MIAMI, Fla. — Tapas for casual dining, paella and flamenco parties, salsa and merengue music in the ballroom, comedians telling jokes in Spanish--the FiestaMarina is clearly not just any old cruise ship. In fact, it's the world's first year-round cruise vessel aimed exclusively at Spanish-speaking passengers.
The FiestaMarina is the flagship of a new company, also called FiestaMarina, recently formed as a division of Miami-based Carnival Corporation, the world's largest and most profitable cruise operator, well-known for its fleet of so-called "fun ships." The 1,250-passenger FiestaMarina is Carnival's former Carnivale, a 1956-vintage vessel renovated in 1990 at a cost of $10 million. Beginning Oct. 22, FiestaMarina will offer seven-day cruises round trip from San Juan, Puerto Rico or La Guaira (Caracas), Venezuela, with calls at St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Aruba and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Three- and four-day fly/cruise segments are available from both San Juan and La Guaira.
"Our Latin business has increased threefold in the last five years," says Carnival president Robert Dickenson. "It's ready, we think, to explode."
The cruise industry uses the term "Latin" to describe a vast worldwide Spanish-speaking target audience, including Spaniards, Mexicans, Central and South Americans and Latino citizens of the United States. Of the 1 million guests Carnival carries annually, about 5% now fall into this category--but these passengers, says Carnival, tend to be more affluent than the line's passenger base as a whole. Nonetheless, Carnival, a pioneer in making cruising more accessible to a general market, is positioning the FiestaMarina squarely in the mainstream market in such countries as Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina and Spain. In a concept entirely new to the cruise industry, the line is specifically courting Latinos in the United States as well.
Almost every aspect of the cruises will be customized to Latin tastes and preferences. FiestaMarina's official language will be Spanish. All the crew--veterans of the Carnival fleet--speak Spanish, and many are Latino. Dinner hours start at 7 p.m. for first seating and 9:30 p.m. for second seating, later than on most vessels. The restaurant will feature specialties from Mexico, Cuba, South America and Spain, in addition to North American favorites. For more casual dining, a cantina will serve tapas , as well as burgers and hot dogs. In a variation on the traditional midnight buffet, FiestaMarina will stage a Fiesta Internacional with a different theme and music every night--Greek delicacies and folk dancing, say, or paella and flamenco--while Fiesta Western will be a barbecue bash. A cinema will run movies in Spanish 18 hours a day.
Because FiestaMarina promises an international aura, in addition to a dance club with a live band performing salsa, merengue and samba tunes until dawn, there will be a disco spinning English-language pop hits. When it comes to shows, comedians will speak Spanish, but Broadway revues will be sung in English.
As on almost all cruise ships, there will be a piano bar, casino, duty-free shops, a spa and two pools, plus a children's wading pool. Complimentary room service will be available 24 hours a day.
Social programs include Carnival's regular supervised activities for children, preteens and teens. A feature unique to FiestaMarina will be Club Camaradas, for singles ages 18 to 30. Six social hosts, called Fiesta Amigos, will encourage guests of all ages to participate in shipboard programs.
"We think we'll get a lot of passengers who've never cruised before, and we want to be sure they have fun," says Tim Warnock, FiestaMarina's manager of sales and marketing,
Early response to FiestaMarina has been encouraging, according to the company; the maiden voyage sold out months ago. Carnival plans a second FiestaMarina ship "as soon as the market is ready to absorb it," says Dickenson.
FiestaMarina fares start at $399 for three days, $539 for four days and $899 for seven days. Port charges and gratuities are additional. The air add-on from Los Angeles and San Diego for the seven-day itinerary is $195 for San Juan sailings only. Pre- and post-cruise land packages are offered in San Juan and La Guaira.
Brochures in Spanish are available from cruise-specialist travel agents, who also handle bookings, or by calling FiestaMarina at (800) 972-4386.
While Carnival has gone the furthest in the cruise industry to recognize the growing importance of the Spanish-speaking market, other lines also are taking an interest. Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, second in size to Carnival, offers a Spanish brochure and sales video for foreign markets. Last April the line operated a Spanish-speaking cruise from San Juan to Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, carrying mainly Argentine passengers. The line has bilingual personnel and, when warranted, publishes shipboard materials in Spanish.