Carnival Jubilee: A first look at Carnival Cruise Line’s new Texas-based ship – The Points Guy

I knew there was a reason I was drawn to the Center Stage Bar on Carnival Jubilee, Carnival Cruise Line‘s newest ship and the third in the Excel Class. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. The bar — along with several other dining venues and the onboard shops — wasn’t open during my two-night sailing prior to the ship’s first voyage with paying passengers. But each time I passed by it in Grand Central, one of the ship’s six zones, I couldn’t help staring.

The Center Stage Bar on Carnival Jubilee. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

During dinner one night, following a discussion with fellow journalists and some of the cruise line’s public relations team, it hit me: Its “midcentury modern meets ’80s neon” vibe seemed to draw distinctly from the influence of Joe Farcus, the interior designer and architect responsible for Carnival’s quirky decor for more than 30 years.

It wasn’t just the one bar. Conflicting styles that worked surprisingly well together was a theme that kept repeating on board. Carnival Jubilee is, after all, a throwback ship, designed to pay homage to some of the fleet’s original vessels. It seems fitting it would meld elements from previous decades with a more modern flare.

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The Lido zone’s main Beach Pool on Carnival Jubilee. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

For example, the pool deck, with its citrusy color scheme and vintage smokestack design, is like something straight out of the ’70s. Meanwhile, some of the most technologically advanced LED screens back singers and dancers in the theater and show realistic animations via fake windows in the Currents zone, which make passengers feel like they’re in the Florida Everglades or Antarctica.

In other parts of the ship, a timeless, neutral color palette shapes the furnishings in the cabins and many of Carnival Jubilee‘s restaurants, while bars and lounges are awash in eye-catching jewel-toned colors that belong more to the ’80s and ’90s. It’s kitschy but classy in the most unexpected and delightful ways.

I loved the cabin layouts and new entertainment, too. Here, I’ll run through the specifics of what I truly enjoyed while on board, and a few things that gave me pause.

Note: I was one of just three people on the ship who wasn’t a Carnival employee or a contractor putting the finishing touches on the vessel before its first “real” sailing. For that reason, there was no live music, the shops weren’t open, and many of the restaurants either weren’t serving food or held unusually limited hours.

The regular battery of daily programming — trivia, game shows, pool games, etc. — also wasn’t offered since there were no passengers. In other words, this wasn’t a typical sailing, so my account is limited to the aspects of the ship I could experience.

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What had me smiling

The throwback design

A view of Center Stage in Carnival Jubilee’s Grand Central zone. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

“Can’t believe that’s a brand-new ship!” a former coworker commented when I posted a few photos on Instagram during my time on board. “It looks like something right out of the ’90s!”

Mission accomplished, Carnival.

Love it or hate it, there are throwbacks everywhere you look on Carnival Jubilee. A forever fan of Farcus — I even have one of his piano bar tables in my living room, rescued from Carnival’s former Tropicale — I think the design elements (the colors, the decor, the mixture of styles) are brilliant.

From the funky-elegant style of the three-deck Grand Central atrium with its squiggly ceiling, colored glass, floor-to-ceiling LED screens and seats that, from afar, resemble pink flamingos to the slightly more subdued monotone Piano Bar (so much purple), many of the public spaces will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

A photo spot set up in The Shores zone on Carnival Jubilee. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Plus, there are nods to Carnival’s first Jubilee everywhere. The vessel’s original bell and ship plaque, both from 1986, are on display. Also, the boat that’s positioned as a photo spot in the new Jubilee’s The Shores zone bears the original Jubilee’s hull number, 0717, as the fake registration number on its hull.

Then there’s the Lido Deck, which features amber, orange and lime green accents, wooden latticework, faux palm trees and vintage smokestacks that will have you thinking you magically woke up in the wrong century.

The ocean theme

The Pacific dining room on Carnival Jubilee. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

In addition to the vintage references, a well-executed ocean theme is carried throughout the ship. It starts with The Atlantic and The Pacific, the names of Carnival Jubilee’s two main dining rooms. They feature light fixtures befitting the Great Hall at Hogwarts Castle and look as if they contain water bubbles.

Follow that up with Currents, one of the zones on board. You can walk from the Golden Mermaid bar (which boasts a giant wall mural featuring mermaids and hidden references to SpongeBob SquarePants) through an archway designed to look like a whale skeleton.

The seating area for the Dr.Inks, Ph.D. bar on Carnival Jubilee. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

At the end of the hall, you’ll find a promenade area with Carnival’s new bar, Dr.Inks, Ph.D. Derived from the word “drinks,” the name of the bar is also the name of its cartoon mascot. Dr. Inks is an octopus with a doctorate degree in philosophy. She has pet butterflies that she keeps in a fishbowl, a jellyfish lava lamp and an extensive collection of eyeglasses in all colors and shapes. She’ll show up occasionally on the LED screens that make up the fake windows lining the promenade.

Dr.Inks Ph.D., a new bar in the Currents zone on Carnival Jubilee. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

While you wait for her, try one of several social media-worthy cocktails from her bar, including my favorite — the Snapping Pop (Swedish Fish candy-infused vodka, triple sec liqueur, maraschino liqueur, Pop Rocks and green apple candy) — and take in the other sights that appear on the screens. They include drawings by children from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Dr. Seuss characters and wildlife scenes that will make you feel like you’re sailing in different areas of the world.

At set times, you can head up one deck — via a staircase with a glittering blue wall that evokes the ocean, offset by a suspended school of swimming fish — to a kiosk that allows you to change the location.

A stairway on Carnival Jubilee keeps up with the ship’s ocean theme. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Also scheduled are events that will allow you to make your own fish, which can be seen swimming by on the screens. And, throughout each sailing, passengers will have at least one chance to see the screens pulsating along, synthesizer style, to music that will play in the Currents corridor.

If you’re hungry, grab a bite at for-fee seafood eatery Emeril’s Bistro 717, with a menu created by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.

The ocean life-themed Currents zone on Carnival Jubilee. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

When you’re finished on Deck 7, the upper level of Currents, make your way up one more deck to The Shores, a beach- and boardwalk-centric zone that celebrates life above the sea instead of under it. There, you’ll find the nautically themed Marina Bar, and the ship’s deli, Beach Buns. Whatever you do, don’t miss Coastal Slice, which serves free and delicious pizza.

The entertainment

Members of the Carnival Jubilee production cast perform in the new show “Dear Future Husband.” ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Although some of Carnival’s nighttime song-and-dance theater shows can feel a bit dated, cheesy and lackluster, that isn’t the case on Carnival Jubilee.

When I sailed, I had a chance to see the full production of “Dear Future Husband,” a show in which a group of singers and dancers boards a cruise ship for the wedding of two of their friends. The performance takes the audience through boarding, the pre-wedding festivities, the process of hair and makeup, getting dressed up and, finally, the vows, all while belting out popular songs like Bruno Mars’s “Marry You” and, of course, Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband.”

After the show, “guests” (passengers) are encouraged to attend the “reception” (a dance party with the ship’s DJ) in the ship’s Limelight Lounge.

It’s a fun concept but with one drawback. Passengers have to make their way to the lounge, which isn’t next to the theater. (On Deck 6, the theater is next to the spa and fitness areas, and on Deck 7, it’s right in front of the casino.) Because there weren’t passengers to test it out on my sailing, it was unclear how many people would actually make their way to the lounge versus peeling off to gamble or find other nighttime activities.

Overall, I give the show kudos for its cute and easy-to-follow storyline.

The Beach Pool on Carnival Jubilee at night. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

“Dear Future Husband” isn’t the only interactive entertainment you’ll find on board. Another is the Lone Star Tailgate, a three-hour pool deck event in tribute to the ship’s Texas home port.

Because Carnival Jubilee’s homeport is in Galveston, you’ll find nods to the Lone Star State throughout the ship, including on the ship’s hull where there’s a star — something no other vessel in the fleet has. Another offering is the tailgate party with games, dancing and prizes, where passengers can pretend they’re getting ready to cheer on the fictitious Carnival University football team.

The full-scale event wasn’t offered during my sailing, but I’m giving the line points for both creativity and interactivity, as well as for recognizing how much its Texas audience values American football culture.

The crew

The crew undertook spot cleaning to prep Carnival Jubilee for its first sailing. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

I’ve never had an opportunity to sail on a pre-inaugural cruise without at least a few hundred other passengers. My voyage on Carnival Jubilee was truly a test run, and it was fascinating to see the crew in action as the last-minute details came together seamlessly. Because there were no passengers, their responsibilities turned to readying the vessel. That meant I was able to see them more relaxed as they worked on nailing every last detail before the big first sailing.

The room stewards worked hard to make sure every cabin was sparkling and set up just perfectly. Even though some of the restaurants weren’t open, waiters were in their uniforms to do dry runs of evening dinner service. The retail workers ripped open box after box of inventory and, over the course of just 48 hours, stocked all of the shelves in the onboard shops. The kids club staff mobilized to organize the ship’s multiple activity spaces. Everyone seemed genuinely happy to be there, and they all welcomed each other with smiles. The excitement was palpable, which bodes well for passengers since the crew is prepared and the ship is ready.

The Bolt roller coaster on Carnival Jubilee. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

In their downtime, the crew was encouraged to attend the evening theater shows to cheer on the entertainment staff, who had been rehearsing diligently to fine-tune their performances. Crew members were also invited to test the vessel’s top-deck activities, including the ropes course and the Bolt roller coaster.

More than 1,600 crew members and Carnival employees gathered around Carnival Jubilee’s pool deck for a pre-debut pep rally. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

On the final day of the cruise, more than 1,600 crew members gathered for a pep rally and group photo on the Lido Deck in matching Carnival jackets the line had specially made for the occasion. It was mind-boggling to see them all in one place at the same time. Until then, the sheer number of people required to keep a ship of Carnival Jubilee’s size running smoothly hadn’t fully registered.

As they gathered in groups by department and fanned out around the main pool, the cruise director called out each of the many facets of ship operations — culinary, housekeeping, spa, entertainment, guest services, finance — eliciting cheers from each one. (If there were an award for most enthusiastic, I’m still not sure whether it would go to the bar team or the casino staff.)

The cabins

An Ocean Suite on Carnival Jubilee. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

What’s nice about Carnival’s newer ships is that they offer a choice of more cabin categories than the line’s older vessels. On Carnival Jubilee, options include inside cabins, outside rooms with windows, balcony accommodations and mini-suites, which are basically larger balcony cabins that have more closet space and can sleep up to four people.

The living room of an Excel Suite on Carnival Jubilee. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

But the ship also offers some of the first real suites in the fleet, featuring separate living room and bedroom areas, bathrooms with separate tubs and showers, and walk-in closets.

The lounge for passengers booked in the Family Harbor area of Carnival Jubilee. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

Another nice option is the Family Harbor area. Cabins in this section of the ship come in several configurations to suit different needs, and they include access to a dedicated lounge, allowing families to spend time together over snacks, drinks and even board games.

I stayed in an Ocean Suite (a type of mini-suite), and I was thoroughly impressed by the amount of storage space, which would have been more than adequate for the four people my room could accommodate. I was also floored to discover ample electrical outlets, including at least one USB port near every bed in the room — including the bunk that pulled down from overhead. These are great examples of how Carnival has paid attention to passenger preferences.

The drinks

A bartender puts the finishing touch on the A Pearly Bubble drink at the Golden Mermaid Bar on Carnival Jubilee. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

I’m not generally someone who cares about alcohol. Give me one or two pina coladas on a weeklong cruise, and I’m good to go. However, the massively creative options on the menus at both the Golden Mermaid and Dr.Inks, Ph.D. bars are absolutely worth a shoutout.

For the wow factor, the best drink I had was A Pearly Bubble. Found on the menu at the Golden Mermaid, it’s a mix of gin, St-Germain liqueur, white cranberry juice, dragon fruit and lime juice. It was a bit too dry for me, so I didn’t care for the taste, but you won’t want to miss the presentation.

The Golden Mermaid Bar on Carnival Jubilee. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

For taste, which I know is subjective, my favorite is the aforementioned Snapping Pop (Swedish Fish candy-infused vodka, triple sec liqueur, maraschino liqueur, Pop Rocks and green apple candy). I prefer sweet drinks, and this hit the spot.

Be warned that it’s messy, though. My hands felt sticky for hours afterward, no matter how many times I washed them. When I finally went back to my cabin at the end of the night, I was amused to find I had Pop Rocks stuck in my hair.

What I don’t care for

Location of Guy’s Burger Joint

The Ringer, one of several burgers available from Guy’s Burger Joint on Carnival Jubilee. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

My first complaint isn’t exclusive to Carnival Jubilee. The change in location of Guy’s Burger Joint — the free burger stand created by Food Network star Guy Fieri that’s now a Carnival staple — first appeared on Mardi Gras in 2021.

On most vessels, the burger counter is positioned on the Lido Deck, adjacent to the BlueIguana Cantina, which serves tacos and burritos. On Mardi Gras, Carnival Celebration and Carnival Jubilee, though, it’s one deck above. It’s a minor gripe, but it feels like you’re going out of your way to trek up a deck to grab a burger.

This is especially true if you have a group that wants to eat together but has differing opinions about which casual venues each person wants to hit. It can be a pain to have to venture to a different area of the ship to grab food when your friends and family are looking at other dining options closer to the pool.

On the plus side, the burgers are still as tasty as they’ve always been.

The RedFrog Tiki Bar on Carnival Jubilee. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

However, just because Guy’s doesn’t have a presence on the main pool deck doesn’t mean RedFrog — the bar associated with Guy’s on many other Carnival vessels — isn’t represented. In fact, a two-deck RedFrog Tiki Bar is ready to keep you hydrated during your sunbathing hours.

Texas’ weird alcohol laws

A bartender pours two Snapping Pop drinks into glasses at the Dr. Inks Ph. D. bar on Carnival Jubilee. ASHLEY KOSCIOLEK/THE POINTS GUY

To be clear, this isn’t Carnival’s doing, but for anyone who’s trying to maximize their alcohol package, it’s worth noting as a potential annoyance.

When cruise ships are in Texas waters, the onboard bars are only allowed to serve alcohol that was obtained in Texas. That means the types of alcohol available could be limited when Carnival Jubilee (or any other ship) is in port. If you’re loyal to a particular brand of vodka, for example, you might have to switch things up and try some Tito’s if you’re hankering for a tipple before you set sail.

This rule applies from the time you board the ship until it sails into international waters, about 12 nautical miles off the coast.

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