Serenity refurb a breath of fresh air

By Tom Stieghorst

Outside the Galaxy Lounge on the Crystal Serenity.The Crystal Serenity’s $17 million makeover is notable as much for what was subtracted as what was added.

After emerging from a drydock in Cadiz, Spain, the most noticeable change to the 2003-built ship is the complete disappearance of one of its pools.

The space that had been devoted to a pool area with a retractable roof for shelter in inclement weather has been turned into another restaurant, called Tastes. The area, now filled with wicker seating, is also home to the Trident Grill and Scoops ice cream bar.

“It’s great to say we have two pools,” said Crystal President Edie Bornstein. “But the reality was it was really never used.”

Tastes, which has an eclectic menu that runs from Alsatian tarts to California street tacos, opens in the early afternoon for lunch and then is transformed after 6 p.m. into a casual eatery with what Bornstein called a “summer-in-the-Med feeling.”

The Serenity’s other pool remains, as do other fitness facilities such as a 360-degree outdoor promenade for walking, a golf driving range and putting green and two paddle tennis courts.

Another focal point in the makeover was the four penthouse suites.

In an ultracontemporary remodel, interiors of the 1,345-square-foot suites were gutted and the dining area moved closer to the outdoor veranda. The former dining room became a den/library/media room. The color scheme has been lightened to light gray and creme with purple accents.

Another change during drydock was the addition of air- and surface-cleaning equipment to 70 cabins, meant to reduce the irritants that cause allergies.

The so-called hypoallergenic rooms, an industry first, are a boon to passengers who have allergies or other sensitivities that can disrupt a vacation. Now a state-of-the-art, medical-grade air purifier filters out 99.9% of all airborne impurities on an ongoing basis.

A new cherry wood dance floor in the Palm Court gives that area a fresher, richer feel. And the Lido Cafe area has been remodeled with more tables for two and food stations replacing older-style buffet counters.

Seven Seas Voyager emerges from drydock

Seven Seas Voyager emerges from drydock

By Tom Stieghorst
The 700-passenger Seven Seas Voyager is on a Rome-to-Venice cruise, its first since emerging from a scheduled drydock for interior and deck upgrades.

Among many changes, the ship’s nightclub and observation lounge got new furnishings, wall coverings, carpeting and lighting. The Constellation Theater was rejuvenated, penthouse suites were redone and new teak was installed on the balconies of all 350 cabins.

The refurbishment was overseen by Frank Del Rio, CEO of Prestige Cruise Holdings, parent of Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Del Rio flew to Marseille, France, for a final inspection before the Seven Seas Voyager set sail, the cruise line said.

Good Day, Carnival Sunshine

Good Day, Carnival Sunshine

September 28, 2013After a $155 million makeover, Carnival Destiny transforms into a dramatically different ship — Carnival SunshineBy: Marilyn Green

Sunshine features a WaterWorks water park with three slides. // © 2013 Carnival Cruise Lines

Sunshine features a WaterWorks water park with three slides.

Carnival Cruise Lines’ recent extreme transformation of Carnival Destiny into Carnival Sunshine has left the ship feeling much more like Carnival Magic and Carnival Breeze. The 3,006-passenger vessel’s $155 million makeover changed not just the ship itself but the spirit of the cruise experience.

Entertainment is served in short, snappy sessions, with three polished production shows in the Palladium Show Lounge. Fast-paced comedy shows take place in the Punchliner Comedy Club, featuring up-and-coming talent brought in by comedian George Lopez.

The intense, fast entertainment pairs well with the dozens of food and drink possibilities that include a wonderful burrito bar, uber-burgers contrived by Guy Fieri of Food Network fame, a 24-hour pizza bar serving made-to-order choices and Carnival’s own Red Frog beer.

Bonsai Sushi, which also has a home on Magic and Breeze, features top-notch combination dishes, and the Asian eatery, JiJi, appearing for the first time on Carnival is a home run. At JiJi, each table has a designated “director” who helps diners navigate through Pan-Asian appetizers, main dishes and sides. A steal at $12, the food is excellent, abundant and served to be shared. The presentation is gorgeous and, with selections from vegetarian to pork and beef, there’s something for any taste. JiJi and Cucina del Capitano, a new Italian restaurant, had ample seating and breakfast offerings. So even when the buffet filled up, there was plenty of space for a quiet meal.

Less quiet is the Punchliner Comedy Brunch on days at sea. It’s a rough ride for the comedians, who have to perform over hungry and sometimes hungover guests. There was a lot of unplanned laughter as passengers tried to explain to their international servers what some of the jokes meant.

The overall atmosphere of Sunshine has a decidedly Caribbean flavor, from the tequilas at Blue Iguana to the rums at the Red Frog. The tropical touch is echoed in the public area and stateroom decor. Like Magic and Breeze, Sunshine has become more subtle in color than Destiny’s former flamboyant Joe Farcus designs.

There’s nothing restrained about the new WaterWorks water park, however. Its three adrenaline-rush water slides have excited cruisers lining up to conquer the 334-foot-long Twister. They shrieked all the way down the water slide, and bystanders cheered those trying out the dual racing slides. A gentle water play area caters to the younger cruisers, who squeal and scatter under the 150-gallon dump bucket. Above the ship, the suspended ropes course had plenty of participants.

At the opposite end of the the ship is Serenity, the complimentary adult retreat with a pool, a whirlpool and seductive, cushioned chaise lounges and chairs. Tell your clients to try to capture one of the circular two-person lounges. I’m a sucker for the sight and sound of a waterfall, and Serenity has a beautiful one with fabulous views.

In the evenings, popular movies are shown on the poolside 270-square-foot, high-tech LED screen. Movies at the Seaside Theatre were very popular with teens on our cruise. Alternatively, Sunshine’s Liquid Lounge nightclub rocks well into the night. It’s great fun for all, except for the cruisers in the staterooms just above the club on Deck 6 who complained abut the heavy bass.

All these activities mean that passengers are spread out, and there is no feeling of overcrowding even though Carnival added 182 staterooms to Sunshine. The clever and flexible use of space sends guests throughout the ship for meals, relaxation and entertainment. There were so many different things happening all over the ship that there were no long lines.

Sunshine sails in November from Europe to New Orleans, where she will offer weeklong roundtrip itineraries until April. She will then join Carnival Liberty in cruising from Port Canaveral on five-, seven- and eight-day Bahamas and Caribbean cruises.