Carnival has always billed themselves as the cruise line with “The Fun Ships.” Having sailed several time with them, I can personally vouch for the fact that alcohol is a big part of all that fun and the drink of the day is literally thrust in your face upon boarding before you’ve even had a chance to figure out where the pool is. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
But ordinarily, the bars on a cruise ship are pretty generic varying mainly by their location on the decks. Inside bars tend to be a little clubbier with a rotating entertainment schedule or a piano bar and the occasional cigar lounge. Poolside and outdoor decks bars are a little more laid back with bartenders wearing shorts and pitching buckets of beer and drinks with umbrellas in them. The psychology of onboard payment for drinks is pretty fascinating. Since most cruises have all-inclusive food options, there’s a natural tendency to get into binge mode when eating and drinking.
However, since you have to pay for your drinks in most cases, they won’t let you run a tab all night so that you can see just how huge your bar bill is getting. Instead, you close out with your ship account credit card after every round. Waking up with a pocket full of $17.00 receipts somehow isn’t nearly as jarring as finding one bill for $200+. The day of reckoning comes at debarkation when all those little tabs get added up and presented to cruisers as part of the final master bill. My cabin steward had to knock to get me to open the door because the bill wouldn’t slide under the door.
So if we’re gonna pay that much having fun, the drinks better at least be good, am I right? Here’s where Carnival is stepping up with their new Fun Ship 2.0 program. Over the course of the next couple of years, they are investing $500 million to refurbish many of their ships to include a series of concept bars that aim to upgrade the quality of your boozing experience. The highlight property will be the Alchemy Bar, kind of an ala carte bar where patrons use something that looks like a pharmacy pad (or a SatCo order form) to choose their liquor and either a fruit or herb like mango or lavender to create their own unique perfect cocktail which will then be crafted by a trained bartender for only $8.95. You can upgrade to an even swankier cocktail with premium liquor for only a buck more, and for cruise ship prices that ain’t half bad.
Two other new bars will make you choose sides as to whether you are a “blue” or a “red.” The Red Frog Pub strives for a Key West meets the Caribbean vibe, serving a huge selection of rums, cocktails and beers, including Carnival’s own Thirsty Frog Red beer in a bar that features foosball and shuffleboard for the full beachfront experience. They will also serve tall columns of beer that you can take back to your table and not have to bother the bartender every time you and your friends need another refill. You can buy that round, buddy.
The Blue Iguana has a Mexican theme and features beers from south of the border and numerous brands of tequila. It’s next to the Mexican cantina onboard, so you can get your fill of food and beer without having to waste valuable steps. I think I’ll be a red.
In addition to these fun lounges, Carnival is also revamping some of their other bars. Fahrenheit 555 will be a contemporary steak house with a hidden bar for the cool kids. The Piano Bar 88 will be located on the Promenade Deck and will serve strong tropical cocktails to loosen up your pipes and encourage you to howl along with the piano player. When you start swaying from side to side and singing along to “Piano Man,” I’m out. The Library Bar will serve intimate cocktails and wine from Enomatic dispernser machines. WHo knew reading could be so much fun?
Perhaps the bar I’m most excited about is Carnival’s joint venture with EA Sports. Their sports bar will serve beer in bottles and on draft in an environment with a 24/7 sports ticker and multiple games on the televisions. It stinks being at sea when you’re favorite team is playing and you’re in the dark. I didn’t know I won my fantasy football league for a week last because I didn’t have access to all the games. I missed out on a whole week of gloating and self-satisfaction until I got home. You’ll also be able to play all the video games you want in the EA Sports Bar, but really get outside and get some fresh air while you’re at sea, you pale shut-in!
The two ships that sail to the Caribbean and Mexico out of New Orleans are undergoing these upgrades over the next year, so by next fall you should be able to really have fun on the Fun Ships. Tack on a day or two in the Big Easy on the front end or the back of your trip, and I guarantee you an unbelievable cocktailing good time. And a hangover.