There’s no better way to get to know a new ship than by doing a transatlantic sailing on it. So pretty much the moment Carnival Cruise Line opened up bookings for the UK-to-Miami 14-night sailing aboard Carnival Celebration, I booked passage. Truth be told, that was so long ago — and so many cruises ago — I almost forgot! But here I am, ready to share with you my first impressions of the Mardi Gras‘ sister ship as we make our way to her new homeport.
First Thing’s First
When cruise lines introduce a new class of ship, they tend to put an awful lot of thought into the first of the class. That’s important, because by the time the first ship (in this case, Mardi Gras) is introduced, the second one is already well underway. That means you’re not really going to be able to make any massive changes, especially structurally. So it’s a good thing that when they designed the atrium for the Excel class, they got it right.
On older ships like, say, Carnival Sunshine, you almost always run into congestion when you board. Why? Because everybody stops to look around the atrium and grab a drink at the bar, which is located in the middle. The atrium on Excel ships, however, seems designed to avoid bottlenecks. It’s spacious and, importantly, the bar is located at the rear. That was true on Mardi Gras and it’s true here, too, with the area dubbed Celebration Central.
Something Old, Something New
One of the very cool things about this ship is that you’ll find little pieces of Carnival’s past everywhere you look. Remember, Celebration was designed to help the company mark its 50th anniversary. Some of the throwbacks are associated with the original ship to bear the name Celebration — for example, the theater on both was/is the Grand Spectrum — while others relate to either the history of the cruise line or specific ships.
Some of the touches are almost like Carnival’s version of “hidden Mickeys” — you know, the tributes to Mickey Mouse you’ll find (if you look closely) around the Disney theme parks. For example, in the Golden Jubilee bar (which replaces Mardi Gras‘ Brass Magnolia), you’ll find etched glass that came off of several decommissioned Fantasy-class ships. And in the Aquaria Bar on deck seven, there are pieces of art which were originally featured on the promenade of the Carnival Victory.
Looking for a history-filled photo op? The Rolls Royce which was previously parked in the coffee shop on Carnival Ecstasy can now be found in this ship’s atrium.
Welcome to the Gateway
Anyone who’s sailed on Mardi Gras will find Celebration to be largely similar, which is pretty standard with sister ships within a class. One big change is the Gateway Zone, which was the French Quarter on Mardi Gras. I’ll admit that I have mixed feelings about this one. Why? Because the French Quarter had such an incredibly unique feel to it, between the jazz-centric Brass Magnolia and the crazy-cool drinks featured at the beautifully-themed Fortune Teller Bar.
Here, the previously-mentioned Golden Jubilee bar is definitely a blast for Carnival fans. But the “virtual windows” and above-bar flapboard (like those you’d find hanging in a train station) of the nearby Latitudes Bar can’t quite compete with the amazing theming of the Fortune Teller Bar. (Of course, those who’ve never sailed Mardi Gras won’t know what they’re missing!)
Interestingly, Celebration does feature one carry-over from the French Quarter, theming be damned: a second branch of Emeril’s Bistro, the product of a collaboration between Carnival and celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.
Room to Move.
One of the other modifications between the first and second Excel class ship is a major win: Many of the public spaces have more seating. That includes Latitudes and Emeril’s, both of which offer bigger spaces and more seating than were found on Mardi Gras. Likewise, the midship Carnivale Restaurant (one of the main dining rooms) is noticeably larger.
One thing I really liked was that the Alchemy Bar, always a popular spot (especially for pre-dinner or pre-show drinks) has been expanded, even offering some booths. (Although, truth be told, half the fun here is sitting right at the bar in order to interact with the amazing mixologists.)
Shop Until You Drop
I’m not really big on shopping when on a cruise ship, if I’m being honest. I’ll swing by one of the stores to pick up a model ship or maybe a gift for someone back home, but that’s about it. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned while listening in on Carnival’s investor calls, it’s that they’re very invested (pun intended) in onboard spending. So while I was taken aback by the number of shops, I probably shouldn’t have been.
That said, it’s worth noting that these shops had folks lining up. Granted, that could be people trying to grab up as much Carnival Celebration inaugural gear as they can. There are actually two logo shops onboard: One right off the atrium on deck seven, and another just outside Summer Landing on deck eight aft, which is the larger of the two.
Let There Be Light
Wandering around the ship, you find that Celebration has a brighter feel than did Mardi Gras. This is especially true in the Gateway zone, where windows were installed on deck six, and the “virtual windows” on deck seven offer cool scenes of sunrises, sunsets, ships, etc. Sometimes, they even show events that are going on elsewhere on board — like the Seuss at Sea breakfast — on these screens. (Rumor has it that when the holidays hit, you might catch a glimpse of Santa and his reindeer… )
The ship feels spacious, too. The stateroom hallways, for example, are far wider than what you find on older ships.
Interactive, But Intuitive
We all got to know QR codes a little too well during the pandemic — what with having to use them to access menus in bars and restaurants — and they certainly took a while to get used to. And yes, you’ll find them all over the place on Celebration, just as you’re going to on most modern ships moving forward. But they’ve definitely worked to make the passenger/technology interface as simply (and practical) as possible.
One cool way they’re using tech is that by scanning a QR code located next to, say, a piece of art or one of the items salvaged from a decommissioned ship, you can get info about the piece. For anyone interested in art or the history of Carnival, this will definitely keep them occupied!
So far, I haven’t noticed any of the inaugural glitches that we experienced on board the Mardi Gras. For example, there’s been no issue of long lines to get into (or long waits once seated in) the main dining room. There’s still a lot to explore and experience, including some of the very cool shows, and of course, we’ll talk about the food. But so far, I have to say that Celebration is making one heck of a good first impression.