|The cruise director, his staff and guests "Groove for St. Jude" on Carnival Liberty, the first ship to receive Fun Ship 2.0 upgrades.// Photo by Susan J. Young|
Travel Agent sailed on Carnival Liberty last week. Our goal was a first-hand look at the newly added Fun Ship 2.0 enhancements introduced by the line; this ship was the line's first existing vessel to receive the enhancements.
The entire Carnival fleet will ultimately receive $500 million in upgrades between now and 2015.
Carnival's goal with Fun Ship 2.0 is to freshen the onboard product for repeaters and provide the latest upgrades that clients might experience if they were booked on the new Carnival Magic.
Based on our Carnival Liberty experience, many of these new venues were a hit with the 3,200 guests onboard. At least 1,800 of those were Carnival repeat guests.
Because this was a regular revenue cruise, not a press or trade cruise with only special guests onboard, we had first-hand experience observing regular cruisers, seeing what they liked, listening to their comments about the venues, and watching how they spent time onboard.
With that in mind, here's our "Fun-O-Meter" countdown of the Top 7 Fun Ship 2.0 enhancements on Carnival Liberty. Fun-O-Meter
|The Alchemy Bar// Photo by Carnival Cruise Lines|
#7: Alchemy Bar
Even as creative as cruise ship bars are, this one is certainly unique with its historic pharmacy theming. Setting the mood, the bartender concocts drinks while decked out in pharmacist’s lab-technician coat.
Vintage decor includes a periodic table, chalkboards with daily specials called Today’s Rx, and a head statue that illustrates the 19th century study of the skull’s shape.
But while the theme is a throwback to a former era, the brown-and-cream bar also comes off as trendy and modern. Young couples frequented here in late evening, while more middle aged folks gravitated here during the day.
Master mixologists Gabriel Orta and Elad Zvi created Alchemy’s eclectic bar menu. Guests might choose between the bar's “Mood Enhancers” or “The Pharmacy” fare.
Mood enhancers include an “Invigorating Mint Martini” and “Forty is the New Twenty,” the latter available within the aptly named Fountain of Youth category.
Or, in the “Relief for What Ails You” category, guests might order “The Quick Fix” and a “Restorative Basil Drop.”
A tasting menu that fields eight martinis is another option. Guests can grab a prescription pad to choose from a variety of spirits, fruits and herbs to personalize their drink.
|Cherry on Top// Photo by Susan J. Young|
Fun-O-Meter #6: Cherry on Top
Yes, Cherry on Top is a spot that clearly creates onboard revenue for the line. The venue is prominently placed near the ship's other shops with glass windows that invitingly showcase all the candy items within.
For kids and sweet-tooth fans, it's akin to peering into the Wizard of Oz’s Emerald City.
While Carnival has plenty of sweets throughout the ship that are complimentary, including free soft serve ice cream and sugary buffet desserts, apparently parents just want to please the kids.
“Dad, can I have some candy," one six-year-old said walking by and peering in the glass windows. His dad never hesitated, answering “sure” before walking with his son into the venue.
We saw families here many times during our cruise. Guests may also go here to purchase such gift items as flowers, champagne or balloons to be sent to loved ones or friends traveling onboard.
|EA Sports Bar// Photo by Carnival Cruise Lines|
Fun-O-Meter #5: EA SPORTS Bar
Carnival partnered with EA SPORTS, known for its sports video games, to create the new interactive EA SPORTS Bar.
Cruisers who clearly are sports enthusiasts headed here on our cruise. They played video sports games, watched huge video screens showcasing football from Europe and America, and cheered on their favorite teams.
Guests also watched other sporting events and competed in daily tournaments and contests, while chowing down on soft pretzels and peanuts in the shell (both available for a nominal charge).
What's on tap? EA SPORTS Bar has more than two dozen draft and bottled domestic and imported beers including Carnival’s own ThirstyFrog Red.
This bar also serves specialty beer cocktails, so-called “double play” drinks and exclusive cocktails. Draft beers also are available in three-foot-tall, 101-ounce tubes; hopefully, guests share those.
This bar was well-patronized on our cruise, yet tables were still available on two visits. While the size of this sports bar venue did seem a tad modest, we also recognize that Carnival has to work within space limitations for some of these ship updates.
|Blue Iguana Cantina// Photo by Carnival Cruise Lines|
Fun-O-Meter #4: BlueIguana Cantina
Carnival Liberty has a slew of complimentary dining options, such as a 24-hour pizzeria, sushi bar, deli sandwich counter, fish-and-chips station (also serving to-die-for fried oysters) and a robust buffet, which features a changing line-up of dishes based on such daily themes as Italian, American or French.
Now, Carnival Liberty has another eatery with a fun Latin flair -- BlueIguana Cantina. Located just outside the buffet restaurant's interior dining area, this casual venue has cantina tables and a condiment bar that wows.
The venue is also under cover, so you can dine here even if it’s raining. And it's easily accessible to guests just getting out of the pool -- who don't need to go in search of a cover up.
We watched hungry cruisers in swimsuits line up to order and watch the tortilla makers create fresh wheat and jalapeño tortillas.
Choices include three types of tacos, multiple types of burritos or just chips-and-salsa.
We ordered a tortilla filled with chicken and then headed for the condiment counter to add jalapenos and a savory salsa.
The tortillas we received were bursting at the seams, so clients might wish to share with a friend or family member, or alternatively, simply order two types and taste a bit of each.
|Red Frog Rum Bar// Photo by Susan J. Young|
Fun-O-Meter #3: RedFrog Rum Bar
Located midship on the Lido Pool Deck, this Caribbean-themed bar is an offshoot of the line’s larger RedFrog Pub introduced on the Carnival Magic earlier this year.
Essentially, there isn’t space to add the full pub itself on many of the older ships, but this pool-deck bar is a nice addition.
The bar serves tropical rum libations and rum-inspired frozen favorites, as well as Carnival’s own ThirstyFrog Red draft beer.
This smooth, amber-colored brew is priced at $5.50. It costs $4 more if cruisers desire a souvenir glass to take home. From what we observed, many cruisers wanted one and plucked down the bucks for those.
Guests loved this bar and it was packed most of the time. It’s a venue that gives non-swimmers a relaxing way to spend time on the pool deck and enjoy the entertainment.
What's fun? Carnival nicely encourages competition between the patrons of the RedFrog Rum and BlueIguana Tequila bars. Competing activities, screen shots put up on the large poolside movie screen promoting one bar or the other, and notes on the bar menus all stir up a friendly rivalry.
So, forget politics. “Are you a fan of red or a blue?” means something totally new onboard Carnival Liberty.
|Blue Iguana Tequila Bar// Photo by Susan J. Young|
Fun-O-Meter #2: BlueIguana Tequila Bar
We were “blue fans” on Carnival Liberty. We liked the look and feel of this Cozumel-styled bar, not to mention that we like iguanas. It just fit for our vacation style.
The BlueIguana Tequila Bar serves tequila-based frozen drinks and cocktails, along with wines by the glass and draft and bottled Mexican beers.
Frozen drinks are priced at $7.25. Two of many options are "The Iguana’s Classic" with tequila, Cointreau and lime juice and a "Chipotle Pineapple Passion Margarita" with tequila, pineapple, passion fruit, citrus and chipotle spice.
Or, guests might order a frozen, non-alcoholic drink such as a strawberry daiquiri, pina colada or "Miami Vice," each priced at $4.95.
One perk is that the bar is adjacent to the new BlueIguana Cantina, so clients can order drinks and grab a table, while other family members go get tortillas or burritos.
Both RedFrog Rum Bar and BlueIguana Tequila Bar also feature live entertainment. On our cruise, we visited early in the evening on two separate occasions.
On both nights, the entertainment consisted of a stand-up guitar player who sang country songs, or a “dueling” duo – one singer/guitar player in BlueIguana, another in RedFrog, and the two took turns on the musical sets.
While I personally would have preferred Caribbean, Mexican or more tropical music, given the ship's itinerary, the quality of the singers was quite good.
Several times during each cruise, the line holds themed, night-time pool area deck parties surrounding the two venues. Get there early if you wish to be at the center of the action.
And now for the drum roll…
|Guy's Burger Joint// Photo by Susan J. Young|
Grand Champion - Fun-O-Meter #1: Guy’s Burger Joint
Guy’s burgers are juicy, tasty and absolutely fabulous. Best of all, they’re free.
Guy’s is a creation of Food Network star Guy Fieri, a successful restaurateur and cookbook author. Guests saunter up to the counter and order one of five burger varieties along with hand-cut fries.
The Plain Jane is a burger with melted cheese on a buttered, grilled roll. Alternatively, cruisers might splurge for The Ringer with melted cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle, plus Guy’s bourbon and brown sugar barbecue sauce and a crisp onion ring.
This joint serves up freshly cooked burgers extremely fast. Here the term “fast food” actually means just that. Clients will be in and out in a flash.
According to the ship’s hotel director, one surprising development of Guy’s popularity and its fast-paced delivery once an order is placed is that it’s drawing people away from the inside buffet, helping eliminate lines there.
So within a minute or so of giving your order to Guy’s crew members (who wear shirts emblazoned with: “It’s Guy’s Way, Not Your Way"), guests are handed a fresh-off-the-grill burger.
Clients meander to the condiment bar to add their favorite "fixins.” Choices include freshly sautéed mushrooms, real crumpled bacon bits and yummy caramelized onions, not to mention a slew of steak sauces, lettuce, tomatoes, banana peppers, jalapenos and more.
From our perspective and that of many other vocal guests, these were scrumptious burgers. Guy’s uses ground chuck meat for its burgers, so they’re essentially 80-20 (the latter being the comparison of beef to fat content).
While I buy a bit leaner 85-15, and at times 90-10 in the grocery store, Guy’s burgers didn’t taste greasy. They just rocked with flavor.
We ate at Guy’s one day for lunch, and like many of our fellow guests, couldn't resist venturing back a second time later in the cruise. Throughout the cruise, we watched people gravitate to this eatery.
In particular, teens and young adults returned repeatedly day-after-day; we began to recognize the faces.
The low-key eatery’s décor includes a surfboard, quirky signage and basic tables, including a few picnic tables. Again, it’s a great place to grab a bite if you’re at the pool.
No, clients won’t find chicken sandwiches or healthy turkey or tofu burgers at Guy’s. It’s a pure burger joint.
But for those with a healthier bent, Carnival Liberty certainly has plenty of other dining choices including a made-to-order deli, fresh salad offerings, an amazing array of fresh fruit, lean entrees, sushi and many other healthy choices, if that’s your clients’ interest.
Guy’s is simply another choice for guests – many of whom, based on the clientele on our cruise, clearly love their juicy burgers.
Now that we're back home, I eyed the lean ground beef in our refrigerator last night and found myself saying, “Let’s have this another day.” Alas, I fear that after savoring Guy’s burgers, ours just won't cut it.
More About Fun Ship 2.0
Carnival Liberty also has another Fun Ship 2.0 enhancement in place. DJ Irie, the official DJ of the Miami Heat, has trained the ship's onboard Carnival DJs to better entertain the line’s guests.
For example, guests now hear a DJ spinning tunes in the atrium, rather than the more staid piano or violin music that they might have heard in the past.
Specific Fun Ship 2.0 updates vary a bit from ship to ship. Carnival is debuting many new entertainment options, for example, that aren't on all ships. On our cruise, Carnival Liberty had not yet received the new Punchliner Comedy Club by George Lopez.
Carnival Breeze, the line’s newest ship launching in June 2012, will have all the updates.
Other ships being revitalized with the new venues and activities include: Carnival Dream by Sept. 23, 2012; Carnival Conquest by Oct. 29, 2012; Carnival Glory by Nov. 16, 2012; and Carnival Splendor after its drydock in 2012 (dates yet to be determined).
In addition, Carnival Destiny, Carnival Legend, Carnival Pride and Carnival Victory will receive the upgrades in 2013, while Carnival Elation, Carnival Freedom, Carnival Triumph and Carnival Valor will get them in 2014.
Carnival Magic (which already had some Fun Ship 2.0 enhancements at its launch earlier this year) and Carnival Paradise will receive updates in 2015.
For more information about Fun Ship 2.0, visit www.carnival.com/funship2.