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The cruise lines serving the North American market have been proactive in putting well-known land-based brands into their dining programs, and some have brought in equally famous productions from Broadway and London’s West End. But Carnival Cruise Line broke new ground on the 3,954-passenger Carnival Vista with the launch of a full IMAX theater and a complete craft brewery operation at sea — and neither was accomplished easily.
It’s hard to believe that IMAX is 40 years old, but it was 1967 when four Canadians — three of whom had been friends in high school — created a system for projecting movies onto a giant curved screen that immerses viewers. IMAX began operations by showing nature documentaries in museums, but in recent years, it has rolled out 1,000-plus theaters in 74 countries, with another 500 on the way. Every theater is recalibrated daily and corrected remotely by IMAX to ensure consistent quality — including the one onboard Vista, where cruisers can see Hollywood releases and short documentaries at lower prices than on land.
“Carnival really embraced it,” said Therese Andrade, vice president of theater development and strategy for IMAX. “And we’re setting up the releases as close as possible to landside.”
Andrade says placing a real IMAX theater on a ship involved breaking through staterooms and corridors during installation and compensating for the ship’s movement — not to mention keeping the movie sound inside the theater and out of the rest of the ship. On my recent sailing onboard Vista, viewing choices included recent blockbusters and documentaries, paired with popcorn, sweets and drinks.
Likewise, there are plenty of craft breweries in North America, but there’s only one onboard a cruise ship. For the moment, 31-year-old Colin Presby is the only brewmaster at sea. He took over Vista’s RedFrog Pub & Brewery roughly two months before the ship’s inaugural voyage, leaving his home in Reading, Penn., for Italy and the vessel, which at the time was still under construction.
“I had to wear a hard hat and safety shoes when I went out my stateroom door,” he said. “The physical facilities, tanks and hookups were already in place, and it was a matter of running tests, cleaning and getting everything ready.”
Presby is responsible for overseeing the brewing of the pub’s three beers: ThirstyFrog Port Hoppin’ IPA, ThirstyFrog Caribbean Wheat and FriskyFrog Java Stout. He divides his time between preparing batches of beer and explaining the process to passengers, who can watch the whole procedure in the glass brewhouse by the RedFrog Pub entrance, where he pours bags of grain into glass kettles of boiling water.
Since Carnival’s passengers range from beer novices to connoisseurs, Presby worked to create drink options that appeal to everyone. He currently produces 250 gallons of beer per week and can double the volume if needed. He is enthusiastic about the support he gets from Vista’s food and beverage department.
“I told them we needed growlers (large containers for carrying beer) for the guests, and they were onboard the next time I looked,” Presby said.
He is training an associate to take over when he has time off the ship and, soon, he may be training a number of brewers, as Carnival has decided to place breweries on Carnival Horizon next year and on its new class of ships that have just been announced.
“The biggest challenge on the ship is the logistics,” Presby said. “At the end of it all, it’s the same brewing process as on land — power, water and steam are consistent. If I lose steam, it would mean the ship would lose steam, and we’d have much bigger things to deal with than a lack of beer.”
But will Carnival’s brews be able to compete in American craft contests?
“We are looking to become involved in the Brewers Association, but we’re in a unique position,” Presby said. “We are making a well-differentiated, high-quality American craft beer but, technically, we are not an American company; we’re an international company operating internationally. So, we may only be able to participate in international competitions.”