Carnival Cruise Lines have given the world of travel a consistent vacation product for decades. Fan of the line or not, travelers and travel professionals have been able to count on Carnival delivering their clearly-defined version of a cruise vacation experience, regardless of the ship or itinerary. After just two days on new Carnival Breeze, it’s fair to say that this ship will serve as a benchmark for the rest of the fleet to aspire to for quite some time to come. But something not so much new as refocused and re-energized, is an intense concentration on the crew and their interaction with passengers.
“What really makes a difference with the guests on board is their interaction with the crew,” explained Carnival President Gerry Cahill at a press conference on Carnival Breeze this week, nailing what frequent cruise travelers, if not just human beings in general, know all too well.
People like to be appreciated.
In the normal progression of a business, it’s fine-tuning time for the cruise industry and Carnival is again leading the way with efforts that should propel them and the industry decades into the future.
Let me explain.
In the early years of the cruise industry, Carnival was a defining force that opened up a world of travel to generations of Americans. Perhaps more importantly, but never spoken about directly, Carnival choreographed an onboard experience from beginning to end. That choreography enabled individual travelers to leave their cares and concerns behind, truly relax, rejuvenate and often come away from the experience feeling a bit changed as a person.
Along the way, the lines own Evolutions of Fun upgrade program updated older ships, adding relevant elements to the onboard experience. In progress now, Carnival’s $500 million Funship 2.0 branding initiative is binging on board familiar, quality brands to further raise that experience. Most of them come at no additional charge, giving value a bump too.
All along, Carnival has focused keenly on defining what they do in a clear, simple manner.
Long-time Carnival guests are familiar with the line being “The Fun Ships” and know those three words to be far more than a slogan. Carnival really does know how to have fun as anyone who has ever sailed with them in the right frame of mind can attest. But it’s that being “the right frame of mind” that has eluded some travelers in the past. Perhaps it was a bit of disparity between what was advertised and what was received on board that kept some from being in that “right frame of mind”. New promotional efforts from television commercials to printed materials on ships, now keep things simple, clearly defining traveler expectations and obliterating any disparity.
Taking existing operations a logical step further, Carnival is talking about a specific focus geared to make cruise vacations memorable too, in effect removing the veil of secrecy that surrounded that choreography.
On board Carnival Breeze this week, we are finding an enabled crew, excited about and ready to make that Carnival experience happen on a higher, more engaging level.
We could stop right there and count our experience on Carnival Breeze a win for consumers after just a couple days on board. We’ve all seen how well other businesses do when enabled and excited employees are involved in the process.
Regardless of the physical plant used in a business, operations with engaged employees make for great customer experiences and set them apart from the pack.
Still, experiencing a stunning ship like Carnival Breeze begs for information on the decision to drop glitzy if not surreal design elements in favor of light, Caribbean-themed décor. The absence of neon and Vegas-like reviews, replaced by earth tones and palatable, 30 minute shows that nail their target audience is a huge move too.
“We’ll talk about the hardware,” added Cahill, “but it really is the crew that counts,” he insisted, much in the same tone has he had defined the direction of the line a year ago on then-new Carnival Magic saying “we’re not into nickel and diming our guests.”
Here’s an example of what I am talking about.
We had sailed Carnival last on Carnival Liberty, just after the ship had received a stroke of the FunShip 2.0 brush, adding new venues Guys Burger Joint, The Red Frog Rum Bar, The Blue Iguana Cantina and The Blue Iguana Tequila Bar. On that sailing we had the pleasure of getting to know “Winston”, a bartender at the Red Frog Rum Bar who either just by his nature or through training encapsulated all Carnival was aiming to be.
Personable and friendly, we looked forward to sailing with him again because he always recognized us when we approached him. What a pleasure it was to see Winston again on new Carnival Breeze and pick up right where we left off months earlier without missing a beat.
Frankly, that short interaction we had with Winston upon boarding far outshines a whole bunch of new hardware features on the ship. Not that the line’s focused branding initiative is unworthy of comment. It is and we will. But that personal connection is huge.
Surely the crew does count for a great deal, but the hardware has produced a stage that sets the crew up for success, allowing them to go far in connecting with customers of the line in ways “social media”, the town-square of today, can only dream of.
Like sister-ships Carnival Magic and Carnival Dream, Carnival Breeze features a wraparound Promenade deck with whirlpools extending over the ship’s sides, a 270-square-foot poolside LED screen displaying movies, and other programming, the centrally located Red Frog Pub and specialty Italian restaurant Cucina del Capitano.
Some of the features on Carnival Breeze debuted on Carnival Magic and were so popular that they were included in the FunShip 2.0 initiative. That branding focus has given birth to over 20 unique experiences, most all of which are included in the cruise fare.
Carnival Breeze has 23 of those experiences on board so let’s check that list:
- Bonsai Sushi- the line’s first full-service sushi bar.
- Carnival Waterworks- an over the top water park for children of all ages..
- Cherry on Top- Candy, sweets, flowers and more.
- Cucina del Capitano- an Italian table service restaurant we’ll experience later this week
- DJ Irie – famed Miami Heat crowd pleaser has been brought in, taking a page from the Fabulous Foodservice Operations Of The World handbook, matching background and foreground music with individual venues.
- Farenheit 555 steakhouse- Carnival Breeze’s rendition of the Carnival’s chain of steakhouses- look for a review coming soon.
- Fat Jimmy’s BBQ- open on days at sea
- Guy’s Burger Joint- an instant success brings truly one of the best burgers on the planet to sea
- Hasbro, the Game Show- partnering with iconic Hasbro, this audience-participation show will be a key element in the whole “shared experience” thing Carnival enables guests to get into.
- The Library Bar- a quiet pre-dinner cocktail venue that offers an opportunity for guests to sample various wines by the glass
- Piano Bar 88- the next generation of the popular venue that has been a staple of cruise lines for decades.
- Playlist Productions is an effort to get away from boring “cruise ship shows” that will tap passenger emotions providing live music from their past
- Punchliner Comedy Brunch-offers up heaping servings of laughter along with a new twist on the traditional culinary feast.
- Punchliner Comedy Club features the influence of veteran comedian George Lopez as the line’s ambassador of comedy with Lopez personally involved with selecting those who perform on the ships.
- RedFrog Pub- an instant success on Carnival Magic, the centrally located drinking venue is brilliantly laid out, menued and staffed to demand a fun, lively vibe on the ship.
- RedFrog Rum Bar- Centrally located on the ship’s top deck
- BlueIguana Tequila Bar- Rival to Red Frog Rum Bar
- Seaside Theatre/ DiveIn Movies- Huge movie screen with all-day entertainment
- Serenity- an adults-only area but no nudies
- Sky Course- the first at-sea ropes course
- SportSquare- engaging guests in healthy lifestyle activities
- Superstar Live Karaoke- Think American Idol for all.
- Taste Bar- try something new
Significant here is that, in spirit, this whole package is really nothing new for Carnival but it taps an emotional nerve that runs deep.
Years ago, on our first Carnival cruise; the captain of the ship was speaking to the ship’s theater full of passengers at the end of the sailing. Thanking us for sailing with him and his crew, the Italian Captain noted “The world is far from a perfect place but here, on this ship, we have come together to hopefully provide you with some time away from it…some time to relax, have fun and go back to your own world refreshed with maybe a little bit different outlook.” Then, eliciting the most thunderous round of applause seen during the entire journey, he added “We have over twenty different nationalities working together on this ship in harmony, and that’s the way we think it should be.”
And yeah, this is just day two.