Following the nearly identical Mardi Gras, Carnival’s latest, slightly larger LNG-powered Excel Class ship has all of Mardi Gras’ frills, including the 800-foot BOLT rollercoaster, the Carnival Waterworks water park, four separate pool areas, a three-deck tall side atrium in the heart of the ship and multiple included and for-fee dining options that are spread out among six themed “Fun Zones”. Especially for a ship this size, a whopping 183,521 gt and with a maximum guest capacity of 6,631, the deck plan is well executed with three main stair towers, 22 elevators and wide passages that provide a smooth flow along fourteen passenger decks.
If you thought some of the past Carnival ships were a bit over the top but find the more recent Carnival ships a little generic and same-y, these Excel Class ships might be just the right touch. With this ship, it is nice to see Carnival give a nod to the themed decor that put the line on the map in the 1980s when architect Joe Farcus unleashed his wildly conceptual designs on the cruising world. While these ships don’t have the pizzazz-y neon, tivoli lighting and brassy color schemes of that era, they do boast spaces and zones like Celebration Central, 820 Biscayne and the Gateway that are rich in execution and concept.
Throughout the Carnival Celebration, there is also an infusion of tasteful yet vibrant colors (deep greens, soothing blues and bold reds) that are offset with slate, muted wood tones and ivory. Comfortable, high-end furnishings and artwork, some of which came from from past Carnival ships, give the Carnival Celebration a more upscale vibe than most would expect from a giant mass market mega ship.
The most obvious example of this is Celebration Central, the three-deck side atrium with no less than 1,400 fiberoptic “celebratory confetti” fixtures that emanate from the proscenium and burst into the ceiling, changing colors throughout the day. A spectacular 30-foot wall of glass overlooking the sea can, with the push of a button or two, close off to form a digital backdrop for dazzling acrobatic shows or perhaps an afternoon session of bingo.
On a ship with this many guests and crew, the occasional traffic jam is to be expected. At lunchtime and in the early evening, the elevator lobbies would intermittently fill up and lines did form outside popular eateries and show venues. Typical of most cruise ships, every morning there was a queue for the specialty coffee venue, JavaBlue but all said, those clusters tended to move quickly and for the most part, the traffic flow on the more traveled upper decks and in the heart of the ship was impressively smooth.
And finally, despite the ship’s newness and size, throughout our week on board, staff and crew impressively provided a welcoming, efficient and friendly guest experience.
Like a well-conceived city at sea, Carnival Celebration has a little something for everyone, starting on top with the wet and dry thrills of the Ultimate Playground Zone (which includes the BOLT rollercoaster, a trio of serpentine WaterWorks slides and a dunker, mini-golf, a ropes course, a running track and a Games Court for Hoops) surrounding the funnel on Decks 18 and 19.
Up forward on Deck 18, for those seeking a quiet retreat, there is the included adults-only Serenity which is much larger than those on other Carnival ships and even has its own sheltered pool area and a convenient salad bar. For the ultimate escape, there is also the for-fee Loft 19 enclaves on Deck 19, which is lined with cabanas that can be rented for an extra charge.
On Decks 16 and 17, the busting Lido Zone includes two separate pool areas (Midships Beach Pool and aft Tides Pool) and numerous eateries that range from the included Lido Marketplace buffet with multiple action stations, Guy’s Burger Joint, Big Chicken, the Blue Iguana Cantina and Street Eats, to the for-fee Seafood Shack. The double Deck RedFrog Tiki Bar overlooks and serves the lively midships Beach Pool while the Tides Bar serves the aft top deck areas.
In the heart of the ship, on Decks 6, 7 and 8, Celebration Central is home to the brand-new Tropicale and Aquaria Bars, a large section of the sprawling Empress Casino, numerous shops, the for-fee Bonsai Sushi and Teppanyaki eateries, the Piano Bar 88 and the Punchliner Comedy Club.
Other zones include the Miami-inspired 820 Biscayne on Deck 8 with its indoor/outdoor Cuban-themed Bar 820, included Deco Deli and Miami Slice eateries, the included Italian-themed full service Cucina del Capitano and the for-fee Rudi’s Seagrill.
Summer Landing, an enclave at the far aft end of Deck 8, contains the guest services area, popular Guy’s Pig and Anchor Smokehouse and Brewery, the Heroes Bar (dedicated to veterans and their families) and the Patio Pool area, which adjoins a starboard lanai with outdoor bars and a port lanai with a quiet promenade within earshot of the gurgling sea.
Dedicated to the past, present and future of travel, the Gateway Zone on aft Decks 6 and 7 houses two of my favorite bars, the sophisticated Golden Jubilee (which is adorned with decorative elements rescued from past Carnival ships) and Latitudes, which combines air, sea and train travel themes under a double-deck ceiling and towering fiberoptic windows that broadcast changing imagery throughout the cruise.
The Gateway is also home to the popular Alchemy Bar, the Carnival Kitchen (for cooking classes), a conference room, the for-fee Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse, the Limelight Lounge and two MDRs, the double-deck Festivale Restaurant and the Carnivale Restaurant, both named for early Carnival ships.
At the forward end of Decks 5 and 6, there is the two-deck Cloud 9 Spa, which has a thermal suite, numerous treatment rooms and a beauty salon. On the port side of Deck 6, there is the Cloud 9 Fitness Center with its excellent LifeFitness cardio machines (most facing the sea), a weight room and stretching area. Also up forward is the Grand Spectrum Theater, named for the towering atriums on Carnival’s pioneering Fantasy Class ships, on Decks 6 and 7.
Small clusters of seating that can be found in various corners of the the public areas where friends and families can gather for a drink or even just sit and people watch are an especially nice touch on a ship of this size.
Carnival Celebration offers a selection of cabins that can accommodate almost any budget or need. There are economical Interiors and Oceanviews, Balcony staterooms and roomy Suites that come with all sorts of extra perks. There are also Cloud Nine Spa staterooms with spa amenities and access to the thermal suite, Havana staterooms and suites in a special private enclave at the front of the ship and Family Harbor staterooms that are designed for families and located near a dedicated lounge that offers snacks, movies and other family-oriented diversions.
The ship’s most popular staterooms are Balcony Staterooms, which also come in a wide variety of configurations and locations. Front and back-facing staterooms are in high demand and tend to have larger balconies than the average side-facing staterooms, although there are side-facing Extended Balcony rooms, as well. There are Balcony Staterooms in the Cloud Nine Spa, Family Harbor and Havana categories and, close to the sea, there are Cove Balconies that have solid metal, versus glass balconies.
Dining on any Carnival ship is a highlight, thanks to quality ingredients, a wide variety of cuisine and the overall energetic, warm and friendly service. On the Carnival Celebration, the choices are mind-boggling and it is almost impossible on a typical week long cruise to sample everything offered.
Included favorite topside (Decks 16 and 17) eateries consist of the popular BlueIguana Cantina for Mexican specialties, Guy’s Burger Joint, Big Chicken, Street Smarts ( an Excel Class exclusive which has Fries and select Asian and Kebab-style snacks in the afternoon) and the Lido Marketplace, with its varied action stations. There is also the for-fee Seafood Shack, right by the Beach Pool.
On Decks 6, 7 and 8, the included eateries range from the sprawling Guy’s Smokehouse for barbecue, beer and live music jams to Cucina del Capitano for Italian, Miami Slice for pizza, Deco Deli for sandwiches, JavaBlue Cafe for breakfast pastries, sandwiches and afternoon snacks, and Chibang, an intriguing and popular eatery that offers up both Chinese and Mexican specialties, in addition to the two MDRs, the Festivale and Carnivale Restaurants.
For fee choices include the always popular Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse, Bonsai Sushi and Bonsai Teppanyaki, Rudi’s Seagrill (the latest seafood venue from Rudi Sodamin, executive chef for Holland America and Princess), Emeril’s Bistro 1397, which offers a la carte courses from celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse with revolving selections that tie in with the daily destination theme of the nearby Lattitudes Bar. There is also Carnival Kitchen, where guests can take cooking classes and the exclusive Chef’s Table experience set within the galley.
Main dining rooms, buffet, and Lido deck restaurants (Guy's Burgers, Big Chicken, Street Eats, BlueIguana).
Sandwiches at Piazza Panini, Pizza at Pizzeria del Capitano.
Sandwiches and select pastries at Java Blue.
A handful of specialty restaurants on a limited basis (Cucina del Capitano, Chibang, Guy Fieri's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse).
Waterslides and splash park
Serenity adults-only pool and sundeck
All pools other than Loft 19 and Havana
All evening entertainment and most daily activities
Fitness center (although not classes) and jogging track
Specialty restaurants (Rudi's Seagrill; Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse; Emeril's, Seafood Shack)
Specialty coffee and some pastries and cakes at Java Blue
Bolt roller coaster
Spa treatments and thermal suite access
Casino games and slots
Automatic beverage and spa tips
All drinks beyond water, lemonade, iced tea and coffee
Photos and artwork
Carnival is a line that harmoniously brings people from all walks of life together. In elevators, when returning to the ship from port visits, in the eateries and at shows, by the pools — you name it — most guests, despite such varied backgrounds and identities, were happy to converse and share in the fun.
On four occasions (three sea days and at Roatan) during our week on board, there were scheduled afternoon get-togethers for LGBTQ, solo travelers and guests over 40 in the Golden Jubilee.
The ship has 82 accessible staterooms with bathrooms with roll-in showers, wider doors and, where needed, ramps, in numerous categories. Corridors are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and scooters and there are 22 lifts providing vertical access between Decks 3 (for the medical center and disembarkation) and 18.
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