Carnival Cruises' L.A. Story

The Carnival Splendor readies for its Hollywood close-up By: David Yeskel
Carnival Splendor caters to Southern California clientele. // © 2010 Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival Splendor caters to Southern California clientele. // © 2010 Carnival Cruise Line

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The Details

Carnival Cruise Lines

The 3,006-passenger Carnival Splendor sails seven-day cruises roundtrip from Long Beach, Calif., calling in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

As a longtime Angelino, I’m often guilty of buying into the stereotypical Hollywood mindset that over-emphasizes youth and physical beauty. It seems that, to make it in L.A., you need to be young, good-looking and hip, and cruise lines are finally starting to get the message.

Until fairly recently, West Coast cruising — particularly seven-day itineraries to Mexico — often meant sailing on older ships. But, with the Carnival Splendor’s second year of deployment in Los Angeles for year-round service to the Mexican Riviera, it has become clear that the features on this new vessel are just the right fit for L.A.

Splendor’s market-specific design work began prior to shipyard construction, said Terry Thornton, Carnival’s senior vice president, marketing planning.

“Carnival Cruise Lines has always been dedicated to the L.A. market, and we needed to provide one of our newest and best ships to the West Coast,” said Thornton. “We knew how important the spa experience was [to clients on the West Coast], so we built an immense 21,000-square-foot spa and added spa cabins.”

Another L.A.-centric design feature is the Sliding Sky Dome over the mid-ship pool area, which can be opened, closed or positioned anywhere in between, allowing for comfortable poolside temperatures year-round. In winter months, the first day cruising out of L.A. and the last day cruising home can be quite cool, so the ability to effectively adjust the temperature while letting in the warm sunlight is a luxury previously unavailable on any Carnival ship in regular service to the Mexican Riviera.

“This was just one of the features we knew would resonate really well with the Southern California market,” Thornton said.

The ship’s 5,500-square-foot Camp Carnival facility was designed to appeal to the line’s all-important family market, while the ship’s size enables the placement of two adults-only deck areas. The megaship design also offers the ability for Carnival to provide live entertainment in up to 10 venues nightly.

Thornton confirmed that Carnival’s longtime marketing strategy of positioning the product to compete against Las Vegas or Orlando resorts remains unchanged. As a key source market for Las Vegas resorts and L.A.-Mexico cruises, Southern Californians are used to Vegas’ spectacular, over-the-top resort products, featuring whimsical architecture and myriad options in dining, entertainment and spa services. In fact, a recent survey conducted by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reported that 26 percent of the city’s visitors in 2009 were Southern Californians who ranked entertainment, dining and spas highly among the important factors driving their decision to visit the city.

Although not as flashy as some traditional Vegas resorts and fairly tame in comparison to earlier Carnival ships, the Carnival Splendor boasts an undeniably bold design approach that demands notice. I found the ship’s busy motif and emphasis on the color pink to be reminiscent of a quirky West Hollywood interior design studio.

Another stand-out feature was that the quality of Carnival’s dining room cuisine has improved markedly over the past few years to the point where it now excels in its class. Innovative preparation and artistic presentation typify the onboard dinner fare. Healthy options also give Carnival’s spa menus a contemporary California feel.

Casual dining stations along Splendor’s sprawling Lido deck reflect the culinary equivalent of a proper L.A. mini-mall, one that is varied with ethnic foods in close proximity. Offerings there include a Mongolian Grill, an authentic Indian Tandoor station, a custom-made burrito bar and a 24/7 pizza station serving five types of authentic pies and calzones. A 35-item salad, sushi and tapas bar (available during the evenings only) and a coffee bar also provide sustenance for L.A. movers and shakers.

Dan Ilves, vice president of sales and marketing for TravelStore, a Los Angeles-based agency with multiple locations in California, noted that the new ship sparked interest among clientele who had already sailed the now familiar, seven-day Mexico itinerary.

“The Mexican Riviera has been an important lower-cost vacation option for those in California and neighboring states because it’s easy to get to,” Ilves said. “We’re grateful that Carnival has committed to positioning a new ship here, offering a wider variety of onboard options for our clients.”

And if there were any remaining doubts about the Hollywood/Carnival Splendor nexus, it is put to rest when the dining room staff breaks into an energetic dance routine powered by “Jai Ho,” the rousing theme song from the hit movie “Slumdog Millionaire.” It’s so L.A. 

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