Image: Carnival Splendor
Andy Newman  /  AP
The Carnival Splendor arrives in Dover, England earlier this month. The newest ship of Carnival Cruise Lines' fleet is 952 feet long and can accommodate more than 3,000 guests.
By Anita Dunham-Potter Travel columnist
updated 7/14/2008 11:51:30 AM ET 2008-07-14T15:51:30

In the world of cruising, Carnival Cruise Lines is known as the “Fun Ships”. So it was no surprise that Carnival’s newest ship, Carnival Splendor, was christened last week in Dover, England amid much lighthearted fun.

The party got started when the godmother, British pop star Myleene Klass, serenaded a Royal Navy diver who climbed a 60-foot rope up the side of the ship to smash the ceremonial bottle against the hull.

The Splendor itself will be familiar to Carnival cruisers. At 3,006 passengers and 113,300-tons, it’s Carnival’s biggest vessel to date. It’s a slightly bigger version of Carnival’s Conquest-class ships, and passengers who have sailed Carnival before will be familiar with the Splendor’s layout. But the similarities end there as Splendor introduces a number of new features for Carnival.

What’s new
As the first and only Splendor-class ship, the biggest change is an expansion of the spa to 21,000-square feet. The Cloud 9 Spa stretches out over two decks in the front of the ship and offers an Asian-inspired ambiance.

You can relax in the huge thalassotherapy pool or the thermal suite based on a Turkish bath experience that offers four climate controlled, each with varying degrees of warmth or cold. There are two VIP treatment areas for couples to indulge in extensive treatments and a mud lounge where different chakra muds are applied to the body then washed away in a tropical rain temple. Before and after treatments, guests are encouraged to relax with a cup of tea in a relaxation area with comfy loungers and canopied beds with sea views and soothing music.

For fitness buffs the spa’s large fitness center offers users state-of-the-art Lifecycle machinery along with daily fitness classes with personal trainers.

Another first for Carnival is 68 spa staterooms that offer direct access to the spa through a private elevator. Each stateroom has special décor and amenities that make for the ultimate seagoing spa and wellness vacation that’s only steps away from the stateroom.

The ship also offers larger and more exciting spaces to entertain kids of all ages. Splendor’s youth activities are in an expansive 5,500-square-foot children’s play area — roughly 30 percent bigger than the largest facility in the Carnival fleet. Located mid-ship on Panorama Deck, the two-level facility is divided into separate areas: Camp Carnival (ages 2-11) and Circle C (ages 12-14), with each focusing on a different activity or function.

Located one deck above is a children’s water park with various water-spray apparatus, and a wet tot lot offering kids hours of splashing fun. The water park complements Splendor’s four swimming pools, including a pool on Panorama Deck featuring the line’s signature 214-foot-long “Twister Waterslide.” On Promenade Deck is the teen area called Club O2 (ages 15-17) that boasts a dance floor, soda bar, game area and more.

Floating party city
There’s something about a Carnival ship that offers a totally crazy, party vibe. Splendor is no different except that it provides even more and larger venues for guests to see and been seen.

Among the ship’s amenities are: four swimming pools, one with its own retractable glass dome roof; a giant movie screen; seven Jacuzzis. As on other Carnival ships, you’ll find a towering atrium and theater, Internet café and library, shopping promenade, and 22 bars and lounges that are always thronged with guests. Accommodations include 1,503 well-appointed staterooms, including 52 suites and the 68 aforementioned spa cabins.

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Of the ship’s 1,503 staterooms, nearly 200 will be interconnecting with more than 350 accommodating up to three and four guests — perfect for families. One thing to keep in mind when choosing a stateroom on a Carnival ship is the location. Passengers take the fun ship motto literally — especially late at night. Therefore, if you want peace and quiet pick rooms that are not near high-traffic elevators — mainly the ones with access to the ship’s atrium area.

The ship was designed with worldwide itineraries in mind — hence the one big change of the covered Lido pool midship, which allows guests to enjoy sunny skies on days that can get chilly.

Anyone that has set foot on a Carnival Cruise Lines ship knows that the decor is rather flamboyant. It’s a montage of ideas and color that adds up to outlandish fun — the company’s trademark. Splendor’s décor has a lot of copper, pink and black stained woods, brushed aluminum, and glossy black tiles creating an edgy atmosphere.

Splendor was designed by Joe Farcus, the Miami-based architect who for many years has been the chief designer for Carnival’s vessels. For Splendor’s theme, Farcus says he played up “splendid things.”

For example, for the two main dining rooms — Gold Pearl and Black Pearl — he came up with the idea of “splendid jewelry.” For the El Morocco night club and bar he thought of “splendid night clubs” and drew inspiration from old photos of the famous New York City hot spot of the 1930’s and 40’s the El Morocco. For the casino he thought of a “splendid hand” and that was a Royal Flush — thus became the casino name.

Not all of the ship is wild and crazy; there is one very traditional “splendid old liner” area — the aft pool deck. The retractable roof has been removed and the deck area now offers an unobstructed view of the ship’s wake just like liners of the past. The area is decorated in teak and the nautical theme is everywhere from the bar shaped like a bow of a ship, to the anchor chain barstools, to the half-models of the Queen Mary and Normandy that deck the walls. On and on it goes. Each space was designed with a specific “splendid concept” in mind. The theme continues to play out with thousands of original pieces of art making Splendor a veritable floating gallery.

Carnival cuisine
Carnival offers by far the best dining value at sea with a vast array of perfectly prepared dishes. The dinner menus are full of fine dining staples Carnival is known for from large lobster tails and filet mignon to Chilean sea bass and rack of lamb — all are accompanied by an excellent selection of wines. The majority of meals are served in the ship’s two main dining rooms, Golden Pearl Restaurant and Black Pearl Restaurant, that offer dinners in the traditional manner, with assigned times and assigned tables (breakfasts and lunches are open seating). However, the line is toying with the idea of offering some open seat dining.

Carnival’s president and CEO Gerry Cahill says the company is currently testing open seat dining options onboard the Carnival Legend and on Carnival Liberty starting November 1. Cahill says sections in the upper level of the main restaurant are open for guests to dine between 5:45 and 9:30 p.m. Reservations can be made a day ahead of time and if there is a wait passengers are given beepers when seating is not available — Carnival says the wait times have been under 10 minutes. So far, feedback has been very positive. If the program proves to be successful it will be implemented fleet- wide sometime next year.

Still, Cahill expressed concern about the program since the company wants to maintain the close connection passengers have with their dining room waiters — a staple of the Carnival Cruise Lines experience.

Main restaurants aside, Splendor offers abundant round-the-clock dining options. Lido restaurant, the ship’s casual buffet restaurant, is arranged into several serving stations. One area in particular is proving wildly popular — Indian tandoori and the Mongolian barbecue. There are also a pizzeria, deli, hamburger and hot dog grill, pasta station and ice-cream machines. The Pinnacle is Splendor’s supper club restaurant, where for $30 per person you’ll get a six course gourmet meal.

Another dining option is the sushi bar on Promenade Deck and the Rotisserie on Panorama Deck serving chicken with the line’s signature spice rub and of course there is 24-hour room service.

If you go
Splendor is on an interesting schedule for the next year. It will continue to sail in Europe and then will offer a partial winter schedule in the Caribbean out of Fort Lauderdale. There are two repositioning cruises for its South America voyages. One leaves Fort Lauderdale for Buenos Aires in January; the second will be from Santiago to San Francisco on March 3.

Long Beach, Calif., will be the permanent year-round home for Splendor, with seven day cruises to the Mexican Riviera starting March 29. Prices start from $499 per person based on double occupancy.

Sound off! Do you have a comment, an idea, a complaint or a problem for Anita to solve? Send her an e-mail and you might find yourself in her next column. And check out her blog, ExpertCruiser.com.

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