By David G. Molyneaux, editor, TheTravelMavens.com
Americans traveling internationally often expect foreign resorts and cruise ships to bend their styles and tastes toward those of the United States, providing big urns of coffee, cold American beers in a bottle, and piles of bacon strips at breakfast.
Tables have been turned in Australia, where Carnival, perhaps the most American of the world’s cruise lines, is sending a ship this fall to be based fulltime in Sydney.
Carnival says it got the messages, and by the time Carnival Spirit pulls into Sydney harbor in October, the ship will be armed for Australia’s tastes and styles, including but not limited to food, as the Spirit also sports a new waterside, Green Thunder, which starts with a swift drop and is the world’s steepest and fastest on a ship.
So, if you are among the North American Carnival aficionados who plan to cross the Pacific for voyages out of Australia to New Zealand, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji, be prepared to experience some serious Aussification.
Making the Aussies comfortable
Aussification is what locals are calling the changes on Carnival Spirit, which begins cruising out Sydney on Oct. 20 for a series of 8-11 nights. The first voyage is to the beaches of New Caledonia.
“We set out to make the Aussies welcome and comfortable,” said Jennifer Vandekreeke, General Manager of Carnival in Australia. “We’re not turning North Americans away, but if they’re going to sail on Carnival Spirit, they’ll need to learn a new way to drink coffee.”
The ship's former coffee machines, based on the North American style of dripping water through coffee grounds, have been replaced by more complicated machines that make coffee brewed like espresso – by forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water under pressure through finely ground beans.
"We will be serving flat whites just the way the Aussies like them," said Vandekreeke.
What about a decaf latte with skim milk?
“There’s not a lot of that going on,” said Vandekreeke. “It’s just not part of the Australian culture.”
Gone also will be most of the beers that Americans know, including Foster’s, the brand that many Americans associate with Australia but which is not consumed there. Americans tend to like beer in bottles; Australians prefer beer from the tap.
Among other foods, expect snags (sausages), more lamb, more fresh fruit and vegetables, and Australian bacon, which is similar to Canadian bacon.
The ship will have an outdoor barbie (that’s Australian slang for barbecue) and has been modified for larger families by increasing the number of interconnecting cabins to 86. The gym has been expanded, because Australians tend to exercise more than Americans, said a Carnival spokesperson.
Carnival takes a chance on the Aussies
Australia may seem like a stretch, a financial risk for a cruise line that prides itself on providing a middle-American vacation experience. President Gerry Cahill has pointed out that his passengers are most comfortable when surrounded by people with a common language and an interest in participating in group activities.
“Yes, it’s risky,” said Cahill, during interviews aboard the new Carnival Breeze in the Mediterranean in June. “But I’m confident that Carnival fits what Australians are looking for.”
That hope is essential to Carnival’s success, because unlike most of the other cruise lines sending ships to Australia, Carnival expects to fill at least 90 percent of its vessel with Australians. “I’d say 95 percent,” said Cahill.
“Carnival is no stranger to beach vacations,” said Jim Berra, the cruise line’s chief marketing officer. “And beach vacations are near and dear to the hearts of Australians.”
That’s why the Carnival Spirit has chosen to spend much of the winter (North America’s summer) on round trip cruises from Sydney to the beaches of the islands of New Caledonia, Vanuatu, and Fiji. The winter beach escapes from Australia will be similar to Caribbean cruises out of Miami, though with more sea time as the islands are farther away from Sydney than Caribbean islands are from Miami. In summer (North America’s winter), Carnival will include New Zealand ports on some of its itineraries.
Carnival says the Spirit will be Down Under for quite a while, and there are no plans to return anytime soon to North America. The cruise line has announced 41 Spirit cruises out of Australia for 2014.
While a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald called changes on Carnival Spirit “stripping away the American essence” from the ship, Vandekreeke said that Carnival intends to keep “the Americanness of Carnival, with high energy and entertainment,” which, she said, will fit in well with an Australian vacation style.
That vacation on Spirit will include a cruise director from Australia, entertainment by Australians, and comedians with humor directed at Australians.
How to book a South Pacific cruise
Bookings for Carnival Spirit will not be easy for an American on the Internet, as rates are in Australian dollars (slightly less value than U.S. dollars, says www.x-rates.com). Carnival recommends contacting a travel agent or calling Carnival directly at 800-764-7172. Lowest prices on the website (Carnival.com.au) are quoted as quad, which is four adults in a cabin, for $940 per person on an eight-night cruise.
The rate includes tips, which will not be encouraged on Carnival Spirit.
North American cruisers will need time – at least two weeks, counting the long flights from the United States to Sydney – and a budget that includes air tickets that are about $2,000 each.
“We don’t anticipate a lot of Americans aboard the Carnival Spirit,” said Vandekreeke.
But North Americans will come. You can see chatter on the Internet forums, where some folks have reported that they already have booked vacations Down Under, anticipating with excitement not only new ports on South Pacific islands, but also English words they’ve never heard before, snags on the barbie, Australian bacon and beer, strong coffee, Aussie songs in the piano bar, and a new, zippy waterslide.
David Molyneaux writes a monthly column about cruising and trends for the Miami Herald and other newspapers and websites. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com