Carnival Cruise Line Shake Down Begins, And That’s A Good Thing

Carnival Cruise Lines fleet of FunShips have plied the oceans of the world for over 40 years, enabling travelers to sample a variety of destinations and cultures. Many of those travelers might not have ventured out of their own back yards without the affordable, normally safe and secure travel option largely pioneered by Carnival. Reporting this week from Cruise Shipping Miami, the South By Southwest of the cruise industry, Gadling was on the scene when the story broke: another Carnival ship in trouble.

Just days before reports of Carnival Dream, her passengers and crew stuck at the dock in St Maarten, Carnival’s President and CEO Gerry Cahill participated with other cruise industry leaders in a keynote panel discussion.

Addressing February’s Carnival Triumph incident, when an engine room fire knocked out the ship’s propulsion, Cahill updated the crowd on hand for the annual State of the Industry discussion. A signature event of Cruise Shipping Miami, last year’s event was dominated by the aftermath of the Costa Concordia grounding. Costa Cruises, like Carnival Cruise Lines, are sister brands along with others that fall under the Carnival Corporation umbrella.

“I can assure you since this fire has occurred it has been the number one priority for both Carnival Cruise Lines and Carnival Corporation,” said Cahill of a comprehensive safety review in-progress on the entire Carnival fleet.

Bringing in experts in fire safety, naval architects, marine engineers, electrical engineers, experts from shipyards and more, Carnival seemed committed to raising the bar on safety as never before. The U.S. Coast Guard determined the cause of Carnival Triumph’s fire to be a failed fuel return line, one that had been properly maintained at correctly scheduled intervals.

“This review is very comprehensive, it will take us a little bit of time to complete it,” said Cahill “but you can rest assured that it is our highest priority throughout the entire organization.”

Doubling down on safety protocols while the detailed fleet review continues, Carnival is taking nothing for granted.

Carnival Dream‘s six massive diesel-electric engines offered over 84,000 in horsepower and were functioning properly. But before going to sea, all systems on the ship are tested and one of those is backup power.

Carnival Dream’s backup system did not pass the test. So with the Carnival Triumph incident fresh in their minds, the failed generator became a “no sail” issue. That’s the good part of the story. Carnival could have allowed the Dream to sail the over 1,100 nautical miles back to Port Canaveral; the ships propulsion system worked.

But taking a page from recent history, a mechanical issue that might not have caused concern before came under the microscope, much like Carnival Cruise Lines, if not the entire cruise industry.

What if some other unknown, unanticipated mechanical breakdown occurred half way between St Maarten and Florida’s Port Canaveral? Carnival has clearly adopted a laser-focused concentration on safety, looking for any issue that could disrupt what should be a fabulous FunShip cruise.

Dream Event Incomplete, Here Comes Another One
Just a day after Carnival Dream was held at the dock (the cruise line equivalent of being grounded, much like the Boeing Dreamliner recently), Carnival Legend was recalled to the port of Tampa, citing propulsion problems. The engines were working; the ship just did not have the ability to go fast enough.

This issue might sound a bit more familiar to frequent cruise travelers. Reduced propulsion issues happen with a bit more frequency on cruise ships from multiple lines and for a variety of reasons.

Design flaws aside, moving parts wear out and these engines and the propulsion systems they provide power for are moving all the time, every day of the year.

Even docked, ships engines are running, albeit at a reduced speed or with a different fuel, for environmental impact reasons. A handful of ships can “plug in” to a shore side power grid but the amount of reduction in emissions is debatable (the power still comes from somewhere) and plugging in only reduces emissions while in port (there are no extension cords).

In the case of Carnival Legend’s recall to port, that move too might not have happened pre-Triumph. Ships with limited (but reliable) propulsion issues commonly run modified itineraries that do not require the drive system to be quite as vibrant.

Carnival Cruise Lines and its sister cruise lines are not taking any chances. They have brought in experts to look for issues not thought of before and are taking quick action when safety concerns come up.

“It is the thing we are most focused on and we will come up with solutions we will implement across our fleet,” added an obviously committed, apologetic and humble Cahill.

The Big Question
But the ugly elephant question in the room is, fairly: “OK, so maybe these things are freak accidents or an abundance of caution. Why are they all happening to Carnival Cruise Lines?”

Results from third-party sources indicate that Carnival Cruise Lines is operating at a level that meets or exceeds that of regulatory organizations world wide, including the very picky U.S. Coast Guard. Believe that, and the negligence hat does not fit.

Maybe the other cruise lines have higher standards. That dog won’t hunt either. Carnival Cruise Line is just one of the Carnival Corporation family of brands that also includes Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Seabourn and Cunard Line, none of which have Triumph-like events in their history.

Still, bad things happen to good travel options and cruise travel is no exception. Like the hotel fires that occurred with some frequency in the first half of the last century, right now is a time when cruise lines are addressing safety concerns as never before.

Cruise expert Stewart Chiron, CEO put it well in a recent Huffington Post article:

“One of the many lessons I’ve learned in the industry over the past 24 years is that policies and procedures are constantly evolving. Nothing is etched in stone and improvements will always be made, especially when safety is concerned.”

When thinking of the post-Truimph era of cruise travel, who better to pioneer raising the bar, creating new protocols regarding the issue of safety than the organization that created the industry in the first place?

While shoddy journalism by a whole bunch of news organizations clearly focus on sensationalizing the story, I’d hate to forget the contribution to the world of travel that cruises have made. Carnival Cruise Line is shaking down their ships, looking for and trying to anticipate anything that can go wrong. We hope their efforts keep that door to the world of travel open to those who might not otherwise have seen it.

[Photo credit – Chris Owen]

Gadling reviews the new Carnival Dream cruise ship

Last week, I took a 3 day cruise “to nowhere” on board the newest member of the Carnival Cruise Lines fleet. The Carnival Dream is the first in their “dream class” line of ships. The ship itself is massive – 130,000 tons, space for just under 3500 passengers, spread out over 11 decks.

Unfortunately we’ll start with the worst part of this trip – getting on board the Dream was nothing short of a disaster. Carnival chose the Manhattan cruise terminal as its departure point, and it is obvious that this port is not equipped for ships this size.

I arrived at the terminal at 1pm, and was not at my stateroom until 3:55. Keep in mind, that time includes me being lucky enough to be allowed to use the “VIP” security line, which shaved about an hour off my wait. I spoke to one couple that had been waiting in various lines since 11am, and did not board until 4:50pm. The procedure involved waiting for security, waiting for the ticketing desk, then waiting for your boarding group to be called, then waiting in line for actually getting on board, then waiting about 30 minutes on the ship for an elevator. Because this was just a 3 day cruise, no luggage service was offered, and dragging your bags up 9 flights of stairs was not an option for everyone.

Carnival apologized for the delays, and a New York port worker told me that they had never dealt with anything this large. The ship is in fact so big, that the covered gangways could not reach her, forcing everyone up a slippery temporary walkway.

This embarkation is not a huge deal for Carnival – the normal home for the Dream will be down in Florida, where they are much better equipped at dealing with large ships. Carnival apologized several times for the boarding hassles, and they were clearly pretty annoyed by it as well.

On board – the stateroom

I was assigned a balcony stateroom and was quite happy with its layout. The room features 3 large closets, a desk with power outlets, two beds that form a queen bed, a sofa and a surprisingly large bathroom. The bathroom in my room was larger than other cruise ship rooms I’ve sailed on. The bathroom comes with a dish filled with various sample sized amenities, including 4 packets of Pepcid – a warning of things to come in the food department?

The room itself is nice and bright – lighting comes from the desk lights, overhead fluorescent lights and 2 lamps on bedside tables. At night, the cabin steward makes the towel animals Carnival is famous for.

In front of the bed (on the wall) is a flat panel TV. Sadly, the TV service on the ship was quite limited – 28 channels, 12 of which were Carnival promotional channels for the various (paid) attractions on the vessel. The local news channels were Denver affiliates of ABC and NBC (no idea why they picked Denver) and the TBS station was an odd mix of Spanish and English content. In total, there were only 3 or 4 “normal” channels in the lineup. In addition to this, Carnival have also blocked the video inputs on the TV, which means your iPod won’t work on the TV in your room.

Despite the nice room, things did get spoiled by really bad noise isolation. Not only could I hear people in the room next to me, I could actually hear every word they said, without needing to put my ear on the wall. The hallway noise isolation is also very bad – and I woke up in the middle of the night several times thanks to loud drunk passengers.

On board – attractions

The Carnival Dream is the first ship in the world to offer a full water park. On the top deck is where you’ll find two water slides, as well as various other water related fun. One deck above the water park is the Serenity “adults only” area. This is where you’ll find somewhere to get away from screaming kids and relax in one of the hot tubs, or on a hammock.

There are three pools on the ship, and none of them are indoors. With the lousy weather, all these pools were drained. In addition to the pools, the ship also has two other hot tubs that extend over the edge of the ship – these were a huge hit, and despite the rain and wind, many passengers took advantage of a dip in the warm water.

Non-aquatic entertainment comes from a big variety of attractions. Towards the rear of the ship is the three level Encore theater. This is also one of the 5 muster stations where passengers are briefed on safety aboard the ship. Unlike other vessels, passengers were not required to wear their life jacket to the briefing.

Deck five is the heart of the entertainment district. It is where you’ll find the casino, shops, sports bar, ice cream bar, sushi counter, comedy club and piano/jazz/karaoke bar. Starting at the Casino, you can make your way from attraction to attraction, while getting your cup refilled at each of the bars. The margarita bar was a very welcome attraction.

Deck 10 is home to the main pool, and the Carnival outdoor theater. On a massive screen, you can watch blockbuster movies (we were treated to Mall Cop and Star Trek). Sadly, the weather was so miserable that it wasn’t much fun to be outside for more than 10 minutes at a time.

In the evening, the screen and outdoor area are home to a fantastic laser show. The show combines lasers with a video presentation, music and smoke to create a really cool effect. The effect itself is quite like what you’d expect from most discos in Europe, but it is still nifty to experience on a cruise ship.

Of course, the ship also offers the standard things you’d expect from any cruise ship – mini golf, a spa and various cozy corners with nice chairs where you can sit back and relax with your beverage of choice.

On board – food and drinks

Food on board the Carnival Dream can be described in three words – hit or miss. My first meal was in the Lido deck buffet. Now, I’ll admit that most people were probably starving from their 4 hour embarkation fiasco, but the wait in line for food was about 35 minutes at each station.

One hidden gem in the buffet is the pasta bar. It is accessible via a narrow staircase to the 11th deck. At the pasta bar, chefs prepare fresh dishes. When you arrive, you fill in a form “designing” your perfect pasta dish, hand it to the cook, and a waiter will deliver it to your table.

The main buffet area is split into 2 zones. At each zone, you’ll find a desert line, a salad bar, a custom line (where you’ll find custom omelette’s in the morning, burritos for lunch, and a Mongolian wok for dinner). Towards the front of the ship are two real gems in the buffet lineup – a deli and a Tandoori/Indian counter.

The deli serves surprisingly good sandwiches, freshly created and grilled to perfection. The Indian counter features fresh Naan bread, Tandoori chicken and various other dishes. At the beginning of the buffet area is the pizza bar and the “grill” (hot dogs and burgers). The pizza bar is one of the 24 hour locations, along with a snack selection at the buffet and a couple of soft serve machines.

Food in the dining room was the real miss part of hit or miss. Service was fairly spotty, and it was quite hard to get a refill of your drink. On the first night, I attended a dinner with my various press colleagues. This was of course the perfect opportunity to be food critics. Sadly, my appetizer was the most pathetic Caesar salad I have ever seen. My table mates were actually laughing at it – it was that bad. It was followed by a really good Chateaubriand. Desert was supposed to be the signature molten chocolate cake – which was actually just a dried out piece of chocolate cake. Oddly enough, the exact same dish served in the buffet was very, very good.

Dinner was sadly spoiled by a fairly poor singing and dancing performance by the dinner staff – in what is supposed to be a classy dining room. They were all doing their very best to entertain us, but their performance just out of place in a formal dining room.

On the final night, I decided to test the room service delivery. I wish I had not. From the moment I placed my order, till actual delivery took an hour and a half, and the food arrived cold. The ship was only on her third voyage, so it is understandable that there are still a couple of issues to be resolved.

Technology on board

The Carnival Dream offers a good amount of technology for its guests. So much in fact, that I’ll devote a second article to the various hi-tech services you can enjoy. The ship has various “fun hubs” where you can access the Internet (for a fee), access the ships social network or read the news. WiFi is available in all rooms and cellphone access is provided.

Final thoughts

The Carnival Dream still had that “new cruise ship smell” – it was nice to be on board a vessel that is still in such great shape. The staff were all smiling and had most of their tasks down to an art. Rooms are nice, there is a decent amount of entertainment and despite the “hit or miss” food, it was not too hard to find something tasty.

But at the end of the day, there just didn’t seem to be too much really special about this new ship. I’ve cruised before, and this felt a lot like any other ship, only larger. The water park was closed due to the bad weather, but it does look like it’ll be a ton of fun when opened. The laser show was mildly entertaining, though the thick fog did make it a bit more fun.

As with most ships, a lot of emphasis is placed on the paid attractions. Shops, photo galleries, the casino and the paid ice cream bar all add to your “ship and sail” credit account. Unless you come prepared, you’ll quickly find yourself bored and in need of some of these paid services. Thankfully, there are plenty of free things to do if you keep a close eye on the schedule in the Carnival Capers, the nightly paper you’ll find in your room.

Despite these very minor issues, I can highly recommend a voyage on this new ship. At her home port, the boarding procedure won’t be an issue, and I suspect Carnival will make some tweaks to the buffet setup and room service to reduce the long wait.

I would like to make a special mention of cruise directors John Heald and Todd Wittmer – these guys do an absolutely amazing job, and they have an awesome entertainment team to work with. Their “good morning” TV show was one of the funniest things I’ve watched in months.

Important disclaimer: Carnival paid for this trip – but the opinions in this review are my own.

Carnival Cruise Lines is looking for a Godchild for their newest ship

In just 33 days, the newest addition to the Carnival Cruise Line fleet will be unveiled.

The Carnival Dream
will be the largest ship in their fleet, and like all new cruise ships being built nowadays, the Dream comes with a whole linup of amazing innovations.

Guests on the Carnival Dream can enjoy an outdoor theater, a 24 hour pizzeria, a burrito bar, a mongolian wok, a sushi bar, 3 different kids clubs, a dance club, various lounges and bars and – get this – a 6 slide water park.

To celebrate the launch of their ship, Carnival is asking kids between 7 and 12 to “share their dreams”, for a chance at becoming the world’s first cruise ship Godchild. Click her to visit the Carnival Book of Dreams site, where you will see how kids can enter the contest.

In addition to the honor of being named Godchild, the winner will also be invited to christen the WaterWorks aqua park, and bring their family along to sail on the 3 night inaugural voyage of the ship. Carnival will even provide airfare for the lucky winner. Four runner-ups will each receive a digital camera and various Carnival logo items.

As if that wasn’t enough, each entry in the contest means Carnival will donate $2 to St. Judes Children’s Research Hospital and $1 for each vote.

The contest started yesterday, and runs till September 18th 2009.