As I look around the ship today, it appears on the surface that as Monty Python once said “the credit crunch is only a flesh wound.” I know the industry is concerned about future bookings but here….and now…..it’s business as normal with the ship alive with guests enjoying life and good times.

One family enjoying all the ship has to offer are the Strutts from Oklahoma. They cruised with me on the Carnival Freedom in Europe and here they were singing the praises of a four-day Carnival cruise…..they drove here……….and forfeited a long weekend in Las Vegas to dos so. Why?……….Well, value for money and the fun for all atmosphere that can only be found on a Carnival ship.

It’s funny that they mentioned Las Vegas because as I was discussing with my friend Roger Blum, vp of cruise programming, the other day…..I have never been to the city in the desert. I never really fancied going. I don’t gamble…..well………..except when I fart in bed and pull the covers over Heidi’s head …….in this case I am gambling that wobbly bits will be still attached to my body afterwards.

However, it seems that according to the BBC I won’t have to fly to Vegas because Vegas is coming to the UK. Yep, super casinos are coming to London and Manchester, and I wonder if it will be like Las Vegas or not.

Well, in one important respect it won’t be. Las Vegas is situated in the middle of the Nevada Desert, not far from Death Valley, the hottest place on earth. Manchester and London are known for its year-round drizzle and its summertime peaks of 57F. As you approach Vegas from Los Angeles, especially at night I imagine it is a genuinely impressive spectacle. All that power. All that energy. And so many air-conditioning units that as often as not the city generates its own overhead cloud cover to cool the gamblers down. As you approach Manchester and London you usually think, “I’ll turn my wind shield wipers on now.” And then you keep right on going to somewhere better.

We can’t forget the police, either. In Vegas they wear shorts, ride bicycles and — as I once saw on Cops — have flashing lights on top of their helmets. And no one laughs at them.

Then we have the hotels. At the MGM Grand in Vegas there are 5,044 rooms and the turnaround time is phenomenal. You check out, and even if it’s three in the morning someone else will be in your room just 20 minutes later. The last time I stayed in Manchester, my hotel room had nylon sheets that made my hair look like it had been styled by Don King, and the biggest diversion was looking out of the window.

However, in one important respect UK’s super casinos will be very similar to Las Vegas. The customers will be poor when they get there. And a little bit poorer when they leave.

When imagine also that gambling back in the early days was a rather elegant way of passing the time. You would go to a small smoke-filled room dressed in your best suit. The casino itself would have just four tables, a fire and a maître d’ called Roget who would welcome you with his fake French accent.

Vegas too, I am told by those who remember in those days, was a laugh. The Strip was a great place for cruising. You could stay at the Aladdin for $8 a night, see the Platters sing Only You, play a little blackjack, develop a rapport with the dealer and it was all jolly lovely. Even though you knew your losses were being used by men called Don to buy guns in Chicago and cocaine in New York.

The Strutts painted me a different picture of Vegas when we spoke last night. They went last summer and said it’s crammed. You can’t move on the Strip, 24 hours a day, and as you sit at the bar being insulted by the uninterested staff you get the impression that it’s just a giant cathedral to capitalism.

There’s no style any more, they said. When you check in at the MGM there’s an army of valet parkers who direct you to one of the 16 lanes so that you are in the casino and at the tables that little bit faster.

In the past the receptionist would tell you about all the shows in town. Now you give them a credit card and you’re in your room, where the bed is still warm from the last sucker who breezed into town. It sounds horribly depressing.

And that’s what it’s going to be like in the UK when Steve Wynnnothing opens his casino doors. Oh sure, you’ll get a handful of the people from Cheshire over there, dropping vast wads on black to make themselves more sexually attractive. But mostly it’ll be people gambling away money they barely had in the first place.

However, the Struuts love the tables here at Carnival. “Why,” I asked…..”Is it because you win?”……….”No,” said Mrs. Strutt………..”It’s because if you win or lose the dealers treat you like a human being and not just another gambler.” And with that she wandered off to play blackjack hoping the dealers would be extra nice and pay her out on 22 because…..it was close enough.

It’s funny but I feel like I have never set foot on this ship before. It’s not because the last time I worked on a Fantasy class ship was back in 1995 it’s the fact that the ship looks …………well………..like a ship I have never been on before. I know that’s not the most eloquent way to describe to you what I mean but as I sit here at 8:15 am it’s the best I can do for now. Actually, it isn’t…………let me try and explain further ……………..lets start on Promenade Deck.

The Fantasy I remember had circular fair ground booths for guests to sit in just past the gift shops and up until the main Promenade Bar. When I say “fairground booths” they were ones you would find on a ride which we in the UK call “The Wurlitzer.”………I am sure there is another name for the ride in North America but you know the ones I mean, don’t you? They spin around in a circle very quickly and usually you end up vomiting over your sister…….yep………….those.

They actually were very “retro” back then in the early nineties and I have many a happy memory sitting with passengers …………you weren’t guests back then……………you were passengers and watching the cruise ship world go by.

Well, those circular fair ground booths have gone……..I have no idea where………. maybe the metal was sold for scrap and are now cans of horse meat sitting on a deli counter in Paris……….who knows?

What I do know is that they have been replaced with a new and simply wonderful area from which to watch the world go by. The seating area is open and airy and last night the area outside of the casino was a hub of activity as was the inside of the casino itself. You know, its been a long time since I have been in the Caribbean and whereas in Europe the first night is always quiet with guests in bed early after trans-Atlantic flights…………here on the Carnival Fantasy as she is now known the ship was alive and vibrant ………… especially on Promenade Deck………..oh by the way, I have to get the staff here to say Carnival Fantasy. I guess they have been in the habit of calling it that for many years but it says Carnival Fantasy on the side of the ship and that’s what they should call it.

Anyway, back to Promenade and last night it was hopping. The bar waiters were busy as people sat in the new seating area and enjoyed the great entertainment package arranged by Cruise Director Big Texas…………actually we can’t call him Big Texas anymore because he has lost an amazing 73 pounds………so he is now known as your Cruise Director “Rhode Island.” The guests listened to the Dixie land jazz provided by the Universe Orchestra and nibbled on Californian Rolls served complimentary from the new sushi bar. I think one man from Valdosta, Georgia, was a bit confused because he thought it was a bait shop ………….for fishing y’alllll.

Anyway, here are some photos of the area on Promenade Deck forward including the new sitting area, the sushi bar and the casino………oh by the way; I took this morning so you can actually see the seats etc.

promenade

prom2

prom3

prom6

promenade1

Coffee……….where would we be without it? Since their debut Carnival Destiny, we have had our popular cafes installed on all our vessels so guests can enjoy a cup. You may say that coffee causes your teeth to go brown and your heart to explode and is as healthy as burying your face in a pair of my underwear and breathing in. However, for many of us our morning cup of coffee is a ritual we must adhere to and so Carnival placed the massively popular Destiny, Conquest, Splendor and Spirit class coffee shops on the Fantasy class as well. …and as you will see the one on the Carnival Fantasy is a very special one.

It has comfortable seating that invites you not just to take your frapamocalateacinno away but to stay…..chat with friends and make new ones. By the way………..why don’t we have big Starbucky type mugs for people who do want to drink their coffee at the café?……..Big mugs with the name of the café on them and the ship….I am sure people would buy them…..Oh and yes…..they do have tea as well. I know this because I asked for a cup just now.

However, like all our café’s they don’t have proper tea………….all they have are herbal teas. Herbal varieties of tea are very dangerous because if you come round to my house and ask for peppermint tea I will punch you in the mouth. At best, it is pointless. At worst, it is an affected piece of Hyacinth Bucket snobbery designed for the sort of people who spend half an hour deciding whether the wine they’ve been given is alright. And Chai tea? Have you tried that? Well, don’t – because you can achieve exactly the same effect, for a lot less, by drinking your own urine. Anyway, here are some photos of the Coffee Shop which I think is as good if not better than anywhere in the fleet.

coffee-shop

coffee-shop1

coffee-shop2

coffeeshop3

The aft part of Promenade has also been changed. In the old days the Fantasy had one aft lounge called the Forum. Well, this large space was divided into two parts so that the Carnival Fantasy can provide some upgraded facilities for some of its most important guests……..the kids. Times have moved on from the days when kids could be entertained by decorating a cookie and knocking on a cabin door and running away. Now they want the Transformers, Asteroids and Hemorrhoids in your face entertainment that comes from the playstaionwiixboxs of today. And so realizing that we needed more space to provide these and other fun activities for the kids, the Forum has been divided with the port side being dedicated to a new and dynamic space for Camp Carnival. Mums and Dads will be very happy. There is also a new area for Circle C where the plasma TV’s and modern furnishings are testament to what kids want today. Then we have the new Club O2 area which is where the 15 – 17 year olds………ummmm……….hang and chill and see whose pants are worn the lowest while listening to JayDiddly and Beyonce Spears.

Have a look at these photos of paradise for kids.

circle-c-2

circle-c3

circle-c4

circlec

club-1

club-3

club-o2

club2

Back at the Forum there are daily activities and nighttime karaoke. Once again, being in Europe for so long, I have forgotten how popular karaoke is. The place was packed last night and I sat and listened to many a good singer including one lady who belted out Amazing Grace which earned her a standing ovation. I also listened to a young man sing Aerosmith’s Dude Looks like a Lady. He was obviously sponsored by Budweiser and sounded like I would if I woke up to find Judge Judy lying in my bed-wearing nothing but lipstick. But those are the wonders of the karaoke and that’s why it is still one of the most popular cruise ship activities.

The Lobby has also been changed to resemble those of the Carnival Fantasy’s big sisters. There is now a bar and seating area as well as a bandstand from which various styles of live music are provided. It has radically changed the feel of this area and last night it was full of people mingling and enjoying the music and ambiance. Here is the new Carnival Fantasy lobby bar.

lobby

lobby1

lobby2

It is extraordinary to think that the last time I was working onboard the Fantasy the Jubilee and Celebration dining rooms were divided into half non-smoking and half smoking. The odor of Camels and Marlboros has gone and with it has most of the dining room I remember. There used to be a long centerpiece from where the midnight buffets were served. That has also gone and has been replaced with more spacious tables and chairs that are uber comfortable………and they are chairs that don’t have arms so that people with extra medium bottoms like mine don’t get wedged in there. In the old days you could see people walking around the ship, having a drink, swimming in the pool all with the dining room chairs still wedged tight on their buttocks.

The dining rooms have become light and airy and welcoming. I ate last night in the Celebration Dining Room which is the forward of two. I was joined for dinner by an old friend Andy Brown. Andy has been with Carnival for 17 years and I remember him being a young junior purser eager to please and always ready to help. He worked with me on the Carnival Destiny during her inaugural season and despite being as ugly as Mongolian wart hog he was very popular with the ladies……….and one man called Brian. Andy Brown has grown up with the company and here he is as the hotel director of this new and improved Carnival Fantasy. Last night we chatted about the old days and talked about the ones ahead. Later in the cruise I will slap on a video of Andy and I having a chat. Last night I enjoyed the following dinner from the extensive menu.

TIGER SHRIMP COCKTAIL
CAESAR SALAD
CENTER CUT PORK CHOP WITH PEAS AND MAC AND CHEESE
BUGGER ALL DESSERT

It was delicious and our waiter, Pang, was with me on the Carnival Freedom so it was wonderful to see him again. Talking of which, it’s amazing to see so many crew that I have not seen in so many years. They all want to shake my hand and hug and kiss me passionately………..and that’s just the male crew.

Seriously, though, it has been brilliant to see so many of the crew, especially those who have been with this amazing company for many years and are the ones who have helped it to be the world’s most popular cruise line. One thing I am glad to see is that they didn’t remove the models of the Jubilee and Celebration from the entrance to the dining rooms. They are a proud reminder of our heritage. Here are some photos of the dining rooms.

dining-room

dining-room1

table1

staff

I have spoken to many guests here many of which have recognized me and it’s interesting listening to where they are from with many it seems driving to the ship. I spoke to guests from Louisiana, the Carolinas and the Pancotti family who drove in from Georgia. The guests are true Carnival people………with everyone of the 2,600 all determined to get the most out of these four days. I went to bed last night at 11:15 pm and the dance club, the Cats Lounge featuring a high energy four-piece band, the promenade, the lobby, the aft lounge and all the entertainment lounges were buzzing ……..and that was wonderful to see.

Tomorrow I am going to feature the open decks, the fantastic new lido dining area complete with Mongolian Grill and, of course, the amazing Carnival Fantasy water park. I will also have some videos to show you as well so I hope you will stop by tomorrow. I will also answer the next and very long list of questions you have sent me.

I have spent much of the day preparing everything for the Bloggers Cruise. I won’t go into specifics but I will say that Hotel Director Andy “Ugly “Brown and his hotel staff have been terrific. Big Rhode Island the CD is superb and those of you who will be sailing with him either here on the Carnival Fantasy of in April on the Carnival Valor are in for an huge treat………..he really is very talented.

However, there is one thing that has impressed me more than anything. It’s something I have not experienced for a long time and that’s……rumpy pumpy with my wife …sorry, I mean that’s the small ship feel. I mean, it is ludicrous to call a 70,000-ton ship small but when cruise lines are building ships as large as the Carnival Dream and ones even bigger like the Ihavebeenstandinginlinewith5000otherpassengerswaitingforacheeseburgerandfries of the seas……..I guess the Carnival Fantasy really is small.

And that’s a good thing. Because that small ship feel where you make a new friend who won’t get lost in the crowd but who you will see every day is something rare these days. OK, maybe the facilities we have on our larger and newer ships are bigger and grander but they do tend to lose that special feeling only a smaller vessel can provide. I remember now how much I loved this ship and I am falling in love with her all over again.

Let’s quickly mention the port of Grand Turk which as you will see has become the must-
visit Caribbean destination.

GRAND TURK CRUISE CENTER EXPECTED TO HOST RECORD 500,000 PASSENGERS IN 2009

GRAND TURK, B.W.I. (January 30, 2009 ) — With 229 cruise ship calls scheduled for 2009, the Grand Turk Cruise Center (GTCC) is on track for hosting a record 500,000 passengers in the coming year.

The unprecedented half-million passenger mark is a 25 percent increase over 2008, during which the GTCC was closed for 30 days following Hurricane Ike.

A key reason for Grand Turk’s continued popularity is the wide array of organized excursion opportunities for visitors, from horseback riding and kayaking to world-class diving, snorkeling and fishing.

For those guests who want to explore the island on their own, the new Grand Turk Grace Bay Car Rentals recently opened at the Grand Turk Cruise Center. With this new service, guests visiting Grand Turk will be able to discover the island’s numerous historical sites, gorgeous white-sand beaches, quaint Bermudian-influenced architecture and friendly locals at their own pace.

“The Grand Turk Cruise Center is poised for a record-breaking year and we look forward to showcasing our island’s magnificent beaches and diverse shoreside experiences to cruise-ship visitors,” said Mike Reimers, general manager of the GTCC. “Additionally, the new on-site car rental agency provides GTCC guests with yet another option for experiencing and exploring the fascinating beauty of this island paradise,” he added.

Commented Todd Foss, Grand Turk Grace Bay Car Rentals general manager, “We are extremely excited about expanding our operations to the Grand Turk Cruise Center. Grand Turk Grace Bay Car Rentals has a well-deserved reputation for quality and we look forward to providing cruise ship visitors with this much-needed service on the island.”

The Grand Turk Cruise Center, which can accommodate up to 6,000 passengers per day, consists of a 13-acre complex including an 800-foot-long private beach, swimming pool, expansive recreation area with a diversity of retail shops, FlowRider® surfing adventure and the Caribbean’s largest “Margaritaville”-themed bar and restaurant.

For more information about the island, the Grand Turk Cruise Center, as well as the 2009 cruise ship schedule, shore excursion offerings, and a copyright-free photo library, visit grandturkcc.com.

For information on Grand Turk Grace Bay Car Rentals visit their web site at gracebaycarrentals.com.

For press inquiries, please contact Jennifer de la Cruz or Vance Gulliksen, Carnival Corporation & plc Public Relations at 305-599-2600, ext 16000.

Remember, we have a variety of ships that visit this enchanted isle so check out www.carnival.com to discover more.

It seems our new commercial featuring the Fun Director and the giant waterslide was a great success and your comments mostly amplified this. And so, as a reward for your continuing readership, here is a look at the second of our commercials. This one features our exuberant Fun Director and a special guest star………have a look a this.

Watch the Fun Director Commercial Here

Yep, how funny is that?

So, as always I invite your comments……….what did you think? Personally…..I laughed my bottom off……..and that I assure you is a lot of laughter. I will post the next one very soon.

By the way, have I mentioned how much I love this ship?

Goodnight
Your friends
John, Heidi and the Thingy

Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.