For all of the Live Voyage Reports I wrote this past year, only two were on mainstream luxury cruise ships – so for this 2014 In Review recap, I thought I’d pair them with two of my other favorite voyages aboard two very different, but no less enjoyable, luxury ships. All four are excellent cruise options; it all depends on what style of cruising you’re looking for!
Carnival Breeze – Eastern Caribbean
As unbelievable as it may seem, 2014 was the year I took my first-ever Carnival Cruise. After over 50 voyages and almost 300 days at sea, I decided it was time. I packed my bags, flew to Miami, and boarded the sleek Carnival Breeze for an uncommon eight-night Eastern and Southern Caribbean itinerary.
Carnival Breeze is Carnival’s newest ship, and in that sense, it could perhaps best be described as representing the “new” Carnival. On the outside, she looks identical to her sister-ships Carnival Dream and Carnival Magic, but inside is a world of difference. Her interiors were the product of Hamburg-based PartnerShip Design and not Joe Farcus, Carnival’s longtime interior designer. There’s no question that Farcus is a master of maritime interior design, but his busy, sometimes garish designs often fell into the ‘love-it-or-hate-it’ category.
With Carnival Breeze, Carnival is keeping the fun and whimsical interior styling it has been known for, subtly tweaked to appear more elegant and inviting. ‘Elegant’ might not be the first word you think of when you picture a Carnival Cruise, but that’s exactly what Carnival Breeze is. During my eight days onboard, I was continually impressed at how many quiet, cozy spots there were onboard, and just how fun the big, crowded nightspots could be.
I also discovered that everything I thought I knew about Carnival was wrong. This wasn’t the drunken frat-party of the 1990’s; there were couples, singles, families, extended families, lawyers, doctors, bikers, tattoo artists, teachers, firefighters, police officers – everyone – onboard. Everyone had a good time. Everyone had fun. Carnival has a universal appeal in that they offer a great cruise at an affordable price.
Carnival also offers some of the best shipboard entertainment I’ve seen in a long time, all without having to resort to fancy gimmicks and techno-doodads. There’s the standing-room-only, gut-busting-performances at the Punchliner Comedy Club, or maybe a bout of Adult Trivia (drinks are a must!) in the RedFrog Rum Bar. For the kids, Carnival even developed a ‘Towel Animal Theatre’ puppet show that was decidedly more slick and involved than I was expecting. The kids loved it, and I sat in the back of the theatre admiring the fact that Carnival had gone all-out over something so simple.
The biggest surprise of the year? I loved it – so much so, that I’m sailing with them again in a few months (more on that soon!).
EUROPA 2 – Turkey & Greece
Be still my beating heart. The highest-rated luxury cruise ship in the world, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 is a masterpiece of maritime engineering and downright good design. But that attention to detail doesn’t stop at her hull and public spaces; no. Inside this gorgeous ship, not a single detail has been overlooked, from the massive bar menu that spans nearly 30 pages and includes spirits and wines from around the world to the onboard production shows that rival what mainstream lines are doing in terms of technical ability and creativity.
Everything aboard EUROPA 2 has been branded, from the sumptuous toiletries (produced in Germany, of course), to the travel package of Kleenex that comes next to your bed. The result? EUROPA 2 isn’t merely the name of this ship; EUROPA 2 is a way of life – a class of cruising that is in a league of its own.
Year-round, EUROPA 2 caters to German and English-speaking guests on every voyage. Everything from menus to daily programmes to “Do Not Disturb” signs are printed in both languages, and her young and eager-to-please crew switches effortlessly from German to English the second they hear it being spoken.
In five short days, I sailed from Istanbul to Kusadasi, Turkey, through some of the most gorgeous ports in Greece and Turkey. But I never wanted to leave the international warmth of the EUROPA 2; although Hapag-Lloyd has crafted some pretty amazing itineraries for her to sail, this is one ship where the destination truly doesn’t matter. Just sailing onboard her is reward enough!