Updated: Jan 1
Carnival Corporation - Brands
Part two - Again please be mindful that these are my own personal recommendations based on my experience onboard and the feedback from clients we have booked. I have included photos that are representative of cabin decor, sizes and signature interior spaces.
I make no claim to be the font of all knowledge.
If you disagree, I really am keen to know how and why your experience might be different.
We do have reports from a few people that have had exceptional experiences on some of the lines below that I don't recommend. What is written below doe not imply that I am skeptical of what they have reported back. I absolutely believe them.
The issue is one of consistency and I simply can't in good conscience recommend a particular cruise if I am aware of reports of poor service or product.
Others will simply take your money. That is not how we roll.
The Carnival Corporation Brands
3 star 12 ships - 2000 to 4000 pax Founded in 1854. Based in Genoa, Italy, the cruise line primarily caters to the Italian cruise market You might remember the Costa Concordia Dare I say it Euro-trash. FAB: Avoid.
P&O Cruises Australia
3/4 Star 3 ships 2000-2600 Pax Average age 20+ years Lots of history here being a direct descendant of the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company which is one of the oldest cruise lines in the world. The backbone of migration between the UK and Australia. Prior to the advent of cheap international flights in the 70s, if Australians went to Europe, more times than not, it was on one of their ocean liners. Sadly the glamour of that bygone era is well ... gone. The bare bones that remain here in the current Australian operation here today bear little resemblance to what was such a strong pedigree as they are now very much an entry-level product firmly at the bottom of the market. Which confusingly is very different to the standard of the product offered by P&O UK, with newer and better-designed ships.
The fleet is made up of old ships, with cosmetic makeovers that show their age with small cabins and dated decor in the areas that haven't been tarted up. Reports of visible rust and cold and at times uneatable food. They are definitely improving but they are still very much hit-and-miss, which to my mind is too much of a risk for your hard-earned holiday dollars Cheap wine is great, if it's undrinkable you have wasted your money and stuffed up a lovely dinner. P&O offers loads of short sample cruises of 2 or 3 nights for a few hundred dollars. Avoid these at whatever the cost unless you like the Kuta beach crowd or a non stop bucks party.
The relentless push for extra revenue onboard is not just tiresome, it can be crippling financially if you had only budgeted for a few hundred dollars for your 'cheap' cruise.
As with airlines, the budget option can actually work out to be more expensive than a premium brand by the time you pay for seat allocation, meals, a movie, and a bag down below. The same rules apply to cruise lines.
FAB: Avoid until they are not hit and miss which may not be until they get better ships
P&O Cruises UK
4/5 star 6 ships 2000, 3500, 5000 pax Good mid-range product favored by lots of Brits who tend to like to travel en-mass ... think Majorca on Sea. With that in mind, their product is built to keep this demographic coming back for more. Large ships that do lots of itineraries ex the UK
FAB: Better options on lines that are not based in the UK but still visit there
Carnival Cruise Line
3 Star 2000, 4000 up to 5000 pax on the new ships. Again entry level. The biggest cruise line in the world with 19 ships. Many 20+ years old.
You get what you pay for and you won't pay much - think a basic 3 star hotel.
Like P&O Aust they offer lots of short sampler cruises. Don't, just don't.
Big kid and family focus which is great if you have kids. If not, not so much.
Loads of extra charges for everything except meals.
FAB: Better quality options available. If you can only afford Carnival, skip a year save your money and spend a few hundred dollars more on Royal Caribbean
4/5 star 15 ships. 2600 to 3600 One name. One company. But like with P&O their product locally is very different to abroad. Which again I think is nuts from a marketing perspective.
Princess and Carnival apparently view Australia as a retirement home for the older ships which frustrates me no end. We deserve ships as good as those overseas but instead many brands give us the old girls and expect us to pay a premium to sail on them.
A case in point, Dawn Princess looked for all the world like an RSL when she was transferred to Australia in 2007. Consequently, the RSL crowd loved her. She was showing her age back in 2007 but Carnival at a corporate level decided instead of pensioning her off, to simply throw a bit of paint over her and transfer her to P&O.
This is the reason why I'm no big fan of the local versions of Carnival, Princess or P&O.
Princess overseas however is a different bird with more modern ships and has broader appeal. Debbie in our office loved her cruise around the Med on Princess. But let it be said she hasn't sailed on Princess in Australia.
FAB: Recommended for retirees
Holland America Line
4/5 star - 9 ships, 1400, 2000, 2700 pax HAL was founded in Rotterdam, Netherlands in 1873 and was instrumental in the mass migration of people from Europe to the USA. Hence the name.
HALs days of glory on the transatlantic route faded with the rise of aviation in the 70s Like Princess, they have a product that is designed for older travelers without big flashy kids clubs and they tend to do longer 10/14+ day voyages.
A solid product with great food and fantastic service but the ships are nothing to get excited about.
They have also chosen to base their older ship here ... Can you see a trend here?
FAB: Recommended for retirees
4/5 star - 3 ships, older fleet 2 @ 2000 pax, 1 @ 2600 pax
In 1839, Samuel Cunard was awarded the first British transatlantic steamship mail contract, and the next year formed the British and North American Royal Mail Steam-Packet Company. It was renamed Cunard in 1879.
Cunard has a pedigree built on the back of the white star line and the legendary transatlantic route. Back in the day, they had a fleet of true ocean liners which were the most luxurious and glamorous ships afloat favored by royalty and high society. No one came close. When the new-age cruise ships began to emerge Cunard feared being left behind and decided to follow the crowd and build big ships that had little in common with the exclusive first-class product was famous for.
Sadly little remains of the glamour of the last century with the exception of traditional main dining rooms like the Queens Grill and white-gloved high tea every afternoon. It is my personal view it was a bad move that saw Cunard lose their way and give up the prestigious place at the very top of the industry. They are now very much a mid-market brand these days.
That being said I have very well-traveled clients who cruise on all the high-end lines and they report about a recent voyage on Cunard that they loved the whole experience. Let's hope they are having a resurgence but without new smaller ships, they will not be able to match or catch the ultra-luxurious 6-star brands that lead the pack.
FAB: Recommended for retirees and more mature pax
Seabourn Cruise Line
6 star - 6 ships Inclusive of tips/drinks/mini bar 1 @ 264, 3 @ 450, 2 @ 600 pax
All suite - all inclusive of drinks/tips/mini bar
Carnival's 6-star brand. Whereas on other lines extras such as tips, drinks, and mini bar can see onboard expenses skyrocket to $1000 or more, Seabourn includes all of these in their fares. So although on face value they may seem more expensive, when you do the math, often they can be the same total spend, or in some cases even cheaper than mid-range options for a far superior experience.
To use another airline analogy - if a budget brand like Costa is like the middle seat, in the back row on RyanAir, then Seabourn is like first class 24/7. I've been privileged to have sailed on most cruise lines. If cost is no object, I'd recommend Seabourn over all others, and is my favorite line in the world. Luxuriously appointed with understated decor reminiscent of a private super yacht.
Seabourn might lack other perks such as butlers on Silversea or the inclusions of excursions offered by Regent, but the advantage to me is that Seabourn has a more relaxed dress code.
Relaxed yet stylish is their onboard vibe and you won't feel out of place with a smart collared shirt, slacks, and no jacket.
Others might prefer to dress up every night. But for most Australians Seabourn is a more relaxed option.
New to the Expedition space, their 264 Pax Venture - think a Vogue Safari - is stunning yet understated and even features two submarines.
FAB: Highly recommended
Read the next post in this series: Cruiselines: NCL Corp - Regent - Oceania
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FAB Last Minute and Interline Cruises