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Breezing through the Med with a beachy look

With its Caribbean atmosphere, from outdoor bars to beachy hangouts, the new Carnival Breeze may be a bit out of place this summer in the Mediterranean, bobbing between Barcelona and Venice.

But on a June cruise I couldn’t find a single passenger, North American or European, who thought so. Even in the Med, the ship plays well with its new tropical theme, and passengers will feel quite at home when it breezes into Miami in November.

What Carnival has built — and has been working toward in this ship class that began with Dream (2009) and Magic (2011) — is a vessel that shouts “Caribbean beach vacation” in new colors, tone and style. One passenger called the Breeze a ship of mellow yellow, referring to the 1966 song by Donovan that focused on cool and laid back. Quite rightly.

Company changes, subtle and not so subtle, are transforming the look of a Carnival cruise. On its newest ships, Carnival has evolved from a style that was largely an indoor vacation wrapped in Las Vegasy noise and neon — once, I characterized a Carnival ship as a big box with a swimming pool on top — into a tropical party that spills outdoors from bars, restaurants, and a new disco that looks almost South Beachy.

“We’re going where our passengers want us to go,” says Gerry Cahill, Carnival’s president, “more tropical, more contemporary.”

The Breeze, which will be based in Miami starting in November for Caribbean cruises of six and eight nights, is the first ship with all of Carnival’s latest bells and whistles, many of which the cruise line hurriedly is shoehorning onto some of its other vessels. “It will take time,” Cahill says, “but you will see this over the entire fleet.”

As Carnival is hip deep in marketing concepts these days, most of the ship’s newer accoutrements are equipped with a branding name and a corresponding “experience,” which is marketing talk for making a product different from others, and memorable. Each bar and restaurant not only has its own décor but also menu, drink selections, entertainment, and uniforms for staff, who are supposed to be trained especially for that “experience.”

Which is why a waiter in the RedFrog Pub, where you can buy (at $3.33) a portion of seriously spicy jerk chicken wings, may greet you with a “Hey mon,” as mon perhaps is Jamaica’s most important word; why a Romanian staff member in the Cucina del Capitano restaurant will sing to you in Italian (“We have all learned Italian,” she said); and why the wait staff in Bonsai Sushi, Carnival’s first full-service sushi restaurant, welcomes passengers with a “Konnichiwa” (welcome) and sings during dinner about “turning Japanese.” Neither the song nor the sushi ($1-$15 portions) seem to be lessened by the staff’s heritage — the women singer/waiters all come from Thailand, the chef from India.

There’s more. Servers at the BlueIguana Cantina on the pool deck — they make tacos and burritos — know their sauces and salsas, which fill a cart with flavors and various degrees of heat. Two new corner bars are set up for hanging around the pool on a stool: RedFrog Rum Bar dispenses Caribbean rum-based drinks, and BlueIguana Tequila Bar specializes in tequila-based frozen drinks. And leave it to Carnival to design a library where you can buy wine by the glass while you read or play chess.

On sea days, Fat Jimmy’s C-Side BBQ sets up on the Promenade Deck (5), serving grilled veggies, chicken, sausages, and a terrific pulled pork sandwich. It’s a hit. The lunch line was as much as a 15-minute wait, as the buffet table served 950 plates a day, equal to nearly one in every four passengers on the ship.

You might think that Guy’s Burger Joint is just another ground beef gimmick, but thanks to Guy Fieri, Carnival actually has managed to increase consumption of burgers — the meat, overly done, can be topped aplenty and sided with freshly cut but mushy fries. Cruise passengers typically eat about 400 burgers a day; on the Breeze, Guy’s guys are serving 1,200 to 1,500 burgers a day.

Among other changes of note on the Breeze:

Something to consider by bookers of outside cabins with a balcony: A ship where the party spills outdoors can be a bit noisy when the action flows deep into the night. A light sleeper on Deck 7, near my aft cabin above a hot tub and the outdoor tables of the RedFrog Pub on Deck 5, will know when the revelry finally comes to an end.

David Molyneaux writes monthly about cruising. He is editor of