Carnival Celebration begins Miami sailings from renewed cruise terminal amid soggy 50th birthday bash

·6 min read

MIAMI — Carnival Cruise Line shrugged off a South Florida deluge to open its revamped PortMiami terminal and christen its newest ship, Carnival Celebration.

Paying deference to 50 years in business, Carnival Celebration’s godmother is actress and model Cassidy Gifford, the daughter of Kathie Lee Gifford, who had been a spokesperson for the line for decades and even christened the new ship’s namesake, the M/S Celebration, back in 1987.

Coming in at 180,800 gross tons that can sail with 6,631 guests at full capacity, the new version is nearly four times the size of the original, which was just over 47,000 gross tons and could hold about 1,500 passengers.

Both mother and daughter were on hand along with chef Emeril Lagasse, artist Romero Britto and Carnival Cruise Line executives for the celebration at Miami’s upgraded Cruise Terminal F that culminated with a concert by Kool & the Gang, the obvious choice for entertainment with their hit “Celebration.”

“Cassidy has literally grown up on Carnival cruise ships and played obviously a huge role in her life taking cruises from a young age,” said Carnival Cruise Line President Christine Duffy during the ceremony on board showing images of Cassidy as a little girl held by her mother in the 1990s. “She even had some cameos in commercials and ads during the 20 years the Kathie Lee served as our spokesperson.”

With the towering LED displays within Celebration’s three-deck tall atrium Celebration Central, Cassidy pulled the symbolic lever built into a 50th birthday cake to let loose a massive bottle of champagne crashing into the vessel’s hull amid the torrent that dropped throughout South Florida.

“In observance of the ancient and sacred traditions of the sea, I hereby name this ship the Carnival Celebration,” Cassidy Gifford said. “May good fortune shine on all who work and sail on her and may she always have smooth seas and a following wind wherever she may sail.”

Kathie Lee Gifford then joined in a performance of throwback Carnival commercial tune, “If You Could See Me Now.”

Duffy said the rain has been following the ship around since the line took possession of it from the Meyer Turku shipyard in Finland.

She cheekily apologized to around 200 passengers who had already traveled on the ship’s 14-night maiden voyage from Southampton, England who departed under rainy conditions, and are among the Nov. 21 sold-out sailing for the ship’s first Caribbean cruise.

“When I left them in Southampton, the weather was a little bit like it was here today, and I left them saying, ‘Don’t worry. You’re coming to the Sunshine State,” Duffy said. “Just wait for tomorrow.”

A sister ship to Carnival’s Mardi Gras that debut at Port Canaveral last summer, Celebration also runs on liquified natural gas, and becomes the first LNG-powered cruise ship to call PortMiami home. LNG is one of several new fuel alternatives to traditional diesel that cruise lines are adopting to reduce emissions. Disney Cruise Line’s new ship Disney Wish also runs on LNG.

Celebration made its debut sailing with passengers Nov. 21 and is set to offer year-round alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries.

Ahead of the christening, cruise and government officials held another ribbon cutting for the revamped terminal, touting its environmental impact as well, as it aims to be able to provide shore-based energy to the cruise ships instead of the ships using their fuel while docked.

“You created the moral imperative to move forward and all the other major cruise companies signed on the dotted line, and working together with FPL, in 2023 PortMiami will be shore-powered-ready and Terminal F here will be among the first to provide that ship-to-shore connection,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. “You are truly leading the way. ... So we salute you for everything you do to reduce our carbon emissions and make us more sustainable.”

The massive 471,000-square-foot, three-level terminal is the largest in Florida and had been outfitted to use facial recognition technology to assist in speedier boarding. It becomes the primary home to five of Carnival’s 24-ship fleet, and it’s expected to see 20,000 passengers embark per week.

“My grandfather’s motto was get money, do good and have fun,” Levine Cava said. “I think we’re reflected right here.”

As for the new ship, it’s the second of three Excel-class vessels for Carnival, and has a lot in common with Mardi Gras including the top-deck roller coaster called BOLT, which sends riders sitting on 800-foot-long track that winds around the aft of the ship using a two-seat, motorcycle-esque car on 20-second thrill rides that can go up to 35 mph.

The ship is carved up into six neighborhoods similar to how Royal Caribbean partitions its massive Oasis-class vessels. Three of Celebration’s six neighborhoods are new to the ship — The Gateway, Celebration Central and 820 Biscayne — while Mardi Gras and Celebration share essentially mirror neighborhoods called The Ultimate Playground (including BOLT), Summer Landing and Lido.

Both ships have their own version of Emeril’s Bistro, WaterWorks aqua park, SportSquare area with mini-golf, ropes course and basketball court, Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse Brewhouse, Alchemy Bar, Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse, a two-level RedFrog Tiki Bar, Shaquille O’Neal’s Big Chicken restaurant, Guy’s Burger Joint, Seafood Shack, and BlueIguana Cantina among other spaces.

Some of Celebration’s unique offerings include the Golden Jubilee bar that pays homage to Carnival’s history since its founding in 1972; the Latitudes bar that features a modern take on historic departure boards like those you might see at train stations; the Gateway Atlas, a high-definition display that shows the location of all Carnival ships around the world in real time; and virtual windows along the promenade with a dozen 10-foot-by-5-foot displays along the way as well as an LED-lit ceiling 100 feet up that will be paired at times with show lighting and sounds.

At the naming ceremony, everyone seemed to need to get their hands on the engine order telegraph with its commands like “dead slow” and “full.”

These new features give the ship a much more detailed feel than Mardi Gras with visual delights around every corner, and should please any cruiser with a history of sailing on Carnival over the last five decades.

“This is our special, magnificent new flagship,” Duffy said. “This ship embodies the pride, the hope, the perseverance and excitement for our future on so many levels ... the work that we did to be back, and back in a big way, and this really does culminate 50 years of Carnival Cruise Line.”