The 2,124-passenger Carnival Cruise Line Spirit class, Carnival Pride, will home port in Tampa in December 2014.
ABOARD THE CARNIVAL SUNSHINE -- The head of industry giant Carnival says the line is planning more massive overhauls of older ships.
Speaking with USA TODAY on board the recently revamped Carnival Sunshine, Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill says the unprecedented, $155 million makeover of the vessel, formerly known as the Carnival Destiny, won't be a one-off event at the company.
"The plan in my mind has always been that we would do this on additional ships," Cahill says during an interview in Carnival Sunshine's Library Bar, one of more than a dozen new spaces on the vessel.
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Like other cruise lines, Carnival regularly refreshes its ships every few years in dry docks. But what happened on the Carnival Sunshine earlier this year was different.
Originally unveiled in 1996, the 17-year-old vessel was taken out of service for several months and almost completely gutted and rebuilt. The result was a top-to-bottom transformation of the ship that brought almost all-new deck-top areas, a major expansion of dining options and reimagined entertainment spaces.
Among the additions: Carnival's first Asian restaurant, called JiJi; a new steakhouse called Fahrenheit 555; an Italian restaurant called Cucino del Capitano; and a Guy Fieri Burger eatery.
Additions to the top decks of the ship included a massive water park area with three giant water slides, and a sports area with a ropes course (a concept that first popped up at sea two years ago on the new Carnival Magic).
During the process, an entire deck was added to the front third of the ship, allowing for a new adults-only lounge area and more cabins. Major structural changes also occurred to the ship's main showroom, which now will double late at night as the ship's nightclub. The space that once housed the ship's nightclub, in turn, became the largest pub to date on a Carnival ship.
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In all, 182 new cabins were added, bringing the ship's capacity to 3,006 passengers at double occupancy, up from 2,642.
Carnival executives consider the makeover so complete that the vessel essentially is new, which is why they decided to give it a new name. They say the overhaul, undertaken by Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri, goes beyond anything ever done before to an older ship at any line.
"It is a new ship. That's the message," Cahill says, noting that the vessel now has all the best features of the line's one-year-old Carnival Breeze.
"This ship even has some features we don't have on Breeze," Cahill notes.
Cahill didn't say which Carnival ship would be next for such an overhaul, or when such a project might take place. The Carnival Sunshine work was more complicated than the line expected, and the line still is recovering from the experience, he notes.
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When Carnival Sunshine emerged from the overhaul in May, large areas of its top decks still were unfinished, and dozens of cabins were essentially non-functional without air conditioning and working toilets. The result was a lousy experience for many passengers on the first sailing of the ship after the dry dock, and Carnival ended up offering partial refunds.
"It was a rough delivery," Cahill says. "We all felt bad when the ship went into service."
Cahill blames some of the problems with cabins on vandalism, though he wouldn't offer details. He blamed wet weather for the delays in opening top deck areas, as the application of a floor coating had to be postponed.
Cahill says it wasn't clear until very near the end of the dry dock that Carnival Sunshine wouldn't be ready for its first sailing. By that time, passengers already were on their way to the ship, he says.
"We got fooled a little bit. We ended up with some problems ... very late in the dry dock," Cahill says. "If we had known a few weeks in advance it was going to be like that, we would have pulled the plug (on the first sailing), but we didn't know it. And I think we learned a lesson from something like that."
Still, with the initial problems in the wake of the overhaul now fixed, Cahill says the final result is worth the effort.
"At the end of the day, I think we're all thrilled with where the product came out."
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