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Carnival Ecstasy on its final passenger cruise (Photo: Peter Knego)

Fun Ship Farewell: Aboard Carnival Ecstasy's Final Cruise

Carnival Ecstasy on its final passenger cruise (Photo: Peter Knego)
Peter Knego

Oct 17, 2022

Read time
8 min read

(4:07 p.m. EDT) -- When it was first christened in 1991 by godmother Kathie Lee Gifford, the 70,000 ton, 2,052 passenger Carnival Ecstasy was one of the world’s most vibrant and exciting cruise ships.

Now, 31 years and 5.5 million happy cruisers later, Carnival Ecstasy was just given a gala send off with a five-night farewell cruise from Mobile, Alabama that called at Cozumel and Progresso before being removed from service and sent to the shipbreakers..

Unlike five of its sisters (Carnival Fantasy, Carnival Imagination, Carnival Inspiration, Carnival Fascination and Carnival Sensation), all of which were sold for scrap during the global health pandemic, Carnival Ecstasy was given a temporary reprieve with a return to service this past March. When it was announced that the October 10 sailing would be its last, according to Carnival’s brand ambassador John Heald, the cruise almost instantly sold out.

Heald himself flew in from the U.K. to partake of the bittersweet occasion. His presence added both poignance and fun to the affair. "I came on board as cruise director during the Ecstasy’s third week of service and will never forget entering that lobby for the first time. The 'wow' factor was off the charts. Maybe some of Joe Farcus’ designs were too outlandish for the minority but for the majority, it was absolute escapism from everyday life."

A Fantasy Upon the Seas

Carnival Ecstasy launched in 1991 and was designed by Joe Farcus (Photo: Peter Knego)

The second ship in Carnival Cruise Line's eight structurally identical Fantasy-class “SuperLiners”, Carnival Ecstasy was the latest vision of then-Carnival architect Joe Farcus, who infused its interiors with a “City At Sea” decorative theme.

In the heart of the vessel, a six-deck tall, skylight-topped Grand Atrium created a bedazzling first impression. The soaring space literally buzzed with Art Deco skyscraper facades straight out of a Fritz Lang movie that gradually changed color as twin, neon-framed panoramic elevators scaled its heights. Farcus’ metropolis concept worked its way from there into the City Lights promenade that linked a wide variety of public spaces, each with its own eye-popping elements, representing the height of floating entertainment decor.

Carnival Ecstasy launched in 1991 and was designed by Joe Farcus (Photo: Peter Knego)

One can only imagine what Carnival’s accountants were thinking when they signed off on all of the hand-crafted materials like granite, marble, leather, etched glass and solid brass that went into Ecstasy’s construction. There was even a blue 1934 Rolls Royce Saloon automobile, which was "parked" in front of the specialty coffee bar until it was moved over to the new Carnival Celebration, which debuts this November.

Among the decorative highlights that survived various refits were custom designed, sequined velvet curtains in the Blue Sapphire Lounge, museum quality kinetic art panels by Len Janklow in the stairtowers, and a massive dragon lurking in the ceiling above an inlaid yin and yang dance floor in the Chinatown Lounge.

Although immensely successful, the Ecstasy endured its share of trials and tribulations. The shipyard that constructed it -- Helsinki, Finland-based Wartsila -- went bankrupt. Carnival’s founder and then CEO Ted Arison responded by coordinating with other shipowners to buy the facility, which was then renamed Masa Yards, so that the ship's empty shell could be fitted out and the rest of the Fantasy-class could eventually be delivered.

Carnival Ecstasy was known for its unique design elements created by Joe Farcus (Photo: Peter Knego)

Ecstasy sailed on without incident until July 20,1998, when off the Florida coast, a fire broke out in her laundry room and spread to the aft mooring deck and engulfed the stern. Fourteen crew members and eight passengers suffered minor injuries before the blaze was extinguished, resulting in $17 million worth of repairs.

In 2005, Carnival Ecstasy's cruising career was again interrupted when it spent six months at New Orleans housing relief workers and locals displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Since then, up until the global heath pandemic, it has thankfully been smooth sailing.

The Final Cruise aboard Carnival Ecstasy Draws Loyal Passengers

Fun Ship Farewell: Passengers celebrate Carnival Ecstasy's last voyage in the ship's atrium. (Photo: Peter Knego)

Throughout those five wistful days onboard Carnival Ecstasy's last voyage, fellow guests from all walks of life sang the ship's praises and shared fond memories.

Thirty-one years ago, Douglas Bryan proposed to his wife Leslie in Ecstasy’s Wind Star Dining Room. The still happily married couple from Boston came back to relive that milestone. "I bought the ring and gave it to our waiter, who put it on top of a cake to surprise her with. He actually filmed us, so thankfully, she said ‘yes’!" said Brian.

"We’re even staying in the same cabin (an inside), which is funny, because our travel agent tried to persuade us to upgrade but we wanted our return to be authentic."

Brent Riegert from Kansas City made his pilgrimage to the Carnival Ecstasy for the first time in the 31 years since his mother took him on one of the ship’s inaugural sailings. "I just had to come back and see this ship one more time. She looks fantastic. It’s hard to believe she’s going for scrap."

Orange, California-based Tom Nicolai-Vargas, who has been on 28 Carnival cruises, booked one of the Ecstasy’s suites and held nightly get-togethers for fans of the ship. "I love this particular class for their size, the fun decor, the beautiful teak decks, and the promenades under the lifeboats that are like those of a traditional ocean liner. I also like their tall, sculptural whale tail funnels, which became more and more truncated as the ships got bigger."

Crew welcome passengers aboard Carnival Ecstasy's final voyage (Photo: Peter Knego)

Self-described New York-based Millennial, Joe Polidora, who became fascinated after watching a YouTube video of the Fantasy being scrapped, booked as soon as he found out the Ecstasy was returning to service. "I’m absolutely loving it, this wild, AD-looking interior. The Neon Bar is spectacular and the Atrium -- I love it probably the most -- with all the little buildings lighting up and changing color."

Geoffrey Lara from Salt Lake City has sailed on the Ecstasy six times since 2001. "This ship has such an intimate feel, allowing you to get to know your fellow passengers. I love the eccentricity of the Chinatown Lounge and all of its fine details, the art in the stairtowers. I absolutely love the teak decks."

Even the ship’s officers and department heads had sentimental musings, including Sorrento-based Captain Michele Coppola, who began his career with Carnival as a cadet on the Inspiration in 2001 and worked his way up the ranks to captain in 2021.

The gracious Captain delivered Carnival Sensation to the Turkish breakers this past March and will be taking the Ecstasy there, as well. "I love this class of ship for the size and intimacy. We have fewer crew members than on the bigger ships, so there is more of a family atmosphere. As far as this ship is concerned, my favorite space is the Neon Bar. It feels like something from a different era with all the colorful, beautiful lights."

Chief Engineer Orazio D’Aita, who hails from Sicily, began his 32-year career with Carnival on the 1987-built Celebration. He first worked on the Ecstasy in 2002 and will supervising the 25 or so engineers who will take the ship to Aliaga. "I am a little sad, as bringing a ship there will be like bringing her to a cemetery."

Macedonian Hotel Manager Mladen Spasov had signed on, not only for the final cruise season but also for the voyage to Turkey. "I'm very proud and honored to be on this ship that so many love so much and to help deliver her to her resting place."

Carnival Ecstasy Sails into the Sunset

Sunset off Carnival Ecstasy's final voyage. (Photo: Peter Knego)

On the final sea day aboard Carnival Ecstasy, John Heald auctioned off mementos to raise money for St Jude’s Children’s Hospital. In the packed-to-the-rafters Blue Sapphire Lounge, various lots, which included a ship's life ring, commemorative port plaques, a cocktail table, artwork from the Library, and even a set of stateroom linens, went for astronomical prices. One guest paid $4,000 for a private tour of the bridge and a chance to sound the ship’s whistle for the last time. Duly impressed, Captain Coppola threw in his epaulets to sweeten the deal.

That evening, cruise director Alex Siegler hosted a send-off bash in the Atrium that filled its balconies with teary-eyed revelers waving fiberoptic glow sticks and cheering along to pop anthems to celebrate the life of a much-loved ship.

The following day, after all guests departed, the Carnival Ecstasy sailed off to Miami to disembark most of her crew and various fittings before sailing to Aliaga, Turkey, where Carnival Ecstasy is scheduled to arrive on November 7 for dismantling.

As soon as the ship is beached, throngs of local workers armed with acetylene torches, sledgehammers and crowbars will storm on board and begin the grim task of dismantling the classic ship, oblivious to all the care and thought put into its creation.

In just a few short months, Carnival Ecstasy will cease to exist but those fond memories and the impact it has made on the cruising world will sail on. Its legacy will be taken over, in part, by the brand-new Carnival Celebration, which will debut for Carnival Cruise Line in November.

Updated October 17, 2022
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