Cruise International Editor Liz Jarvis joins a cruise on Carnival Breeze from Miami to the Caribbean and discovers the Fun Ship 2.0 concept first-hand – and you can watch a video review below
We haven’t even left Miami yet and already a party is in full swing on the decks of Carnival Breeze. Everyone from toddlers to grandparents, teenagers and groups of 40-something women are dancing, trying to follow the choreography of the extremely energetic entertainment crew or simply doing their own thing. Miami Vice cocktails are being poured liberally at the Red Frog bar and there’s a definite holiday atmosphere on board.
Carnival Cruise Lines pride themselves on their Fun Ship 2.0 concept, but it doesn’t feel forced: all the guests on board are genuinely having a good time, determined to make the most of their breaks in the sun. This is carefree, laid-back cruising. No one will bat an eye if you want to turn up for dinner in jeans (although there’s usually at least one ‘Elegant Evening’ – formal night – on each cruise).
Carnival Breeze is the most recent new-build ship in the line’s fleet. The staterooms are well presented and spacious, public areas are comfortable and stylish with plenty of outside bars and seating areas from where to sit and admire the views.
Our Caribbean cruise took us from Miami to islands including the Dominican Republic, Grand Turk in Turks and Caicos and the charming Dutch-owned islands of Curaçao and Aruba. Take it from me, leaving behind the unpredictable British weather to bask in the sunshine at sea is the best possible way to recharge your batteries.
Excursions are run by local people, adding an authentic feel. There’s a huge range of options available in every port, ranging from guided tours to those which let you do your own thing.
In Grand Turk I opted to go snorkelling off Governor’s Beach, which is probably about as close to Caribbean perfection as it’s possible to get: glittering aquamarine sea teaming with tropical fish, white gold sand so soft you can sink right into it, plenty of palm trees for shade, a single bar and very little else. We were handed our snorkelling equipment and then the rest of the morning was up to us.
On the Dominican Republic I chose the tour of Santo Domingo, not only the oldest city on the island, but in the Americas. It’s well-preserved, with some slightly crumbling facades adding to the sense of history and romance. Our excellent guide kept us enthralled with tales of history and culture during the coach journey there and back. We explored centuries-old buidlings including the Alcázar de Colón and the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, were given a meal of rice and beans, plantain, stewed chicken and aubergine with cheese, and treated to a traditional dance display. It felt very much as though we’d been given the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the local culture, rather than simply observing it.
Back on board Carnival Breeze there are plenty of places to relax in the sun, including the adults-only Serenity area. Unusually there is no extra charge to access this – but if you want a lounger, my advice is to get there early in the morning or late in the afternoon, as they’re so popular. Water fun comes in the form of the three pools, the Waterworks (slides and chutes to suit all ages) and various jacuzzis: my personal favourite was the one close to my stateroom, overlooking the ocean.
The children we were travelling with were thrilled with the kids’ clubs which are well-planned, with a huge range of options for ages two to 17, ranging from craft sessions and entertainment to activities on the sports and pool decks. I was particularly impressed with the teen spaces, as this is a notoriously difficult age group to please: when I popped my head round the door of the clubs for the 12- to 14-year-olds and the 15- to 17-year-olds I was delighted to see girls and boys talking and laughing with each other (albeit while closely monitoring their mobile phones at the same time).
The head camp counsellor told me that many kids make such good friends on board they’ll stay in touch via social media. The younger children all seemed to be having an excellent time, and are closely supervised: parents are given walkie-talkies (free of charge) for the duration of their cruise so they can stay in close contact. When the Dr Seuss characters arrive on board later this year it will consolidate Carnival’s position as one of the leaders in the family cruise market.
For adults the Cloud 9 spa is definitely worth a visit. There’s a Thalassotherapy pool with ocean views, a laconium, sauna and steam rooms, and an excellent treatment menu. I plumped for a divine Elemis facial and drifted off, waking with polished skin.
Although there are only two speciality restaurants on board (including Fahrenheit 555, $35 cover charge per person), the quality and range of options available in the Lido Marketplace food court and at the Sapphire and the Blush main dining restaurants is very good; lobster is available on Elegant Evening – the maître d’ informed us they’ll serve 1,200 of these in one night. The Melting Chocolate pudding is delectable (and I’m not ashamed to admit I had it two nights in a row).
Must-tries on the Lido Deck include the Blue Iguana, famed for its bespoke tortilla wrap service (they’re incredibly fresh), and the heavenly Guy Fieri burgers: my advice is to stick to the adage that calories don’t count at sea, and just enjoy the culinary experience. You can always hit the gym if you’re feeling guilty. Or not.
Carnival Breeze is a ship that never really sleeps, so you’ll find plenty to do after dinner, including karaoke, a range of bars, a cool nightclub and, should you so desire, there’s even a pub (with nightly quizzes). There are regular performances in the theatre including an excellent magician and the popular Motown Nights show, plus stand-up comedy at the Punchliner Comedy Club.
What struck me most about Carnival is that it’s an incredibly inclusive cruise line – possibly one of the most inclusive I’ve experienced. Everyone is welcome and treated the same: young or old, able-bodied or not. The crew were friendly and helpful, and there are flourishes such as a nightly turndown service complete with chocolates and towel art (my favourite was the baby elephant).
Overall, it’s a completely unpretentious experience and that’s probably why so many of the holidaymakers on board seemed to be repeat guests. We could probably have done without the slightly mad crush to get off the ship in ports of call (everyone’s allowed off at the same time, rather than being staggered), and the scramble for poolside space on sea days. But these are minor issues because you soon find your own rhythm on board.
For now, if you want to join a cruise on Carnival Breeze you’ll have to fly to Miami, but this is an opportunity to spend a night in one of the most exciting cities on the East Coast of the US. And I promise you, as soon as you step into that Florida sunshine and board your ship, you’ll start to relax: exactly what a holiday should be about, right?
You can watch Liz’s Carnival Cruise video review below:
GETTING THERE: An eight-night Exotic Southern Caribbean Cruise on Carnival Breeze starts at £2,359 for a family of four, departing 2 August 2014. See carnival.co.uk or call 0845 351 0556. British Airways has daily flights to Miami from £604 return including all taxes, fees and charges (ba.com).
Whether you’re looking for a cultural holiday or relaxing break, find your perfect cruise here.