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Carnival Cruise Line History: How Carnival Cruises Began and Where They're Going

Marissa Wright

Last updated
Feb 10, 2023

Read time
6 min read

Carnival Cruise Line was founded in 1972 by business mogul Ted Arison and was originally a private company. Now it's the largest brand owned by Carnival Corporation & plc (of which Arison's son, Micky Arison, is the chairman). The line's most distinct feature is its red, white and blue funnel shaped like a whale's tail.

Carnival Cruise Line pioneered the concept of shorter, budget-friendly cruises with their cruise ships. Its fleet consists of "Fun Ships" that feature a wide array of entertainment and dining venues, most of which are included in the already-affordable cruise fares.

The company’s current president is Christine Duffy, who stepped into the role starting February 2015.

Which Vessels Are in the Carnival Cruise Line Fleet?

The Carnival Cruise Line fleet includes the following ships: Carnival Breeze, Carnival Celebration, Carnival Conquest, Carnival Dream, Carnival Elation, Carnival Freedom, Carnival Glory, Carnival Horizon, Carnival Jubilee, Carnival Legend, Carnival Liberty, Carnival Luminosa, Carnival Magic, Carnival Mardi Gras, Carnival Miracle, Carnival Panorama, Carnival Paradise, Carnival Pride, Carnival Radiance, Carnival Spirit, Carnival Splendor, Carnival Sunrise, Carnival Sunshine, Carnival Valor, Carnival Venezia and Carnival Vista.

The History Behind Carnival Cruise Ships

TSS Mardi Gras, the line's first Carnival cruise ship, was purchased from Canadian Pacific Steamships Ltd., and sailed for the line from 1972 to 1993.

Carnival purchased and retrofitted two additional ships after its debut -- Carnivale and Festivale (both of which left the fleet in the '90s) -- but it wasn't until 1982 that the line introduced its first new-build, Tropicale, which sailed for the company until 2001 when it was transferred to Costa Cruises.

Custom-Built Carnival Ships

From that point on, the line would continue to custom-build Carnival’s cruise ships, which gradually increased in size. Today, there are eight official Carnival ship classes.

Among these first new builds were Holiday (1985), Jubilee (1986) and Celebration (1987). All three of these first Carnival cruise ships left the Carnival fleet between 2001 and 2009.

Carnival Fantasy has the longest tenure with the line; it launched in 1990, marking the beginning of the Fantasy class. It also became the first new cruise ship ever to offer three- and four-night Bahamas cruises from Miami.

The line continued to expand its Fantasy class, building Carnival Ecstasy (1991), Carnival Sensation (1993), Carnival Fascination (1994), Carnival Imagination (1995) and Carnival Inspiration (1996).

Making History With Carnival Ships

Carnival made history in 1996 when Carnival Destiny launched as the largest passenger cruise ship in the world (at the time) and the first to exceed 100,000 tons. The ship was the first of the Destiny class of Carnival cruise ships as well, which would continue to be slightly larger than those in the Fantasy Class.

Carnival Destiny was then retrofitted and renamed Carnival Sunshine in 2013 and placed in its own Sunshine Class. The 3,006-passenger ship remains one of the most popular ships in Carnival's fleet.

In 1998, Carnival launched its seventh and eighth (final) Fantasy-class ships: Carnival Elation and Carnival Paradise. Elation became the first new cruise ship to sail from the West Coast after being added to the Carnival cruise line fleet.

It wasn't long before Carnival introduced its second Destiny-class ship; Carnival Triumph debuted in 1999, one year after Elation and Paradise. A third Destiny-class ship, Carnival Victory, launched in 2000.

Fun fact: For six years, Carnival operated Paradise as a completely smoke-free cruise ship.

A Return to Smaller Carnival Cruise Ships in the Early 2000s

After dipping its toes into 100,000-plus-ton ships, they returned to building slightly smaller Carnival ships -- with a new Spirit Class spearheaded by the 88,500-ton Carnival Spirit. Carnival Spirit became the first new cruise ship ever positioned in Alaska and cruise ports of Hawaii.

Following the class' namesake ship were Carnival Pride and Carnival Legend, both of which launched in 2002.

The year 2002 was a busy year for Carnival. After the second and third Spirit-class ships launched, it debuted its next class -- Conquest class -- which marked the return of big ships for the line.

Carnival Glory followed the 110,000-ton Carnival Conquest in 2003. In 2004, the fourth Spirit-class ship, Carnival Miracle, entered service. One year later, Carnival unveiled its third and fourth Conquest-class ships: Carnival Liberty and Carnival Valor.

Two years passed before Carnival's fifth Conquest-class ship, Carnival Freedom, made its debut. But in those two years, the line had been cooking up plans for two new classes: Splendor and Dream.

The two class' namesake ships -- 113,300-ton Carnival Splendor and 130,000-ton Carnival Dream -- entered the fleet in 2008 and 2009, respectively. While there wasn't another Splendor-class ship built, Carnival Magic and Carnival Breeze launched to complete the small, three-ship Dream class in 2011 and 2012.


Big Changes in the Carnival Cruise Line Fleet

After four years of anticipation, Carnival changed the game when it debuted its newest and largest class, the Vista Class. Carnival Vista introduced the biggest changes the line had ever seen with a number of firsts -- not only for the line but also for the industry.

Among these innovative changes was the first-ever IMAX theater at sea, the RedFrog Pub and Brewery (which signaled the first North America line to brew its own beer onboard), Cuba-themed Havana Cabana cabins, new Family Harbor cabins that come with their own lounge, and the SkyRide, an aerial biking track.

The second Vista-class ship, Carnival Horizon, launched in 2018 and was nearly identical to Carnival Vista, but also added its own unique touches. To name a few: a Dr. Seuss WaterWorks park, teppanyaki restaurant and Guy's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse Brewhouse (a combination of the ship's brewery and the barbecue joint found on a handful of ships).

Carnival Panorama, the third in the Vista Class, launched at the end of 2019 and was the first new Carnival cruise ship based on the West Coast in two decades.

Quality Control for All Carnival Cruises

Carnival sends its ships to dry dock every few years for routine maintenance and to ensure all ships have the latest branded spaces. The line's most recent refurb initiative -- fittingly named Fun Ship 2.0 -- has injected more than $500 million into the fleet. It includes the addition of Guy's Burger Joint (helmed by Food Network personality and Carnival partner Guy Fieri), BlueIguana Cantina and Tequila Bar, the RedFrog Rum Bar and the Alchemy Bar.

As Carnival's newest cruise ships make waves, old ships are either refurbished or sold. In 2020, Carnival Imagination, Carnival Fantasy and Carnival Inspiration were scrapped to make room for new Carnival ships.

Welcoming the Newest Carnival Cruise Ships

In 2020, Carnival welcomed a new class of Carnival cruise ships when Mardi Gras entered service toward the end of the year. The ship was a completely new style of Carnival ship for the line, with distinctly themed zones and a suites-only Enclave that comes with special perks. Carnival Celebration launched in November 2022 and is a sister ship to the Mardi Gras.

As the first Carnival ship to call in the UK in 20 years, guests were happy to travel on the cruise ship during this momentous occasion.

The newest Carnival cruise ships, Carnival Venezia and Carnival Jubilee will be added to the fleet in 2023. Sticking to festive Carnival ship names, Carnival Venezia draws inspiration from Italy. Cruisers can enjoy the Venice-inspired atrium Piazza San Marco and Italian restaurants, including Marco Polo, Canal Grande Restaurants and Tomodoro.

As one of the newest Carnival ship installments, Carnival Jubilee includes popular dining joints with Bonsai Teppanyaki and Guy’s Burger Joint.

Publish date February 10, 2023
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