red) explained on menus offering venue-specific drinks and grub (fried bar food, a slew of Caribbean lagers, the private label ThirstyFrog Red, which can be ordered in a 101-ounce tube). Design queues (fake palms, “driftwood” signage and plastic fish), music (acoustic guitar-driven rock) and even uniforms are baked into the mix, too. Most of Breeze’s bars roughly fit this blueprint, and RedFrog, which debuted on Magic and was added to Liberty in fall 2011, has proven so successful that execs briefly flirted with the idea of opening up a land-based version. It’s at least destined for more Carnival ships.
Additionally, the line is also trying to give its crew more permanent “beats,” be it working at RedFrog, Blue Iguana or Guy’s. Crew I’ve spoken to say they like the sense of ownership and expertise this focus engenders. It makes them happier. They treat you better. Sounds like a company line — since execs have been drilling down the same quote — but could be something to it. There’s less stress in not having to learn a new routine every couple cruises, per the two-week rotational scheme employed by many lines. Just when you learn the clientele and cocktail list at the cognac and cigar bar, you’re transferred.
Breeze Belongs in the Caribbean.
It’s not that the weather isn’t sunny here in Italy, but Breeze’s tropical themed décor, focus on BBQ, burritos and burgers, and casual vibe, seems a better fit in Grand Turk or Key West. President and CEO Gerry Cahill admitted as much during a recent briefing, and after this initial four-month stint in Europe, Breeze will reposition permanently to Miami to sail Carnival’s bread-and-butter island cruises. A ship like Breeze seems to scream for more sea days than the three — compared to 8 port calls — it’s offering on my 12-night sailing.
It’s an outdoor ship. During embarkation day, the energy on the sun deck, which features a high ropes course, water park and jumbotron, was infectious or frenetic, depending on whom you asked. Bars and lounges down on the Deck 5 social hub spill out onto the outer promenade deck, and patrons spill al fresco, too. The outdoor theme continues inside. Instead of art that makes you go “hmm” or “uhh?”, stairwells on Breeze showcase nature — bikini-ed snorkelers backset by verdant Caribbean islands, giant sea turtles and the like. Cabin corridors feature silk screened palm trees motifs and paneled faux-Caribbean hardwood doors. Indoor tables at the buffet have umbrellas. Juxtapose that with medieval churches, the Colosseum or narrow Venetian manses, and may you get my point.
All that said, even Carnival is going global to some degree — two(!) ships in Europe in 2013; upcoming stints in Australia and South America — and new mega-ships typically debut across the Pond before heading west. And since Med. cruises are like tapas bars, parents bringing kids to Europe for the first time or Carnival acolytes trying something new have loved coming back to such comfortable confines.
Questions, comments about Breeze? Join the conversation on our Breeze Q&A thread.
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