Hard as it is for many of us to imagine, Carnival Fantasy is making one last passenger-free trip.
Although Carnival Cruise Line initially issued a statement saying they would neither confirm nor deny the Carnival Fantasy‘s fate, the writing on the wall could not be clearer: The ship is currently sailing across the Atlantic, headed for Izmir, Turkey, home to one of the world’s largest scrap yards for maritime vessels.
A week later, the cruise line confirmed the sale of the vessel on July 23, 2020.
As of now, her engines are still hot, her navigational bridge is fully operational and her crew — minimal though it may be — is hard at work.
But her days are numbered, and it will not be long before this piece of cruise history is laid up, and one of the most significant contributions to the industry is permanently out of commission.
In the mid 1980’s, the cruise industry was changing rapidly and Carnival found itself looking for ways to not only keep up with but bypass the competition.
By 1985, the team — led by renowned maritime architect Joseph Farcus — had begun work on what would eventually become the Carnival Fantasy.
The biggest ship in the Carnival fleet at the time, it would, in the design phase, become something of a playground for the fertile imagination of Farcus.
Despite having had great success with his past Carnival ship designs, the architect was not one to rest on his laurels. “My goal was to progress and to think of things, concepts and details that had not been done before,” he writes in his book, Design On The High Seas.
It was on the Fantasy that Farcus redesigned the atrium, recognizing it as a ship’s first opportunity to blow the minds of boarding guests.
With that in mind, he created a grand, towering space capped by a dome of glass. “The Fantasy atrium was not the first one on a cruise ship,” he writes. “However, it was the first of this giant scale, which opened to the sky and gave the embarking guests such an all-encompassing view of the size of the ship.”
The atrium (and its 15-miles of multi-colored neon) provided a “Wow” factor never before seen on a cruise ship.
Completed in 1990, she was the first new-build from Carnival to sail 3- and 4-day itineraries when it was customary for newly built ships to take week-long journeys.
The idea behind these shorter jaunts: To expose the ground-breaking new ship to as many people as possible, generating word-of-mouth buzz which helped propel Carnival to the top of the cruise line heap.
While the vessel was second in size to Royal Caribbean’s Sovereign of the Seas, the Fantasy was drawing twice as many cruisers per week with her shorter itineraries.
Over the years, the Carnival Fantasy received her fair share of makeovers, all designed to make sure that the ship never lost her luster. Some of the changes reflected the ever-changing world of her passengers.
For example, a 300-seat conference center was added in 2000, which helped the ship accept bookings from businesses that might want to hold meetings on board. That same year, the children’s area was expanded and — with kids becoming more and more connected to the digital world — computers were added.
In 2003, the staterooms got a complete overhaul while that convention center that had been added only a few years earlier was modified so that it could also be used as an entertainment venue when the need arose.
From the beginning, one of Farcus’ big ideas for ships such as the Fantasy was that spaces should be able to serve multiple functions.
Perhaps the biggest changes came in 2016, when some of the most popular Carnival venues were added, including Guy’s Burger Joint, the Blue Iguana Cantina, the RedFrog Rum Bar and the Blue Iguana Tequila Bar. This refurbishment, more than any other, put the “fun” in “fun ship!”
So successful was the Fantasy that Carnival went on to build seven more Fantasy-class ships, with the last two — the Elation and Paradise — both joining the fleet in 1998.
It’s worth noting that all of these ships in the class went by their names — i.e. Inspiration or Paradise — until 2007, when it was decided they would officially add “Carnival” as part of their official names.
All told, the Fantasy-class ships made up the largest class of Carnival Cruise Line ships in the company’s history.
Video Tour: Carnival Fantasy (2019)
Following her initial run in Miami, the Fantasy headed up the coast to Port Canaveral in 1993. Later homeports would include New Orleans, Mobile and Charleston.
In 1996, Carnival launched the Carnival Destiny (now known as the Carnival Sunshine), which would become the first ship of the class bearing her name. The new ships were bigger and, as happens, stole the spotlight away from older Fantasy-class ships.
Yet the Carnival Fantasy and her siblings remained wildly popular with cruisers, developing a loyal audience who returned year after year.
For many longtime cruisers, the Fantasy came to represent a bygone era. Sure, ships like the Carnival Vista and Horizon offered more bells and whistles, but the Fantasy remained a favorite among purists. They weren’t necessarily looking to ride a bicycle through the sky or try and figure out how to operate a “smart” elevator. They simply wanted to enjoy the comforts of a ship that felt to them like home.
It’s easy to understand why, ever since news broke that the Carnival Fantasy has been sold, people have taken to message boards and Facebook pages to share their feelings. To some, it’s simply a story about an old cruise ship literally sailing into the sunset. But for many others, it’s a form of grieving.
This is especially true for those who considered the Carnival Fantasy a place on which to celebrate special occasions. It was the home to weddings and anniversaries, family reunions and girl’s trips, birthdays and, no doubt, even a few funerals.
Sadder still is that after years of service, the ship was dispatched under such sad circumstances. Perhaps under different circumstances, had the shutdown not changed so many things, the Carnival Fantasy might have gotten the opportunity to do a “farewell tour” of sorts.
Longtime fans of the ship might have had one last opportunity to take in the vastness of the ocean from their favorite spot onboard. Couples who celebrated milestones in the ship’s venues might have gotten the chance to raise one last toast.
Instead, we will have to simply raise our own glasses in a silent toast while thanking the ship — as well as her captain and crew — for three decades of inspiration, relaxation, entertainment and fun. The Carnival Fantasy will long be remembered as the good time that was had by all.
Photos courtesy of Peter Knego/MidShipCentury.com
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