(2:47 p.m. EST) -- Carnival Panorama, the third of Carnival Cruise Line's popular Vista-class of ships, made its debut this week in Long Beach, California. The 4,008-passenger ship is the first new Carnival cruise ship in more than 20 years to homeport on the West Coast, a boon for passengers in not only California, but in nearby drive markets such as Arizona and Nevada.
Cruise Critic is onboard Carnival Panorama for the current sold-out three-day cruise to Ensenada, as well as the subsequent week-long sailing to the Mexican Riviera. Here are our first impressions of Carnival Panorama and Carnival's new West Coast experience.
The Long Beach cruise terminal wows architecturally before you even enter, as it's located within a striking geodesic dome that used to house Howard Hughes' plane "The Spruce Goose." The iconic Queen Mary cruise ship, now a hotel, is also right next door and impossible to miss before you board; we saw plenty of people grabbing photos of the historic liner before getting on the decidedly modern Carnival Panorama.
But what really impressed us in Long Beach was the ease of embarking our ship. No boarding pass? No problem. Porters were stationed outside the terminal to print them for you on site. Port personnel were friendly and proactive, reaching out to help anyone who looked confused (and guest services handled a name change that we had to make like champs).
Once inside, the terminal has ample seating with holiday decor adding a festive touch to the space, which has been designed to look like a park with attractive benches and lights. Add in that Southern California friendliness and we were in the Fun Ship mood before we even boarded.
Carnival Cruise Line has long had a special relationship with America's military; the line supports Operation Homefront and a special tribute is held in the theater on every cruise to celebrate retired and current military personnel and their families.
Last year, Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy toured military bases around the world with JOCC (Joint Operations Command Center), an event that exposes business leaders to military life. (Duffy herself has several relatives in the armed forces, including her father, uncles and next year, her son). The tour was difficult, she said, but evenings were spent in military bars on the bases.
Fast forward a year, to the October 2019 delivery of Carnival Panorama in Italy. The space that had been taken up by SkyBox, the line's sports bar, seemed like a perfect spot to create a military bar; the Heroes Tribute Bar was pulled together in just 39 days, Duffy said.
Judging from the space and its decor, you'd never imagine that Heroes Tribute Bar was a last-minute addition. It's an eye-catching bar, with photos of military personnel returning home and emblems from the different branches of the armed forces. There's a special drink menu with military-themed names; a portion of the proceeds of drink sales goes to support Operation Homefront. Sports fans needn't worry, as TVs still play games and a ticker displays sports scores.
Duffy says that she plans to roll out the Heroes Tribute Bar to Carnival's entire fleet. It's a smart move, not only because many of Carnival's ports are close to military bases, but because the line has put together a space that feels real and genuine. It should go over gangbusters with Carnival's passengers.
A new concept for Carnival, Carnival Kitchen offers a variety of cooking classes that guests can take for a fee. While the classes are meant to be fun, the nine workstations in the space could make serious cooks jealous, with built-in induction burners, refrigerators, utility drawers and cool marble counterparts (perfect for rolling dough). An iPad not only holds the recipe, it broadcasts images from the lead table at the front so you can easily follow along.
Topics run from "Sushi 101" and "It's an Ice Cream Kind of Day" to "Mission Masala Tiger" and "Tailgate Party." Classes hold 18 people, run from one hour to 90 minutes and cost between $30 and $59.
There's a long table in the space where people can eat what they cook. In cases where the dish takes longer to bake than the class -- at our class, for example, the apple pies we created took 45 minutes to cook -- the kitchen will send the dish to either your cabin or the restaurant for you to enjoy at dinner.
On our three-day cruise, the classes offered were completely sold out. We loved the atmosphere in the kitchen -- it's relaxed and laid back, as opposed to the more serious vibe that you sometimes get at cooking classes. And the recipes are definitely accessible -- we were a little afraid of making pie crust, but the chefs made it seem easy and fun.
The first trampoline park at sea, SkyZone underwhelms a bit when you first walk in. Located in the space on Deck 7 where the IMAX theater is on sister ships Carnival Horizon and Carnival Vista, the SkyZone is smaller and a bit more cramped than we thought it would be (although to be honest, we're newcomers to the trampoline park concept).
That being said, SkyZone packs a lot into the space that it has. The room is divided into two parts. One side has a gigantic air bag on the floor and several challenges you can do, such as climb a rope ladder (spoiler: most people can't, and watching people flip over and fall off is highly entertaining), walk a balance beam -- harder if you use the foam "jousting sticks" to push people off and climb a rock wall. The other side has different courts, which can be used to play basketball, dodgeball or other sports games.
SkyZone carries a fee of $12 for open jump and $18 for a special "glow party" where you get a T-shirt (sessions for toddlers and their families are $5). We're not sure how addictive jumping will be -- particularly when it's competing with the video arcade that's right downstairs. Still, it's a fun diversion and something that we're sure kids, teens and the young at heart will want to try at least once.
While Carnival Panorama doesn't have a whole lot that's "new" to the line -- especially compared to the roller coaster and other new concepts coming to Mardi Gras next summer -- the ship is still huge and exciting, with plenty to do.
We think Carnival Panorama is a gold mine for families, who will love the bright colors; the massive water slides, ropes courses and outdoor fun; and general low-key atmosphere. There are plenty of dining choices for everyone, both free and added fee, and you can eat decently on Carnival Panorama without having to pay extra.
And of course, adults will love the comedy clubs, colorful cocktails, game shows, the piano bar and nightclub that make Carnival a great choice for celebrations and letting loose with friends. We predict that Panorama will be a smash hit for West Coast cruisers.