CRUISE WEEK

Cruise Week’s San Diego-based Correspondent Mary Rosenbluth provides a decidedly Californian perspective on CCL’s newest ship Carnival Panorama.

It’s about time. It’s been twenty years since Carnival Cruise Line, or any other major line, for that matter, debuted a new cruise ship in California, and last week Carnival celebrated the inaugural cruise of Carnival Panorama from her homeport of Long Beach, Cal., in style. And as befits a ship in Southern California, celebrities were there for the festivities.

Top of the ticket was Vanna White–the long-time hostess of Wheel of Fortune and supporter of various charities, like St Jude’s, played Godmother to Panorama. While White seemed a prosaic choice for godmother, compared to, say, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai, Carnival President Christine Duffy made a perfect point about White:  “At Carnival, we look to our godmothers to represent Carnival’s values and support the mission of our founder Ted Arison, who believed that every American should be able to afford a great vacation.”

Duffy noted of White: “She is exactly what she appears to be: so authentic and kind. She is in America’s living rooms every night on America’s favorite game show Wheel of Fortune.”

White really is Americana, at this point, much like Carnival Cruise Line. If she didn’t wear a different outfit every night, her dress on the show would probably be in the Smithsonian.

Game Show At Sea
It’s no secret that cruise lines have moved away from a straight bottle-on-the-hull inauguration, and Panorama was no exception. Chefs from the ship lined up with large plates with the words “Feast of Fun” on one side, and White “uncovered” the letters on the other sides of the plates by tapping them one by one.

One guess at the word on the other side: First letter was “P” and last were “AMA,” and it wasn’t Panama, the country of registry.

The very last plate had a picture of a button, and when White tapped it, we saw on the big screen above the pool a champagne bottle being released and striking the hull. It was a grand occasion, with financiers, media, the USC marching band, and travel advisors cheering the moment as the “Choose Fun” airship circled overhead
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One side note about Long Beach: the view from the ship that evening was pretty magical. The way the Pacific Ocean meets the Los Angeles River, you’re surrounded on three sides by lights twinkling from landmarks like the Queen Mary funnels, the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Ferris wheel at Pike Outlets, and the Long Beach Shoreline Marina.

Choose Fun Feasting
As for “Feast of Fun,” the big emphasis for Panorama is culinary, hence, the other big celebrities in attendance: Guy Fieri, Emeril Lagasse, and Rudi Sodamin.

Fieri was there for the grand opening of the second Pig & Anchor Smokehouse Brewhouse. He spoke to press of his initial hesitation partnering with Carnival, snippets like: “Before I ever got on a cruise, all I ever heard was cruise nightmares about the food,” and, “I would love to do a barbeque concept, but there’s no way it’ll ever work because you can’t have burning logs on a ship, it’s all electric…”

Well, I gotta say, they have figured it out. My burger was a rich, drippy, delight, and Carnival serves over 1,000 burgers just like it every day. Fieri mentioned that folks come directly on board and go straight to Guy’s for a burger with their luggage in tow. I believe it.

Sodamin and Lagasse were on board to promote their upcoming restaurants on the Mardi Gras, the first Excellence-class ship for CCL, coming in August 2020, but they helped press get their inner cook on at the first ever Carnival Kitchen, which Duffy described as offering “new ways for our guests to take home some of the great flavors and recipes of the dishes they get to enjoy onboard.”

It reminded me of Holland America’s Test Kitchen, though more interactive. Eighteen guests at nine marble/granite cooking stations can learn how to make items like pasta, sushi, and pizza for $30-$59/class. Our mission was apple pie, and Lagasse fluted my crust and Sodamin massaged my dough. Enough said.

Sustainability Expected
Another grand effort noticeable on the ship is a push for sustainability–little things like no plastic straws and great big things, like no more photo development or drycleaning on board. The photo gallery is entirely digital, and while we didn’t see too many people browsing through the digital photo gallery on the posted tablets, it’s one of those features whose popularity seems to have ebbed with the advent of cellphones anyway.

We took a tour of the engine area, and the amount of space taken up by ecological efforts like 100% wastewater processing and the removal of oil from bilge water was phenomenal. The four Azipods are the most efficient engines there are, and heat generated by the engines is recycled.

When asked how much more energy efficient Panorama is than Carnival’s oldest ship in the fleet, VP of Environmental Operations Rich Pruitt guessed about twice as efficient. “The rule of thumb,” he noted, “is about a 2-4% increase in efficiency every year.”

Carnival Corp., of course, had some bad press earlier this year regarding probation violations over pollution in Alaska and the Caribbean, so we asked Chief Communication Officer Chris Chiames about the impetus behind this aggressive and admirable push for sustainability.

“We have had an active sustainability effort with aggressive goals for many years, but like many other industries, our stakeholders are now expecting us to do more,” he replied. “We are committed to setting the standard not just for the cruise industry, but the travel industry in general.”

By “stakeholders,” Chiames said he was referring to guests, shareholders, employees and communities that Carnival calls in.

Active Families
And speaking of engines, when you’ve got great food on board, it’s only right to provide passengers an opportunity to burn some of those calories off, and deck 12 had many activities to do just that, like putt-putt golf, 2 outdoor pool tables, foosball, a 4-way ping-pong table, 4 cornhole games, a life-size chess board, mini-bowling, and that old reliable shuffleboard.

The more unusual activities were a ropes course and the Vista-class Skyride, the one in which single riders pedal an open bike along a monorail-type track that juts out over the water. After waiting in line a few minutes (we were told the line is normally about an hour on sea days and 20 minutes at port), we managed to psych ourselves out and exited the line. However, a couple who just got off the ride said it wasn’t scary because you’re completely strapped in and there’s no way you can fall out, even when the track takes a little dip.

We did try the ropes course, which gets the adrenaline flowing, and it’s surprisingly easier than it looks. No line for that one, and Skyride and the ropes course are both free.

The Waterworks area was as elaborate a water park as I’ve seen for kids at sea. I was fascinated by a giant bucket which slowly fills with 300 gallons of water and eventually tips over onto an unsuspecting (well, suspecting) kid below.

Brand New Features
A few decks below is a brand-new offering from Carnival, the Sky Zone, which replaces the IMAX area on other Vista-class ships.

The at-sea version of Sky Zone, a chain with over 200 locations throughout the states, has two basic areas: a room filled with trampolines and hoops to dunk balls, and a separate area with a rock-climbing wall, jousting beam, tug of war rope, and swinging ladder, all over a giant air bag. I was able to dunk my basketball successfully after a few jumps on the trampoline–OK, it was the lowest basket meant for toddlers, but the point is I did it.

Prices are quite reasonable, $5/hr for 0-5 year olds, $12/hr for 6-14 year olds, and $18/hr for 15+. Ages are kept in separate groups, and all ages can participate in a glow party, where the black lights turn the Sky Zone T-shirts hot orange.

Other features new to Panorama are The Heroes Tribute Bar, a venue dedicated to military personnel; and several new spa treatments, including massages that use salt stones instead of smooth river stones. I would have loved to have tried the Thermage skin tightening treatment, but at over $2000, I decided it probably wasn’t a wise use of my retirement account.

California, Here We Come
Panorama joins Fantasy-class ships Inspiration and Imagination in Long Beach, and Carnival Miracle just started cruises from San Diego to Mexico and even 15-day trips to Hawaii.

We asked some uber Carnival fans from San Diego how Panorama compares to the older ships they’ve taken from So Cal. Judging by their answers, it’s not the bigger size, but the little niceties for the senses that make the difference: “It just smelled really nice when we walked in. You don’t smell smoke in the casino. There were no little spots of rust in the corners.” They also appreciated the tropical decor over the gaudier casino look of the older ships.

I was on the completed revamped Sunrise this summer, and I can attest to those subtle differences between a brand new ship and a totally refurbished one. My one-plus, my 26-year old daughter, was on Carnival Imagination out of Long Beach this summer, and she could totally attest to the massive differences between Carnival’s newest ship and the Fantasy-class ships.

So I think I can speak for all Southern California cruisers when I say, Panorama, California welcomes you with open arms (and we’re looking forward to your sister brand Princess Cruises’ Discovery Princess in 2021).

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