Carnival Cruise Line's newest ship, Carnival Celebration, brightened up a stormy day in Southampton, England, yesterday (Sunday) as it became the first new Carnival ship in 20 years to call at the UK.
The milestone was marked with festivities led by Carnival president Christine Duffy at a special "Let's Celebrate" event in the city's Ocean Cruise Terminal with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting as the first guests were welcomed onboard.
Carnival Celebration arrived early in the morning having sailed from the Meyer Turku shipyard in Finland where it was built.
It departed the same afternoon on a 14-day transatlantic sailing to Miami where the official naming ceremony with godmother, Cassidy Gifford, daughter of Kathie Lee Gifford who was godmother of the original Celebration, will take place on November 20.
Cruise Critic was one of the special guests invited onboard for the day to enjoy a quick taste of this 5,282-passenger vessel (6,465 pax at full capacity) which follows sister Carnival Mardi Gras as Carnival's second ship powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG).
It shares many of the same characteristics as Mardi Gras, but crucially, has its own distinctive flavour thanks to a number of new features and on-board attractions.
But the first overriding impression of Carnival Celebration is a sense of classy contemporary style twinned with hi-tech attractions led by the Bolt roller-coaster that weaves around the top deck, along with banks of LED screens and colour-changing lights.
"Every new class of ship takes Carnival to a new level into the future," said Duffy. "There's the ability now to leverage and integrate technology into so much more of the guest experience."
Contrasting this with mementoes of Carnival's heritage dotted through Carnival Celebration's public spaces, Duffy added: "It's all about celebrating our 50 years and looking back, but it's also looking forward. I think what’s really unique about this ship is that you have the blend of both."
Everywhere you walk around Carnival Celebration's main decks are reminders of the cruise line's heritage, from the antique Rolls-Royce which greets guests as soon as they board (previously on Carnival Ecstasy), to the striking turquoise ocean-themed glass murals in the Aquaria Bar that came from Carnival Victory.
Such historical nods run like a rich seam through this ship and Carnival fans will enjoy picking them out, with the Tropicale Bar named after the line’s first ship to sport the iconic whale tail funnel and the Grand Spectrum Theater that references the Grand Spectrum atriums on the line’s Fantasy-class ships.
Like Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration has six different zones with three of them new.
The three-deck Celebration Central, spanning decks six to eight, is the pulsating hub of the ship. Further developing the concept of the starboard side atrium which debuted on Mardi Gras, it takes this further with a new look and lively vibe.
Under a ceiling of 1,400 colour changing lights are vast floor-to-ceiling windows covering 3,000 square feet which transform into 16 individually controlled 14ft LED screens, providing a dynamic backdrop to a programme of varied entertainment with aerial acrobatics, special effects, live music and high-energy performances.
There's a new Miami-themed 820 Biscayne zone that not only celebrates the rich culture and style of the Floridian city, where this line was born half a century ago, but takes its name from the address of Carnival’s original headquarters.
Located on Deck 8 (where La Piazza is situated on Mardi Gras), there’s a tropical feel to this cool collection with the retro-style Bar 820 serving Miami-inspired coffees and cocktails; the Deco Deli with an Art Deco feel that nods to the city’s famous South Beach, and Miami Slice serving 24-hour pizza and reminiscent of late-night eateries on the city’s Ocean Drive.
The Gateway is the third new zone, focusing on global travel and highlighting the romance of classic journeys.
The travel-themed Latitudes bar, with its spit-flap departures board displaying daily menus evokes the feel of a traditional train station, while the bar stools are emblazoned with passport-style stamps of cities from around the world.
Nearby is another seafood restaurant by Emeril Lagasse (his first is on Mardi Gras), called Emeril's Bistro 1397 in reference to the hull number given to Carnival Celebration in the shipyard.
With a 100ft LED ceiling, 12 high-definition multi-media "windows" that offer changing scenes, special lighting and sound systems, this area comes alive at nightly themed evenings that promise an immersive taste of destinations including France, Mexico or Asia where the food, drink and entertainment reflects these cultures.
But when it comes to strolling down the memory lane of Carnival's own five decades, the place to go is The Golden Jubilee, an evocative Art Deco style lounge and elegant bar that sits under a striking multi-piece chandelier, oozing old-style glamour.
This area brims with Carnival memorabilia and original pieces from early ships, with a distinctive etched glass partition from the first TSS Mardi Gras and cocktail tables adorned with signed sketches of movie classics by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld from Carnival Fascination.
With Carnival Celebration joining Mardi Gras as the line's largest ship, it has a diverse selection of entertainment spots designed to spread guests out and appeal to different tastes.
This goes for dining options too with more than 20 outlets, including many longstanding favourites found across the Carnival fleet.
However, in something of a departure, in addition to the usual complimentary main dining choices, Carnival Celebration guests (and those on Mardi Gras too) can also enjoy three speciality venues: Guy's Pig & Anchor Smokehouse, Chibang! and Cucina del Capitano for no extra charge.
These add to the mix of differing flavours that Carnival Celebration and Mardi Gras bring to the Carnival fleet.
Theirs is a more diverse and upscale ambience, reflected in the décor where the screaming neon colours of old have melded into a far more sophisticated offering. Not only are these two ships Carnival’s largest, at first glance they are the classiest too.