Carnival Cruise Line has long been known for its short, party-hearty sailings to warm-weather locales, with the Caribbean and Mexico getting the lion's share of the attention. While Carnival regulars weren't complaining, the line recognized that it needed to provide a bit more variety, and in 2015 came up with a new offering: Carnival Journeys.
Ranging from 10 to 18 days, these sailings are designed to offer a more immersive destination experience, with both additional ports and extra sea days. But Carnival has stirred in some interesting features that make this more than just a longer cruise.
On the 14-night Carnival Journeys round trip cruise to Alaska, Carnival Miracle departed out of Long Beach. Alaskan cruises out of Southern California on any line are rare, and this was a first for Carnival. (Carnival's usual seven-night Alaska cruises depart from Seattle.)
Instead of visiting Alaska's top three ports and a tidal glacier -- the usual agenda for Carnival Legend -- the Journeys cruise called on five Alaskan ports and spent a full day in Glacier Bay National Park. One of the ports -- Icy Strait -- was a first-ever call for Carnival. Plus, instead of a short, cursory evening visit to Victoria, cruisers had a full day to explore Vancouver, B.C. A total of six sea days rounded out the agenda.
The Alaska Journeys sailing was a popular one, with cabins virtually sold out months ahead of departure. Journeys cruises attract a much higher-than-average number of high-status VIFP members. On our Alaska sailing, first-time Carnival cruisers (the ones carrying blue key cards) were a distinct minority. But Diamond-level members (the ones with 200-plus cruise days aboard Carnival), represented 178 guests -- more than 10 times the number on a typical sailing, we were told.
It wasn't just the passengers who were excited to be aboard this longer Alaskan cruise. Crew members who'd been doing the same seven-night Mexico itinerary out of Long Beach week after week were giddy with excitement -- very few of them had previously traveled to the 49th state. So that was an unadvertised -- and welcome -- side benefit to a Journeys cruise: A crew that was genuinely engaged with the voyage, along with Carnival loyalists enjoying something different.
On a Carnival Journeys cruise, the main dining room menu is diversified. Even over the course of 14 days, there were no menu repeats. Even better, the Journeys menu was expanded to include additional offerings keyed to the destination. Being Alaska, there was a heavy emphasis on seafood, such as a salmon bake with wild mushroom risotto and an Alaskan-style cioppino. To augment the ship's usual supply of frozen seafood, fresh fish was brought aboard at more than one Alaskan port.
Another perk of the destination immersion was a naturalist to deliver sessions about the ports and wildlife, daily for the length of the cruise. These went much deeper than the usual shopping and shore excursion pep talks, delivering rich background on a destination that is high on many cruisers' bucket lists. Carnival's senior cruise director and brand ambassador, John Heald, was also along for the ride.
A highlight for many passengers had little to do with the destination, instead inviting cruisers to turn the clock back three decades, to relive cruise sea days from another era. The Throwback Sea Day offered retro pool and deck games -- like the Ping-Pong bathing suit challenge, AquaFrog racing and roll-the-dice horse racing.
Inside, there were '80s-era trivia contests (Golden Girls, anyone?), a Thriller dance class and a white-glove formal captain's cocktail party. And, of course, the midnight buffet was brought back to life, complete with resplendent ice and fruit carvings.
Even the line's Carnival Capers, a newsletter precursor to Carnivals' daily Fun Times, was distributed to rooms one night to stoke the nostalgia.