Get ready for some Texas-sized fun: Carnival Jubilee, the latest Excel Class ship from Carnival Cruise Line, has started sailing Caribbean itineraries from its homeport in Galveston, Texas – and we have the photos to prove it.
The 6,500-passenger ship has much in common with its predecessors, Carnival Mardi Gras and Carnival Celebration; favorites like the Bolt roller coaster, the double-decker Red Frog Tiki Bar, an expanded Guy’s Burgers Joint, the Patio and Summer Landing area, the Tides Pool and the Ultimate Playground are all onboard.
Where the ship comes alive, however, is with the themed décor that makes each of these Excel Class vessels unique. Where Mardi Gras had a New Orleans theme and Carnival Celebration celebrated travel, Carnival Jubilee is all about the ocean, both below the sea and above ground at the seashore. The result is classy public spaces that will get people in the seafaring mood as soon as they board.
Cruise Critic had the chance to board Carnival Jubilee for a special preview sailing just with Carnival employees, a few days before the ship’s first revenue sailing over the holidays. Here’s our sneak photo peek at the newest spaces on Carnival Jubilee.
We weren’t sure we would like any themed zone better than the French Quarter on Mardi Gras. (We love New Orleans, OK?) But Currents, which takes up the same two-story real estate on decks 6 and 7, is our new favorite.
The space is intended to make people feel like they are under the sea, said Glenn Aprile, Carnival’s senior director of brand experience and product development. That’s accomplished in several ways, the first being wavy LED panels on the ceiling that span much of the area.
Over the past few days, we’ve seen the ceiling cast different vibes: a dreamy blue that really does make you feel like you’re underwater, and also a sand color that brings out the art deco touches of the atrium.
What makes the atrium space unique, however, is that it’s also Carnival’s first interactive zone. A control kiosk on Deck 7, near the Alchemy Bar, allows guests to change the scenery on the six large rectangular high-resolution LED screens that line the atrium. All of the choices have a watery theme, with corresponding sea creatures: alligators swim through a mangrove forest; stingrays glide through a coral reef while sharks circle in another scenario.
“It really puts control of the space in the hands of the guest,” Aprile said. “That’s a first-ever for us, and something that we’re excited about.”
Besides the Change the Currents option, there are several other ways the interactive screens will be put to use. At certain times, guests will be allowed to create their own sea creature, using various templates and options, that will then swim through the panels. There will also be a submarine show called "Seaquest," where show lights complement the LED displays to tell a story.
Activations that broadcast Dr. Seuss scenes for the Dr. Seuss is On the Loose parade, as well as those that highlight drawings made by children at St. Jude’s Hospital, one of Carnival’s sponsored charities, are also available.
Finally, there’s also a nighttime show called "Soundwaves" where guests can choose a song from an iPad, and music, lights and displays accompany it. Think of it as multidimensional karaoke, without the singing. We weren’t able to see this during our preview sailing, but it sounds fun.
The Currents space is meant to appeal not only to kids, but also to adults, Aprile said; multi-generational travel continues to be a hallmark for Carnival. “We strive to create activities where parents, together with children and grandparents, can really have fun together,” he said. “Even when we’re designing something for children specifically, we’re always thinking how are the adults going to interact with this space.”
There are two themed bars in the Currents Zone. The first, Dr. Inks PhD (get it, "drinks"?), introduces a new character for Carnival, “similar to the Red Frog and the Blue Iguana and our other branded experiences,” Aprile said.
Who is Dr. Inks? She’s an octopus, with a philosophy degree. The experience team has built an entire backstory for her, Aprile said, and scenes from her underwater apartment can also be broadcast throughout the Currents space. Instead of a fish tank, she keeps an aquarium full of butterflies, and nature shows and scenes from “up above” play on her TV.
The cocktails at the Dr. Inks PhD bar are creative, incorporating fun and unusual ingredients like Swedish fish and pop rocks. (It’s not all sweet; we tried a delicious cocktail made with smoky mezcal.) Musings from Dr. Inks are sprinkled throughout the book-sized menu.
Walk from the Currents atrium through a hallway outlined by a horseshoe of lights, meant to represent the belly of a whale, and you’ll find the Golden Mermaid Bar. This elegant space is also adjacent to Atlantic, one of the ship’s main dining rooms.
This is another bar where craft cocktails shine. The add-ins are a little more glam – think edible glitter and ice cubes shaped like roses. It all complements the golden mosaic mermaid torso and tail that sweeps behind the bar, although you can’t see her face – “The Golden Mermaid is elusive,” Aprile said.
We couldn’t stop looking at the two large tile mosaics, created custom for the ship from Ceramica San Gines in Spain and designed by artist Roberto Ramirez. While the blue and white tiles are classic, the images within are more modern and whimsical, with lots of hidden Easter eggs with references to Texas and Carnival.
One of the most stunning pieces of artwork is the blue glass staircase that connects Currents on decks 6 and 7 with the ship’s other new zone, The Shores, on Deck 8. A school of fish swirl upward, the feeling of movement intentional, Aprile said.
“The fish are swimming up to the sky,” he said. “You’re beneath the waves, and now you’re ascending up out of the water to the next zone, The Shores.”
The name “The Shores” is meant to encompass beach life at the seaside. To that end, the spaces have several different elements, including boardwalk-style concessions, a bar that evokes a marina and Galveston itself.
While The Shores has the same number of venues that the Deck 8 space has on the other Excel Class ships, the names and offerings are rebranded to fit the theme. Beach Buns is the area’s deli and sandwich shop, which also has an expanded menu of soups, salads and desserts.
Coastal Slice is the ship’s 24-hour pizza place. In a nod to the Texas homeport, there are two news additions to the menu: A barbecue chicken pizza and a Tex-Mex option.
“We like to vary it up from one ship to the other in a way to support the theme of the zone,” Aprile said.
The Marina Bar takes guests from the boardwalk to the boatyard. Here, nautical chic reigns, with oars at the bar and a vintage 1942 Chris Craft boat. The numbers on the boat – TX 0717JB -- are significant, Aprile said, as they reference the hull number of Carnival Jubilee. (Likewise, Emeril’s Bistro is called 717.)
For people who remember the original Carnival Jubilee, which also sailed from Galveston, in the early 2000s, there are a few nods to the vessel scattered throughout the new ship. The original bell is showcased near the Grand Central atrium, and you can see it almost as soon as you walk in.
(The Builders Plate from the original Jubilee is also onboard, but it was hidden by Christmas decorations on our sailing.)
Artwork onboard also pays tribute to the past – and future. Within Cucina del Capitano, an oil painting shows the original Jubilee next to Holiday, a ship within the same class.
Finally, the dining room names Atlantic and Pacific are taken from the original Carnival Victory, Aprile said. The Pacific dining room at the back of the ship carries through the ship’s ocean theme, with long cylinders full of glass bubbles that almost look like floating candles at night.
Carnival has long embraced Texas cruisers with its ships in Galveston, and Carnival Jubilee is no exception. There’s even a Lone Star painted on the ship’s hull. The metal Jubilee mural outside the Grand Atrium has overt Galveston references. The city’s historic lighthouse and seaside attractions are also prominently featured.
New entertainment is also on tap for Texans. A Lone Star Tailgate Party brings the spirit of the “big game” and friendly family competition to the ship. And we’re positive that Texas cruisers will get a kick (of their cowboy boots) out of My Future Husband, a new jukebox show from Carnival’s Playlist Productions. A Southern-fried version of Tony & Tina’s wedding, the good-natured musical has an after-party that continues at the Limelight Lounge nightclub.
Here, the cast members show up, and the couple perform their first dance. Passengers even sign a guest book. Quite quickly, the dance floor comes alive as the performers do their two-stepping best to get others out to boogie.
During our visit, the finishing touches were still being put on the top deck Ultimate Playground zone. This is where you find the sports court, the Bolt roller coaster, the ropes course, the Carnival Waterworks park for kids and mini-golf.
But wait, there’s more to come. Through a partnership with the Kennedy Space Center, Carnival Jubilee will have the line’s first space-themed playground on the top deck, Aprile said. It will be installed on the ship by January or February 2024.
A space-themed education program from the space center is already in place down in Camp Ocean, however. Twinkling constellations highlight the videos and shows narrated by real-life astronauts.