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AS CRUISE SHIPS GO, THIS ONE IS BIG - AND FUN : ON LOCATION.

Byline: Jerry Morris Boston Globe

We were about to have the best vacation of our lives. That, at least, is what the cruise director of the Carnival Destiny, the world's largest cruise ship, was announcing throughout the ship.

That's a pretty big promise. But this is a pretty big ship. A big Fun Ship, no less. And if you can't believe your cruise director, whom can you believe?

Carnival has a right to boast. The line has built the first cruise ship to top 100,000 tons, making it more than 20,000 tons larger than anything else that has sailed the Caribbean waters. And in the world of ships, increased tonnage means more space. Carnival is also the No. 1 cruise line in the world, operating 11 ships that consistently sail at, or very close to, capacity, and owns or controls three other cruise lines - a fourth shortly. So why shouldn't we enjoy ``the best vacation ever''?

The first time I spotted this ship was last November while lunching in the elegant Globe cafeteria. Across the South Boston skyline I could see a familiar red smokestack towering above everything and moving into place at the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal, more than a mile, as the sea gulls fly, from my vantage point. ``That's big,'' I said. The Destiny was making a brief call on the city straight from a shipyard in Italy before heading down the coastline to Miami. I said ``That's big'' again as we approached the Miami port terminal and the Destiny towered over ships and buildings in the area.

Its size, though, brings some concern. How can anyone in their right mind enjoy being on a ship that size and with 3,000 or so of your nearest and closest friends? Is this fun or madness?

We also wondered whether this was cruising or checking into a grand resort hotel. And after checking into our stateroom and hearing cruise director John Heald's ``best'' announcement, we wondered if that wasn't just a lot of hype.

There is a lot of hype surrounding the first ship of this size, but Carnival has some surprises aboard to make this a passenger-friendly ship.

First, though, I guess you have to accept that cruising today is more of a resort experience than a seagoing adventure. Oh yes, we would be sailing on the ocean and could spot it right outside our cabin window, but this ship, like most today, keeps most activities inside and completely climate-controlled while keeping its open decks open to what most seem to want to do during the day - lie in the sun and relax. While the ship lacks the open Promenade Deck found on older oceangoing vessels, we did discover an open deck just outside the lobby deck. It didn't span the entire ship but did provide lots of room for relaxing in those big deck chairs. With a deck on either side, you could thus choose sun or shade.

The ship provides many design innovations that quickly make one forget they are on a huge liner. Public areas - shops, casino, theater, lounges, disco, dining - are concentrated on three decks set midway on the ship with passenger cabins on decks above and below. No one has to travel far to dine or play the slots. Of course, if you want to sun or swim and are on one of the lower, low-priced decks, there is a bit of a hike up to deck nine or 10, but the ship has lots of quick elevators, including a bank of glass-enclosed ones within the nine-deck-high central atrium.

Size can mean crowding, but we never really experienced that.

While the image of this line may seem to be for the younger crowd, our cruise had an almost equal balance of young and old age groups. There is lots of danceable music, from nice and easy to disco.

For those who just want sun and fun, or even sun and quiet, the Destiny more than provides. The spacious upper decks have lots of open space, two pools (one with a retractable roof that can be closed for use in rainy weather), many hot tubs, even a terraced deck design around the main pool that also is used for day and evening entertainment. There is a separate pool and play area for the young set. And then there is the spectacular 214-foot-long twisting water slide, from which you can catch a commanding view of the ship and sea.

Size, too, means bigger shows. On the Destiny, the stage shows - mostly musical ones - are lavish and spectacular in the three-deck-high showroom, with hardly a seat that doesn't have a great view.

The main promenade deck is much like walking along a boulevard downtown, although far more lively and interesting than anything at home. We could shop duty-free, enjoy coffee or dessert in the sidewalk cafe, try our luck in the Millionaire's Club Casino, where one jackpot had reached $907,004.

The ship is bright and light. It seems more subdued than some Carnival ships that seem to be measured by the number of miles of neon lighting they have.

Staterooms are quite spacious, most have outside views and many have private balconies. Bathrooms also are spacious with a large shower area - some more expensive rooms have tubs. Our cabin came with a TV that provided a choice of movies and shipboard activities, along with Fun Vision, an interactive system that allows shopping, ordering of shore excursions, information on billing and a wide range of pay movies.

Service throughout the ship was friendly and good. We tried room service, and our sandwiches arrived warm and within a reasonable time. The free room-service menu was good, with a variety of sandwiches, drinks and salads - and it was available 24 hours a day. Enough food is served throughout the day that there should be no need for this service, but I must admit it was a nice treat to sit outside on the balcony, enjoying the sea breezes and munching on a sandwich or having breakfast.

The Destiny offers a huge choice in food and dining that is both plentiful and very good. Daughter Wendy didn't think the bagels were up to her standard, but other than that, there were no complaints with the food choices. Besides two large dining rooms, designed to create intimate areas, there is a two-deck-high Sun & Sea restaurant with four buffet serving areas for breakfast and lunch and, nearby, a 24-hour pizza place, outdoor grills for hamburgers and hot dogs and an Oriental and also Italian buffet area. Too many tempting dishes.

With its many small, intimate lounges and the way Carnival has divided the ship into many areas, the Destiny has the feel of a much smaller ship. While I certainly enjoyed the food, my only complaint would be with the casual Sun & Sea restaurant topside. It reminded me of a cafeteria.

For those who feel they must or should work off the calories, the Destiny has a huge fitness and health center with all the latest in workout equipment, relaxing saunas and steam rooms and massages. There is an aerobics area, a juice bar and a salon for hair care and facials, even European-style spa services.

The Destiny offers two cruise itineraries, both from Miami. We chose the Eastern Caribbean that offered calls at St. Croix and St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and San Juan. The western Caribbean itinerary has Cozumel, Mexico; Grand Cayman; and Ocho Rios in Jamaica.

Maybe the biggest problem with the Destiny is that there are too many choices for activities, entertainment, ports of call, food, drink. So if you want to mix a seagoing adventure with lots of pleasure in a relaxed atmosphere, the Destiny is a very good choice. Forget the size, just enjoy.

Cruise prices on the Destiny range from $1,399 in value season to $2,469 in season. Ocean view staterooms with balcony range in price from $1,729 a person to $2,469 depending on season and size.

Carnival also publishes discounts of up to $800 a cabin for early bookings. Other discounts may also be available for special sailings. Information: (800) 327-9501.

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos, Box

Box: On Location (See text)

Photo: (1) Carnival Cruise Line's Destiny is, at more than 100,000 gross tons, the largest cruise ship afloat, which means it offers more choices (sometimes too many) in entertainment, activities and food.de

(2) Passengers can go casual when dining at the Sun & Sea Restaurant, one of three two-level establishments on the Destiny.

Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines
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Title Annotation:TRAVEL
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 9, 1997
Words:1435
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