This year, more than ever, Cruise Critic is keeping an eye on changes in cruising that affect our increasingly devoted Australia- and New Zealand-based members. Carnival is the first North American-based line this year to create some excitement in the world’s top-two countries when it comes to massive growth in interest in this kind of travel. And we’re excited, too, about the arrival of Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas, Celebrity’s Solstice and Holland America’s Oosterdam — all new classes for anyone cruising Down Under. We look forward to hearing more interpretations about Aussification.
After more than 18 months of anticipation, a huge advertising campaign, the collection of thousands of feverish Facebook friends and strong support from Australian travel agents who sold the ship “sight unseen,” Carnival Cruise Lines‘ first-ever Aussie-dedicated ship, Carnival Spirit, sailed into Sydney Harbour on October 17. The media machine went into overdrive, and the ship’s debut hit the news that night and the papers the next day.
Certainly, a cruise ship, with a strong public relations team behind it always makes headlines in Australia. That’s because they are still a curiosity Down Under as the country rides the wave of the cruise boom. But in this case, the vision of carpenters and electricians setting to work to turn a U.S. ship into an Aussie-style floating pleasure palace created a special buzz.
Carnival Cruise Lines has made much of its move to fine-tune the 88,500-ton ship (a baby in the huge CCL fleet) to meet Australian tastes. Its rather lame term for the makeover, Aussification, has somehow captured the imagination of editors and newsreaders and gotten a good run for its money.
Lame it may be, but I can’t resist it either. Aussification kicked off the minute the ship arrived at Circular Quay, Sydney’s major cruise terminal. Ripped out were the U.S. power-points, replaced by the Australian three-slotted version and the slot machines, replaced with pokie machines (or pokies to us), which take Australian currency.
Carnival made a number of other major changes in January in San Francisco, as we reported earlier this year. It added an adults’ only alfresco Serenity deck complete with large sun-loungers, curved cabanas or pods and two-person hammocks; this was the most popular spot on my afternoon and overnight “cruise to nowhere” October 19. Complete with a pool, hot tub and spacious bar, this was the place to be as the temperature climbed to the mid-20s Celsius and we cruised out of Sydney Harbour through “The Heads” to the open sea.
I was on board with 2,000 Australian travel agents and some 50 media for a party hosted by Carnival Cruise Lines’ president and CEO Gerry Cahill. Agents, when not drinking by the pool, were following the “Zen to Adrenalin Experience” trail through the ship’s public areas and different cabin types to get their heads around this, the largest ship to be home-ported in Australia. Following a sail-away deck party, where Aussie flags festooned the two main pool areas, and the enticing aromas of the new outdoor barbecue area (called Fat Jimmy’s C-Side BB!) wafted across the Lido Deck, an official ceremony in the Pharaoh’s Palace show lounge kicked off an evening of fun.
The Australian enhancements were a hit. While Serenity was packed with chilled-out types, the new WaterWorks attractions were getting a workout. The handful of kids on board were loving the mini-waterslides and PowerDrencher, a giant bucket that filled with water and tipped over them, while the adults were queuing up a steep ladder to get a chance to shoot down the new Green Thunder waterslide. Billed as the fastest and steepest slide at sea, I didn’t get to brave it as it was just too popular on the day. With no one lining up to ride the Twister slide (while painted bright yellow and with some nice-looking curves, it didn’t spell “excitement” like Green Thunder), but it was fun: Just like a playground slide of yesteryear, but with water slucing down and with a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge!
I did stop by the new Taste Bar, a kiosk that offers bite-size morsels in the Fountain Café, the room between Pharaoh’s and the Louis XIV casino, which will get a lot of traffic and should evolve into a place to mingle over a tasty appetizer. The food — prawns, a succulent dip and a tiny soup – was fantastic.
Two of the other Carnival Aussifications also received my seal of approval: the coffee and the no-tipping policy. The cruise line delivered on its promise to improve on its coffee, which was quite good. The Aussie-friendly no-tipping policy even scrapped the surcharge on bar drinks. I ordered a late night gin and tonic and a glass of white wine and was thrilled to see no extra tips had been added. Australians who love a drink will love that – and the price as well. It was a mere A$14.50 (about US$15), which is cheaper than charged in most Aussie bars.
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