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Carnival Spirit is Australia bound
Ben Hall Carnival Spirit's Atrium Bar

She's very big, she's sleek and with her bright red "rear spoiler", Carnival Spirit stands sentinel over San Diego Bay, dwarfing even the former aircraft carrier USS Midway, now a museum.

In a country where everything is big, even the Americans are surprised at how this cruise ship dominates the picturesque harbour. From the top deck almost 53m above the water line, we literally look down at the Midway and the hundreds of tourists and locals who've gathered on the harbour front to check out the new ship in town.

When she arrives in Sydney in October, Spirit will become the biggest ship to be home-ported in Australia and it will be the first time that Carnival has based a ship outside the US. It's a bold move designed to capture the Australian market which continues to show robust growth.

Launched in 2001, Spirit was the first in a new class of ship for Carnival and she'll be one of the newest to be based in Australia.

We were on a five day hit-and-run cruise from San Diego with Cabo San Lucas in Mexico as the only port of call but it was enough time to get to know a ship that will have a big impact on the Australian cruise scene.

It was designed by the legendary Joe Farcus, who has worked on more than 40 Carnival ships, and wandering the decks and public spaces is like taking a trip around the world, with a little bit of Las Vegas razzamatazz thrown in for good measure.

From the elaborate Egyptian themed show lounge, the Pharaoh's Palace, to the red and black Shanghai Piano Bar and the outrageously appointed Nouveau steakhouse, Spirit's decor sweeps from one dazzling style to another. Love it or hate it, there's no denying this ship is eye-catching.

For most people, the "Farcitecture" - as it's been dubbed after Joe Farcus - is all part of the fun but Spirit is also undergoing an "Aussiefication" process aimed at making changes to suit the local market.

Stage one was completed when we were on board. One of the major additions was the construction of Serenity which is an adults-only section at the back of deck nine. The former fantail pool area is now a spacious, stylish retreat for adults over 18. It features a cocktail bar, heated spa, hammocks, and comfy lounges.

This is the place to escape to for a bit of peace and tranquillity with many parents on our cruise migrating here after dropping their little ones at the various youth programs on board.

Spirit also had $US450,000 ($437,000) spent on her vast front-of-ship fitness facility, with new top quality-cardio and strength-training equipment and a large heated spa sitting beneath a giant skylight with 270-degree views of the ocean.

For the children and the young-at-heart, the world's steepest and fastest water slide at sea has been installed and Green Thunder is now the centrepiece of a large water slide park on the top deck.

It goes something like this: you climb the metal staircase high above the ship, you step into a perspex pod with a trapdoor under your feet; you cross your arms and on the count of three the operator flips a switch and the floor literally drops away from under you; your speed is something like 60kmh as you twist through the turns feet first and get spat out into a small pool at the end.

It's a heart-pumping thrill ride that has even the grown ups queuing up for two or three turns.

Also in the first stage of the refurbishment, public areas were treated to new carpets, and her interior and exterior benefited from a fresh coat of paint. Her spacious staterooms were also updated to include flat-screen televisions.

Eighty per cent have ocean views, 632 with private balconies.

The final stage of Spirit's "Aussiefication" will take place in October on arrival in Sydney.

There will be a new Aussie Outdoor Barbecue and Australian power points while "slot machines" will be replaced with pokies. Lounges and bars will feature more Australian beers and wines.

Carnival Spirit will appeal to couples, along with the cruise line's traditional market, which has been young families. With her big personality, she's set to make a grand debut in Australia.

Ben Hall was a guest of Carnival Cruise Lines.