Travel Finds: Carnival brings 'Fun Ship' cruising to Europe

Fran Golden

Yes, there is a hairy chest contest onboard the Carnival Splendor, because American-style fun is what this brand new 3,006-passenger ship is all about - even if it is spending its first season in Europe.

Onboard the inaugural three-day cruise from Dover, U.K., with a stop in Amsterdam, I overheard a British woman comment, "Oh, how Vegas."

But really the new 113,000-ton flagship of the "Fun Ship" fleet is mellow for Carnival. The Splendor is, in fact, pretty in a very feminine way, including in the multistory atrium where pink is the central color complementing stainless steel walls.

There are some spaces with a "wow" factor, like the Red Carpet Dance Club, where glitter-painted mannequins greet revelers. But there is also splendor on the Splendor, from the largest spa ever on a Carnival ship - complete with 68 special spa cabins, a large hydrotherapy pool (with water jets) and thermal suite - to the comfortable "pearl" theme of the two dining rooms.

On our cruise, service was spot on. And the food was great. Dining room dishes were flavorful, with a good variety available, and buffet/casual options included an Indian tandoori grill poolside, along with a New York-style deli and chicken rotisserie.

The Splendor has all the now standard Carnival features, including an extensive Camp Carnival program for kids, a big waterslide, coffee shop, reservations-only steakhouse ($30 per person) and 24-hour pizzeria.

The mostly British crowd seemed to enjoy the song-and-dance productions, especially "Vroom," highlighting British rock classics by the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Queen. The Royal Flush Casino saw lively action, including at the $25 tables.

Time at sea brought activities ranging from contests and competitions to a wine tasting ($15) and yoga classes ($10).

Many passengers populated the main pool area, which has a retractable roof so that even though it was chilly in the North Sea it was comfortable inside. A huge video screen showing music videos made this a lively rather than quiet spot to lounge.

The Splendor is doing 12-day Northern Europe and Mediterranean sailings - priced from $1,049 - into the fall (shore excursion options include golf on European courses). The ship then moves to Fort Lauderdale for a series of Caribbean and South America itineraries before taking up its new permanent home in late March in Long Beach, Calif., where it will operate seven-day Mexican Riviera cruises. For more information, visit