Aboard Carnival Ecstasy’s Final Passenger Cruise After 31 Years

(4:07 p.m. EDT) — When first christened by godmother Kathie Lee Gifford in 1991, the 70,000-ton, 2,052-passenger Carnival Ecstasy was one of the busiest and most exciting cruise ships in the world.

Now, 31 years and 5.5 million happy cruisers later, the Carnival Ecstasy just bid farewell with a five-day farewell cruise from Mobile, Alabama, calling at Cozumel and Progresso before being decommissioned and sent to the shipbreaking ships.

Unlike five of her sisters (Carnival Fantasy, Carnival Imagination, Carnival Inspiration, Carnival Fascination, and Carnival Sensation), all of which were scrapped during the global health pandemic, the Carnival Ecstasy was given temporary respite by returning to service last March. When it was announced that the Oct. 10 cruise would be her last, the cruise sold out almost immediately, according to Carnival’s brand ambassador John Heald.

Heald himself flew in from the UK to attend the bittersweet occasion. His presence added both poignancy and fun to the affair. “I came on board during Ecstasy’s third week of service as a cruise director and will never forget stepping into this lobby for the first time. The ‘wow’ factor was off the charts. Perhaps some of Joe Farcus’ designs were too outlandish for the minority, but for the majority it was an absolute escape.”

A fantasy on the seas

Carnival Ecstasy was launched in 1991 and was designed by Joe Farcus (Photo: Peter Knego)

The second ship in Carnival Cruise Line’s eight identical Fantasy-class “SuperLiners,” the Carnival Ecstasy was the latest vision of then-Carnival architect Joe Farcus, who infused its interiors with a decorative “City At Sea” theme.

At the heart of the ship, a six-deck Grand Atrium with skylights made a stunning first impression. The soaring space literally buzzed with Art Deco skyscraper facades straight out of a Fritz Lang film, gradually changing color as two neon-framed panoramic elevators climbed their heights. Farcus’ metropolitan concept found its way from there into the City Lights promenade, which linked together a variety of public spaces, each with its own eye-catching elements that represent the height of the floating entertainment decor.

Carnival Ecstasy was launched in 1991 and was designed by Joe Farcus (Photo: Peter Knego)

One can only imagine what Carnival’s accountants were thinking as they charted out all the handcrafted materials like granite, marble, leather, etched glass and solid brass that went into Ecstasy’s construction. There was even a blue 1934 Rolls Royce saloon that was “parked” in front of the specialty coffee bar until it was brought to the new Carnival Celebration, which debuts this November.

Decorative highlights that survived various transformations included bespoke, sequined velvet curtains in the Blue Sapphire Lounge, museum-quality kinetic art panels by Len Janklow in the stair towers, and a massive dragon lurking in the ceiling above an inlaid yin and yang dance floor the Chinatown Lounge.

Though immensely successful, ecstasy endured its share of trials and tribulations. The shipyard that built it – Wartsila based in Helsinki, Finland – went bankrupt. Carnival founder and then-CEO Ted Arison responded by coordinating with other shipowners to purchase the facility, which was then renamed Masa Yards, to outfit the ship’s empty hull and the rest of the Fantasy class could finally be delivered.

Carnival Ecstasy was known for its unique design elements created by Joe Farcus (Photo: Peter Knego)

Ecstasy sailed on without incident until July 20, 1998, off the Florida coast, a fire broke out in her laundry room, spread to the aft berth deck and engulfed the stern. Fourteen crew members and eight passengers suffered minor injuries before the fire was extinguished, resulting in repairs worth $17 million.

In 2005, Carnival Ecstasy’s cruising career was once again put on hold when she spent six months in New Orleans hosting relief workers and local residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Thankfully, things ran smoothly from then until the global health pandemic.

The last cruise aboard Carnival Ecstasy attracts loyal passengers

Fun Ship Farewell: Passengers celebrate the final voyage of Carnival Ecstasy in the ship's atrium.  (Photo: Peter Knego)

During those five yearning days aboard Carnival Ecstasy’s final voyage, other guests from all walks of life sang praises to the ship and exchanged fond memories.

Thirty-one years ago, Doug Brian proposed ecstasy to his wife Leslie at the Wind Star Dining Room. The still happily married couple from New York came back to relive the milestone. “I bought the ring and gave it to our waiter who put it on a cake to surprise her with. He actually filmed us so luckily she said ‘yes’!” said Brian.

“We even stay in the same cabin (inside) which is funny because our travel agent tried to talk us into an upgrade but we wanted our return to be authentic.”

Brent Riegert of Kansas City made his first pilgrimage to Carnival Ecstasy in 31 years since his mother took him on one of the ship’s inaugural cruises. “I just had to come back and check out this ship again. She looks amazing.

Tom Nicolai-Vargas of Orange, California, who has been on 28 Carnival cruises, booked one of the Ecstasy’s suites and hosted nightly get-togethers for fans of the ship. “I love this particular class for its size, fun decor, beautiful teak decks and promenades beneath the lifeboats that resemble those on a traditional ocean liner. I also like their tall, sculpted whale tail funnels, which got shorter and shorter as the ships got bigger.”

Crew welcome passengers aboard Carnival Ecstasy's latest voyage (Photo: Peter Knego)

Self-proclaimed New York millennial Joe Polidora, intrigued after seeing a YouTube video about fantasy being scrapped, booked as soon as he found out ecstasy was back in service. “I absolutely love this wild, AD-looking interior. The neon bar is spectacular and the atrium – I probably love it the most – with all the little buildings that light up and change colour.”

Salt Lake City native Geoffrey Lara has sailed the Ecstasy six times since 2001. “This ship has such an intimate atmosphere that you can get to know your fellow passengers. I love the eccentricity of the Chinatown Lounge and all of its fine details, the art in the stair towers. I love the teak decks.”

Even the ship’s officers and department heads had sentimental thoughts, including Sorrento-based Captain Michele Coppola, who began his Carnival career as a cadet on the Inspiration in 2001 and worked his way up to captain in 2021.

The gracious captain delivered the Carnival Sensation to the Turkish breakers last March and will also take the ecstasy with him there. “I love this class of ships for their size and intimacy. We have fewer crew members than on the larger ships, so there is a more family atmosphere. As for this ship, my favorite spot is the Neon Bar. It feels like it’s from another era with all the colorful beautiful lights.”

Chief Engineer Orazio D’Aita, originally from Sicily, began his 32-year career with Carnival on the 1987-built Celebration. He first worked on the Ecstasy in 2002 and will oversee the approximately 25 engineers who will take the ship to Aliaga. “I’m a little sad because taking a ship there will be like taking them to a graveyard.”

The Macedonian hotel manager Mladen Spasov had agreed not only for the last cruise season, but also for the trip to Turkey. “I am very proud and honored to be on this ship so loved by so many and to help bring her to her resting place.”

Carnival Ecstasy sails into the sunset

Sunset before the final voyage of the Carnival Ecstasy.  (Photo: Peter Knego)

On the last day at sea aboard the Carnival Ecstasy, John Heald auctioned off memorabilia to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. At the packed Blue Sapphire Lounge, various lots including a lifebuoy, dockside commemorative plaques, a cocktail table, library artwork and even a range of cabin linens fetched astronomical prices. One guest paid $4,000 for a private tour of the bridge and a chance to blow the ship’s whistle for the last time. Appropriately impressed, Captain Coppola threw in his epaulettes to sweeten the deal.

That evening, Cruise Director Alex Siegler hosted a farewell party in the atrium, which filled its balconies with teary-eyed revelers waving fiber-optic glow sticks and cheering to pop anthems celebrating the life of a much-loved ship.

The following day, after all guests had departed, the Carnival Ecstasy sailed to Miami to disembark most of her crew and various equipment before sailing to Aliaga, Turkey, where the Carnival Ecstasy dismantled on November 7th should arrive.

Once the ship is beached, hordes of local workers, armed with acetylene flares, sledgehammers and crowbars, rush aboard and begin the grim task of dismantling the classic ship, disregarding all the care and thought that went into its creation.

In just a few short months, the Carnival Ecstasy will cease to exist, but those fond memories and the impact she has had on the cruise world will continue to sail. Her legacy is carried in part by the all-new Carnival Celebration, debuting for Carnival Cruise Line in November.

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