Carnival hasn't pumped out a new-build since Breeze in 2012 and has since seen its brand stall a bit in the Caribbean as the competition has churned out an ever-improving series of new ships. With this as a backdrop, Cruise Week attended a function in NYC introducing Carnival Vista, recognizing a lot is at stake for CCL and its newest ship.
What struck them 1st was the differences in the indoor/outdoor balance between Vista and other Carnival ships. Over the years, no other line has been more focused on crafting appealing interiors.
Joe Farcus, who designed more than 20 CCL ships, once told us the idea was that the ocean was the backdrop - the focus was on driving people into the ship, especially at night. After all, that's where passengers can mingle, and - importantly for Carnival - open their onboard spending accounts.
Vista represents a complete turnaround. In the words of Mark Tamis, Senior Vice President of Guest Operations: "We're bringing the inside in and the outside out on Carnival Vista."
What does this mean? Well for one thing it's difficult to find a drinking/dining establishment that doesn't have some form of outdoor seating.
As for those dining establishments, expect a lot of them, and lots of flexibility. If Norwegian's Buffett bars were Carnival-esque, Carnival seems to be taking a bit after Norwegian here, which pioneered an emphasis on dining choice and variety in cuisine.
"If you look at all the dining options - Bonsai Sushi; Seafood Chef; Fahrenheit 555; Steakhouse; The Chef's Table - all of them offer a different dining style every night if passengers want," points out Mike Julius, Senior Managing Director U.S. Trade Sales.
So Vista is certainly different with respect to existing Carnival ships, but the facilities being promoted often had a familiar ring to them. Holland America Line has Lanai staterooms. Norwegian has a rope course. In short, what truly stands out?
The answer lies on an unusual emphasis on family activities, seemingly topped only by Disney Cruise. Carnival is developing a bit of a novel take on family cruising: while most lines and ships focus on the ability of parents to stick their kids at the kid's club and then go do their own thing, Vista offers an unprecedented variety of activities for families to do together.
There's Seuss at Sea, a SportSquare (featuring ping pong, basketball, etc.) and the ropes course, but what really stands out are the newer features unique to Vista.
The 3 storey IMAX theatre (the 1st at sea) practically screams "family", as does SkyRide, Vista's most whizz-bang new attraction. Part bicycle, part zipline, part ski-lift, SkyRide lets pax pedal around in suspended gondolas - directly over the ocean in certain areas. The family emphasis is obvious. "Can you imagine a father and daughter together on that SkyRide pedaling aft all the way around?" asks Tamis.
Less flashy but of equal importance is the emphasis on family staterooms, with The Family Harbor on Deck 2 truly unique in the business. It's basically an entire residential area devoted to families, with a family concierge desk to help with the specific needs of cruising families. "In staying at Family Harbor families will have exclusive access to the Family Lounge," says Tamis. "We'll have family activities, movie nights. It's really going to be a place where the entire family can stay connected."
In contrast, the standout features being emphasized for Norwegian Escape are seemingly more adult oriented; in his webinar, Stuart talked more about the likes of the Tapas bar, the craft brewery and the "After Midnight" show highlighting the music of Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, than he did the kids facilities.
After Vista ends its introductory Europe run and heads over to NYC for a season it will likely wind up in Florida competing with the likes of Norwegian Escape. Time will tell how the world receives Vista, but Hedgeye's Felix Wang has some predictions. "My guess is Vista is going to trend relatively similar to Carnival Corp's other new ships," he says. "Whether it's Holland America or Costa, they're all trending around that 10-15% price premium over the existing fleet."