Carnival's new Breeze blows in

Carnival cruise line's newest "Fun Ship", the Carnival Breeze, departed on its inaugural cruise from Venice through the Mediterranean this past weekend.

For Carnival, the 130,000-ton, 3,690-passenger ship is far more than just the latest addition to its fleet. The Breeze is the first ship for a completely redesigned Carnival Cruise Line.

Changes include dining and entertainment features, but even more importantly in an area of renown for Carnival ships, an entirely new direction in the interior decor. The Breeze appears significantly more refined and subdued than the rest of the Carnival fleet.

She's the first Carnival ship not to be designed by decorator Joe Farcus who for the past 35 years was behind the cruise line's signature flashy, over-the-top decor. That may sound trivial, but to Carnival followers it's monumental. Farcus is so exceptional he became known as an adjective; “Farcusian.”

Critics call Farcus designs pompous and pretentious. His fans call it “escapist” or “entertainment décor.” Either way, Joe Farcus defined the “Fun Ship” look ever since that phrase was invented by former Carnival president Bob Dickinson in 1974.

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But Dickinson retired in 2007 and was replaced by new president Gerry Cahill who said “Breeze is the first ship my team and I designed from the keel up.”  Cahill has a new vision which he calls “FunShip 2.0.”  with more traditional décor, but also entirely new entertainment and food experiences.

Amid all these changes was veteran cruise director John Heald.  Heald “brings out” all of Carnival’s brand new ships as the cruise director, and I couldn’t wait to hear his impressions of the new ship and FunShip 2.0.

Speaking with Heald via by satellite telephone last week from Europe I asked him how it felt to be on aboard the Carnival Breeze.

John Heald: Well, I have to say I feel a world of difference already. I knew she would be a beauty when I toured her under construction in the shipyard, but until we got fully underway with 4000 people onboard I never knew how she would really feel. Now that we’re here I have to say, I think this is truly the best ship Carnival has ever built.

Motter: Is it the obvious décor changes, or more than that?

Heald: First of all, the décor on this ship gives her a completely different feel from other Carnival ships. Some of the words I am hearing are ‘fresh’ and ‘crisp’ but also ‘relaxed.’ It’s more open and calmer feeling. To be honest, I think ‘lighter’ is the best word, it just feels lighter in mood.

Motter: Was this the influence of Gerry Cahill? While his predecessor owned horses and yachts, Gerry Cahill is a self-described “Gee-whiz” kind of guy.

Heald: Without a doubt, this is Gerry’s ship, and Gerry is just a real guy, a regular guy.

FunShip 2.0 Entertainment and Food and Drink

He may be regular guy, but Cahill is no greenhorn where running a business is concerned. As the template for his new Carnival vision, Carnival Breeze includes several new “branded” experiences for entertainment, dining, dancing and drinking, each with a unique name, look, logo and even uniform. In the past Carnival was just a fleet of ships. Soon it will be a fleet of floating chains of restaurants, nightclubs, production shows and even its own brand of beer.

Many of the ideas were “created for Carnival” spinoffs of already popular names. There is “The Punchliner Comedy Club,” affiliated with popular comedian and former TBS talk-show host George Lopez.  Given the title “Curator of Comedy,” Lopez is now in charge of finding comedians for Carnival ships. Another example is Miami-based D.J. Irie who will train all of the fleet DJs in his “Spiniversity at Sea.”

Another new branded feature is “Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint.”  Fieri is the white spiky-haired host “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” on the Food Network. “Guys Burger Joint” is a new restaurant on Breeze and coming soon to other Carnival ships. I asked Heald how he likes Guy’s burgers?

Heald: Well, I’m not really a huge burger fan, to be honest, but I think the best by far is the Pig Patty Burger. That burger is truly historic. (It comes with beef, bacon, cheese, “Donkey-sauce,” a deep-fried “righteous rojo” onion ring, lettuce and heirloom tomatoes.)

Heald: What is also interesting is how many people see the name Guy Fieri and ask how much it costs.  The burgers are all free.  (In fact, they come with a vanilla-based “Salted Caramel Whiskey Milkshake,” which sounds heavenly to me.)

Other new dining spots include the “Blue Iguana Cantina and Tequila Bar,” “Harry’s Supper Club,” “Fat Jimmy’s C-Side BBQ,” “Fahrenheit 555 Steak House” and the “Cucina del Capitano.”

At this point I counted up over 30 “branded concepts,” each with a special name and logo.

Motter: How hard it is to remember them all

Heald: Try to say, 'Try a free tree frog beer at the RedFrog Rumrunner’s Pub, next door to the Blue Iguana Cantina and Tequila Bar.'”

Motter: Is the “branding” concept working?

Heald: Keep in mind it’s just the first ship. But I really think it’s brilliant - especially since each place has its own look, even its own uniforms for the staff members. There are now a number of real destinations onboard. It’s no longer just people walking up and down the Lido deck all night long.

Motter: What are the most fun places?

Heald: The RedFrog Pub and Blue Iguana in Ocean Plaza are two of them. (Both are Promenade deck centerpieces for the new Carnival ships. They include lanai porches that open the promenade deck to fresh air close to the waterline. Cantilevered hot tubs jut out from the side of the ship.)

Heald: The EA Sports Bar is also great. (EA is Electronic Arts, maker of popular sports-computer games like John Madden Football. The EA Sports Bar has big screen televisions to show live sports from ESPN, and other screens for people to play games.)

Heald: Also keep in mind that the only restaurants on Breeze that charge anything are the Steak House ($35 per person), the Cucina del Capitano (a family-style restaurant with a nominal charge) and the Bonsai Sushi Bar (a la carte menu). But we still have complimentary sushi in our buffet.

Showtime Entertainment

I once wrote “All the ship’s a stage and all the people its players,” about Carnival over 10 years ago.

Yet another game maker, Hasbro, adapted five popular games from its “Family Game Night” web site for play on stage in the main theater, by real people in front of a studio audience.

Motter: Since you're the cruise director and must host these game shows,  is your job is getting a little too complicated?

Heald: Between all the new names and the shows I will be hosting I can hardly remember what it’s like just to be a cruise director.

Motter: Is the crew working harder now?

Heald: Without a doubt, all the staff is working harder, but that connection with our guests is what makes us Carnival.