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Carnival (tel. 800/327-9501; www.carnival.com) is, of course, CARNIVAL -- the biggest cruise line, with the most ships, the flashiest decor, and the most name recognition of them all. They are also, if anything, consistent, tinkering around the edges of their product while keeping their core "Fun Ship" image intact. That's why we here at the Frommer's Cruise Newsletter tend to maybe underreport on them: Aside from a new ship every year or so, and possibly a tweak to their dining or activities regime, change at the Fun Ship line is like evolution -- you don't see it 'til it's already happened.

So, this week, we decided to give them a little more room than usual so that we can report on three interesting (and in one case surprising) news items.

Destiny to Sail Port-Packed Itinerary in '07

Increasingly over the past few years, the cruise business has trended toward offering trips with fewer port days and more days at sea, especially on cruises that sail from more northerly home ports to the Caribbean. Ships are frequently spending up to 3 days at sea on a 7-night itinerary and 4 on an 8-night itinerary. That's not a bad thing if your main vacation goal is to decompress, but if your goal is to see a lot of different ports -- or if you get stir crazy --- this is not an ideal situation. It is also, need we say, a way for cruise lines to keep passenger revenue on board rather than spreading it around the islands. Carnival has been as much a culprit in this as anyone, and just last month announced a new schedule for its 2,124-passenger Carnival Legend, which will sail 8-night routes in the eastern and southern Caribbean in 2007, visiting only three ports (St. Kitts, St. Lucia, and St. Maarten) and with four days at sea.

This week, however, as if to balance the karmic books, the Fun Ship line detailed a new 2007 itinerary for the 2,642-passenger Carnival Destiny, which will call at five ports within seven days. The island-intensive itinerary features day-long visits to St. Lucia, Antigua, Dominica, Barbados, and St. Thomas/St. John, with just one day at sea.

"The southern Caribbean is one of the world's most desirable cruising regions," said Bob Dickinson, Carnival president and CEO. "The Carnival Destiny's new five-port, seven-day itinerary provides consumers with an opportunity to experience a diversity of cultures and historical landmarks, along with some of the world's most magnificent beaches."

Destiny will begin offering the itinerary, which departs round-trip from San Juan, Puerto Rico, on January 7, 2007.

Carnival Freedom to Feature History-Themed Design

The newest Carnival ship, the 110,000-ton, 2,974-passenger Carnival Freedom, is still under construction at Italy's Fincantieri shipyard and not due to launch until March 2007, but details about her interior design are starting to flow.

Built on the line's Conquest-class design -- the same as Conquest, Glory, Valor, and Liberty (all built between 2002 and 2005) -- the ship will feature an interior design theme that, according to Carnival, "takes guests on a journey through the centuries by decade, from ancient Babylonia to the heyday of disco, from the 19th-century Victorian era to the contemporary style of the 1990s."

"I thought it would be interesting to go back in time to find inspiration for the various public rooms," said Joe Farcus, the designer who has sculpted Carnival's interiors since the early 1970s. "As always, I tried to use the function of the room to suggest how the room will reflect the central design idea."

Decorative features of the new ship include:

  • A "futuristic" atrium, mixing design elements like stainless steel elevator doors and tiger-skin pattern "cylindrical forms," all intended to represent the near future of 2010.
  • A Victoriana show lounge, named for Britain's Queen Victoria and the style that bears her name. The room's design is intended to invoke theaters in London's West End, with ornate moldings, fancy marble, and gold leaf. The centerpiece is a mural-decorated dome with a crystal chandelier.
  • The Sun King Supper Club, named for France's Louis XIV, evokes 18th-century style with a period chandelier, elaborate tapestries, antique mirrors, a statue of Louis himself, and a large trompe l'oeil mural depicting the king's court.
  • The Player's Sport Bar is done up in chrome, sports medallions, and memorabilia highlighting the 1950s.¿While small black-and-white TVs would have been stylistically appropriate, Carnival opted for giant plasma-screen TVs instead.
  • The Studio 70 dance club is a take on the famed Studio 54 of disco-era New York. Variations on the numbers "70" appear throughout the space, which is topped with the obligatory mirror balls. Andy Warhol and Bianca Jagger may or may not approve.
  • Bar Nouveau wine bar, designed in an 1890s art nouveau style with a stained-glass backlit dome and inlaid marble walls and floor.
  • The Babylon Casino steps back to 1,000 B.C. with a design intended to recall the palace of Hammurabi and the famed Hanging Gardens of ancient Babylon. A reproduction of the legendary Ishtar Gate (built during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, in about 575 B.C.) is done in blue-glaze brick with applied mythological animals and decorations of flowers and geometric designs. The Hanging Gardens are depicted on polished stainless steel with painted flowers.
  • The Habana Cigar Bar represents the 1940s, with with barstools and tabletops resembling cigars; the Monticello Library gives a kick to American colonial style; Scott's piano bar covers for the 1910s; the Swingtime jazz club hearkens back to the 1930s; and the Dynasty Room does an impression of old China, circa A.D. 900.
  • The Chic and Posh Dining Rooms, located forward and aft, are a trip back to the 1990s with their polished marbles and python skin patterned wood veneers. But wouldn't polished chrome and purple furniture have done the trick? Or wait, was that the 1980s?
  • Club 02, the ship's teen club, sticks insistently to the current decade, with digital clocks positioned along the walls and ceiling flashing the years 2001 through 2010 over and over.

Carnival Freedom is scheduled to debut in March 2007, operating 12-day Grand Mediterranean and 12-day Mediterranean & Greek Isles cruises from Civitavecchia/Rome through October. The 12-day Mediterranean & Greek Isles cruises depart March 14 and 26, April 7 and 19, June 18, August 5, and September 22, visiting Naples and Livorno (Italy), Rhodes, Piraeus/Athens, and Katakolon (Greece), and Izmir/Ephesus and Istanbul (Turkey), plus an overnight call at Civitavecchia/Rome.

The 12-day Grand Mediterranean cruises depart May 1, 13, and 25; June 6 and 30; July 12 and 24; August 17 and 28; September 10; and October 4 and 16, visiting Naples and Livorno (Italy), Dubrovnik (Croatia), Messina (Sicily), Barcelona (Spain), and Cannes (France), plus a two-day call in Venice.

Carnival & Amtrak's Rail & Cruise Program to Return to New Orleans in October

When Carnival's 2,040-passenger Fantasy resumes her schedule of 4- and 5-night cruises from New Orleans on October 26, Amtrak (tel. 800/USA-RAIL; www.amtrak.com) will also resume its "Rail and Cruise" program, which provides transportation to New Orleans aboard the City of New Orleans (daily from Chicago), the Crescent (daily from New York), and the Sunset Limited (from Los Angeles on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays).

"We are very pleased to be working with Carnival Cruise Lines once again to serve our mutual passengers while helping to rebuild one of America's greatest travel destinations," said David Hughes, Amtrak Acting President and CEO.

The City of New Orleans stops in 17 cities en route from Chicago to New Orleans: Homewood, Kankakee, Champaign, Mattoon, Effingham, Centralia, and Carbondale (Illinois), Fulton (Kentucky), Newbern and Memphis (Tennessee), Greenwood, Yazoo City, Jackson, Hazlehurst, Brookhaven, and McComb (Mississippi), and Hammond (Louisiana).

The Crescent stops in 31 cities between New York and New Orleans: Newark and Trenton (New Jersey), Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), Wilmington (Delaware), Baltimore (Maryland), Washington D.C., Alexandria, Manassas, Culpeper, Charlottesville, Lynchburg, and Danville (Virginia), Greensboro, High Point, Salisbury, Charlotte, and Gastonia (North Carolina), Spartanburg, Greenville, and Clemson (South Carolina), Toccoa, Gainesville, and Atlanta (Georgia), Anniston, Birmingham, and Tuscaloosa (Alabama), Meridian, Laurel, Hattiesburg, and Picayune (Mississippi), and Slidell (Louisiana).

The Sunset Limited stops in 20 cities between Los Angeles and New Orleans: Pomona, Ontario, and North Palm Springs (California), Yuma, Maricopa, Tucson, and Benson (Arizona), Lordsburg and Deming (New Mexico), El Paso, Alpine, Sanderson, Del Rio, and San Antonio, Houston, and Beaumont (Texas), and Lake Charles, Lafayette, New Iberia, and Schriever (Louisiana).

Fantasy's 4-night cruises from New Orleans will depart Thursdays and visit Cozume. Five-day sailings will depart Mondays and Saturdays and visit Cozumel and either Calica or Costa Maya beginning Oct. 26, 2006.

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