This was our first Carnival cruise and third cruise overall. We have previously sailed Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. We chose this cruise because it was an 8-night cruise that covered both Christmas and New Years and seemed like a fun way to celebrate both holidays while trying out a new cruise line.
Pre-Cruise We stayed at the Best Western Bayside Inn in San Diego, which is about 5-6 blocks from the pier. It is in walking distance to Little Italy, a fab locale for dinner the night before embarkation. The hotel offers a shuttle to the cruise port, making it a very convenient location.
Embarkation The hotel shuttle dropped us off at 11:55 a.m., and we were all checked in and on the ship by 12:25. It was an easy and quick process. Our cabins were not supposed to be ready until 1:30 p.m., but there were a lot of people already on the ship, just like us. We spent the hour walking around the ship, fixing a plate from the buffet, and just enjoying the sunshine on the Lido Deck (we had left Seattle the day before where it was42 degrees and raining pretty much the entire week prior).
Cabin We had booked a BL Guarantee cabin and were assigned to an 8D, and happy with that! We received our cabin assignment 54 days before embarkation. I found out by going on to the Carnival website to see where we were assigned. Our cabin was a starboard aft balcony -- 6285 (deck 6). The size was comparable to Royal's balcony staterooms, so no surprises with that. The primary surprise and disappointment was that the mini bar had not been cleaned out after the last guests stayed in the cabin, so we opened it to find their leftover dessert, yogurt, and chocolate milk. We asked that the mini bar be cleaned out. It was cleaned out the next day, but then locked. It took three more phone calls to the cabin steward, and then finally to the purser's desk to get someone to unlock it for us. The other issue with the cabin was that on the morning of Day 2 (our first morning on the ship) when I went to take a shower, there was a wad of hair and an old, used bar of soap lying in the shower drain. How gross! So, either they had just not cleaned the shower at all, or they just didn't finish it (just like they didn't clean out the mini bar). We had to beg (by hitting the Cabin Steward button on the phone, and then negotiating) to receive new beach towels each day, as new clean ones were not replenished in our cabin after the used ones were removed. I forgot to mention that we never even met our cabin steward; he or she never introduced him/herself, and though we saw employees in our hallway, no one ever spoke to us. That seemed very bizarre since we wanted to thank someone for the great towel animals we received each night!
Ship Carnival Spirit was a nice-sized ship, and though we sailed over the holidays, it was still fairly easy to find some quiet public areas to sit alone and chat, read a book, or even nap. The décor however was very gaudy (but who really cares about that anyway?) and reminded us of the old casinos in downtown Las Vegas. The signage was in neon lights above doorways and just seemed like an odd theme to have on an otherwise beautiful ship. The ship was decorated with holiday décor here and there, but I honestly forgot it was holiday time during this cruise because it just didn't seem noticeable. There just wasn't a very big holiday impact, and for some people that's a good thing, while others should know this in advance and perhaps bring some cabin decorations or something as a reminder of the time of year. The New Year's Eve party on the Lido Deck was fun, fun, fun with a live band, hats, and party favors!
Food The food in the dining room was very good most nights, but it was inconsistent. We were at a table for 6, and some of us had rubbery lobster, while some of us had good lobster. Some of us had thick chocolate melting cake, while some of us had runny chocolate melting cake. The dishes just seemed inconsistent from plate to plate, but overall, the variety of choices was very good. We ate at the Nouveau Supper Club one evening and I must say that it was the HIGHLIGHT of the cruise! The ambience, décor, and style really created a romantic environment where I felt like I was on a different ship! We were seated upstairs along the railing where we could see the live music down below (very soothing music, by the way). The 5-course meal included 2 additional surprise complements from the chef, so I guess you could say it was really a 7-course meal. The food was EXCELLENT!
The food in the La Playa Grill (the buffet) was good, but got pretty old after about Day 3. The 24-hour pizzeria was not good at all. We looooove pizza, and tried it 3-4 times in hopes that it would get better, but it just didn't. The pizza lacked cheese, and neither of us cared for the corn crust (seemed like a giant English muffin), and the toppings were lacking. What we did really enjoy was the 24-hour ice cream though. My husband probably had ice cream every day, and I just nibbled on his. The Carnival Spirit also offered a sushi cart on most nights for a few hours, and that was goooood stuff! The chef made it to order, so if you didn't arrive right when the sushi cart opened at 5:30 p.m., you could have a 20-minute wait just for a couple of pieces of sushi.
We ordered room service a couple of times for a late afternoon snack right before our daily nap. The room service menu was quite good even though there were no hot food items. I ordered a wrap both times, while my husband ordered a sandwich that they completely messed up (so he didn't eat it at all), but the menu itself is good and offers a variety of options.
Entertainment What a disappointment. We did not enjoy the Spirit dancers. That just bores us. We went to the comedian (David Say) twice -- once for his G-rated show and once for his R-rated show. They were ok. We also saw the hypnotist, who was average. We've seen several other hypnotists at other events, and this show just wasn't as funny as we expected it would be. None of the other featured entertainers on the schedule interested us, so we didn't see any other entertainment. We had wanted to see the magician/comedian combo (not David Say) that was planned for another night, but that comedian didn't make it onto the ship due to missing a flight connection. So, some shows were moved around. We DID enjoy Legends, however, and one of our FUN dinner mates was "Madonna" in the show. If you get a chance to watch Legends on your last night, do it!
Nightclubs We ventured into the Disco Dancin' Club on the first night and were disappointed to find that it was not an over-21 club. It was an over-18 club, but Carnival was not enforcing the age rule. It just wasn't much fun dancing next to 16-year-olds who seemed to be taking over the club. We tried it again the second night, but the same thing happened, so we left after giving it about an hour of our time. The Versailles Lounge had a nightly live band playing which was pretty good. The age there is much older -- closer to 60+. Because of that, the music tended to be Beach Boys or other songs from the 1950s and 1960s. We are a late 30s couple, so we had a tough time finding the right night spot for us. We did spend one late evening in the Shanghai Bar where a pianist took requests and played until about midnight or so each night. That was fun, however, the night we were there, we were the only couple for about an hour, and it never filled up to more than about 8-9 people.
Ports of Call Acapulco: We took a cab to Playa Caleta beach as recommended by someone on Cruise Critic. That was a horrible mistake this time of year. We had never seen so many bodies trying to stuff themselves on a public beach all at the same time. It was a miserable location, but we decided that it was mostly because December ushers in a 3-week Mexican holiday vacation for locals, and they all go to the beach! If we go to Acapulco again, we will try this beach again, but not in December. Trust me, don't go in December! Instead, spend your money on a paid excursion where you are guaranteed a spot on the beach in a lounge chair.
In the evening, we went on the Cliff Divers Delight excursion. The tour was overbooked, and there were a lot of unhappy cruisers. We had 5 buses of 60 people each, so they stuffed 300 of us at the restaurant, which was overwhelming for the servers. We were told we could order dinner there, but once we arrived, the restaurant said their kitchen was so busy that it would take 45 minutes to get a meal. So, to our disappointment, we didn't get to order dinner. The place was so crowded that some people didn't even get to sit down. We were told that they later complained to Carnival and got full refunds for this excursion. We felt fortunate to have gotten two chairs, though no table. The diving show itself was pretty cool, though over very quickly.
Zihuatenejo: We took a water taxi over to Los Gatos beach as recommended by several on Cruise Critic. Again, there was an overwhelming number of locals who were there to spend a day of vacation, and there was very little sand available to stretch out. The closeness of our bodies to our "neighbors" was really surprising, but it was just soooo packed there that it was hard to enjoy. Again, we wouldn't go to a beach in that area again in December unless we were on a paid shore excursion.
Manzanillo: This was probably the best shore excursion we have ever taken. We did the Cuyutlan Turtle Experience where we were taken by bus to a turtle sanctuary. Once there, we watched an educational video, took a tour of the various turtle tanks to see turtles in different stages of their lives, saw iguanas and crocodiles, then got to release day-old turtles into the ocean. It was an amazing feeling to do something like that (NOTE -- We were told by the tour guide that turtles are only released from April -- sometime in January.) Immediately afterward, we took a canoe tour through a lagoon, but didn't see anything other than birds. At that point, we would have been much happier if the excursion would have just ended. Instead, we boarded the buses and went to an awful hotel (called Maria Victoria) where we were served a Mexican buffet (but they did not have enough food for everyone; people took more than they needed, so those of us at the end of the line didn't get all options), and told we could use the pool and the adjacent beach. The pool was very small and overrun with children who were likely staying at the hotel with their families (so of course they were in the pool!), so we opted for the beach. We found an umbrella and chaise lounge, but were promptly asked for $8 for the use of the umbrella. Since we only had about an hour and a half left there, it just didn't seem to make sense to pay $8 for an umbrella for 90 minutes. Again, stay away from the Mexican beaches in December unless you are on an excursion where you get your own private area included!
Gift Shop Purchases (Liquor) Once back on the ship, we purchased a special in the Gift Shop -- 4 bottles of flavored Cruzan Rum for $28.95. Yum! The Carnival Gift Shop advertisement said that the liquor purchases would be packaged securely for checking in airline baggage, and since we flew from Seattle, it was imperative that these bottles be packaged as such. When we went to the gift shop, we even talked to the personnel about it to make sure it would be packaged securely, and we were assured that they do this all the time. Well, guess what? After we had arrived to the San Diego airport on disembarkation day, my name was paged and I was asked to go to the Alaska Airlines ticket counter (after I had already gone through security and was sitting at the gate). I went back to the ticket counter where a very nice Alaska Air employee explained to me that my luggage had arrived to them from Carnival, but that 3 out of 4 bottles had broken inside my luggage, there was glass filling my suitcase (along with the rum) soaking my clothes, and that it further was spilling out onto other passengers' luggage! I offered to clean it up, but the employee had already done what she could to clean out a bunch of the glass and try to re-pack my suitcase of wet and stained clothing. She really just wanted me to know that this had all happened while my luggage was in transit from the Carnival cruise ship to the airport, before my luggage even made it on to the plane, so I wouldn't be surprised when I retrieved my luggage in Seattle and saw all of the damage. My suitcase is completely destroyed, stained, soaked with rum, and is unusable. I have 7 items (could have been worse!) of clothing and a toiletries bag that are permanently stained. My goal now is to resolve this with Carnival since they "guaranteed" these items to be packed securely for checked baggage, and obtain some sort of fair reimbursement for my luggage, clothing, and my purchase that I did not receive.
UPDATE -- Carnival is unwilling take responsibility. They will not honor their guarantee to package items from the Gift Shop for airline checked baggage. I am now working with my credit card company and travel insurance to resolve the matter.
Spa I purchased a Port Day Special scheduled for the morning we arrived in Acapulco. I chose the Lime & Ginger Salt Scrub followed by the Full Body Massage. I probably get this combo about 5-6 times per year at various spas while on vacation or locally in Seattle. It's my absolute favorite! However, this was one of my least favorite experiences. The spa on Spirit is nice, feels like a relaxing ambiance. The staff is very friendly, consistently smiling, and just appears to be a nice place to spend some time. The particular treatment I chose, however, just wasn't up to par. My massage therapist felt more like she was just running her hands on my body. The scrub itself only happened on the front of my body, while my back wasn't touched. That's the first time I've had a scrub where my back wasn't scrubbed at all. If it weren't for that, I could probably get over the fact that my therapist just didn't massage hard enough, but since the "special" still cost $159 before gratuity, I really should have received a full body scrub, not just on my front. I didn't see anything that said the scrub was only for the front portion of a body!
Luggage Express This is a new program of Carnival where they will check you in with your airline, take your luggage, and you never see it until you land in your final destination. The great thing is that you get to bypass the check-in/ticketing process because Carnival does all of that on your behalf. The night before you disembark, you will receive your airline boarding passes and luggage tags, saving you time the next morning at the airport. We really liked this offering, and if it weren't for the destroyed luggage and contents (total damage is $545), it would have made our trip home super easy and uneventful.
Disembarkation The process started at 8:30 a.m. as planned, and we were called at 9 a.m. because we were part of the Luggage Express group. We were off the ship by 9:03 a.m., grabbed a waiting shuttle, and were literally inside the airport by 9:17 a.m.
In Summary Overall, this was a fun cruise, but mostly because we really enjoyed our Cruise Critic Roll Call members, our dinner mates each night, and the fun my husband and I have when we travel together. We typically don't let minor annoyances impact our travels, but there were a LOT of little things here and there -- the inconsistent food, lack of cleanliness in our cabin initially, and in the eateries, tables not being cleaned up for hours, dishes left in the hallways for hours, and lack of good stateroom service. The kicker is that Carnival won't honor their gift packaging guarantee, and I guess that's a big thing as opposed to a little annoyance.
This will make us think twice about cruising Carnival again. Never say never -- but it would have to be almost free on an excellent itinerary for us to choose Carnival over Royal Caribbean next time around.
Wednesday afternoon Nov 28, I chickened out watching the weather on the computer in my office in Pendleton, OR, and ran home to Milton-Freewater about 3PM. We got our old dog Seamus to the kennel, and we packed up and headed out -- back through Pendleton by 6PM and heading west on I-84.
We left Ann's daughter Lenore, her twins Jackson and Sophie, and husband George -- just out of the hospital in Seaside -- to close up the house ('nuther LONG story!)
By the time we got to Cascade Locks, it was snowing as hard as I've seen it!
Only 15 miles later, we were through and pulled into the Ramada at the Portland (PDX) airport about 9PM. $88 and we got to park the car there free and shuttle over and back to the Terminal. GREAT deal! And, a much better idea than trying to get to the airport from home base the day of the flight (o-dark thirty next morning) as was planned.
Thursday morning, November 29, it was raining, but at least 1,500 ft ceilings next morning for our flight from Portland (PDX) to San Diego (SAN) via SanJose (SJC) (1hr 15 min.) The cool SouthWest Disneyland plane was pulling out of the next gate. Portland is a COOL airport! There's a map of the Columbia River inlayed in gold in the floor of the concourse. Even a harp player (like my sister Toni's harp!)
Our stop was in San Jose (SJC) -- with a beautiful tour of the Bay area going in. BUT -- the airport is B-A-D! We came into one terminal on Alaska, and had to walk to the street, and catch a bus to the other end to the Commuter terminal to fly out on American Eagle! SECURITY AGAIN! UGH!
Then a short hop from San Jose (SJC -- about the same 1:15) down to San Diego (SAN,) with a just-at-dusk arrival -- and a nice 'suite' at the Holiday Inn on the Bay (but not as much view as hoped) with a nice dinner and breakfast.
Friday, November 30 -- CRUISE DAY! -- Woke up Friday to heavy rain! The bus took us to the cruise terminal at 11:30AM and we dropped our bags in the big steel cages in the rain -- ours must have been on the bottom, as they didn't get too wet!
We got checked in right away, and only had to wait about an hour until boarding started.
The boarding gangway leads into the HUGE Atrium (Deck 2 all the way to deck 10!) and we punched in with our new shiny gold 'Sign-N-Travel' cards, and then up the elevators to the Lido deck (Deck 9) and the La Playa Grill (Pool, food, bar) for lunch and that first drink with the umbrella! Met two Japanese ladies -- fun to try to talk to them!
We got in our cabin (#8-128 -- port side forward) on the Panorama Deck (Deck 8) about 2:30PM and I started watching all the jets trying to land in the heavy downpour and low ceilings -- VERY glad we came down the day before! Several cruisers said they flew missed approaches and spent thirty minutes to an hour in holding!
Had lifeboat drill about 3:30PM in the big Pharaohs Palace Show Room (Deck 2-3-4) with the life vests and crew with green hats -- always fun! All 2,500 folks squeezed in there at once!
The rain let up and we pulled out just at dark (5:30PM) -- a beautiful ride out of the harbor. Changed and had sit-down dinner in the Empire Dining Room at the late (8:15PM) seating right at the stern (upper level -- deck 3.)
Our bags came up about dinner time, and we unpacked and hit the sack.
Saturday, December 1 -- Woke up to a rainy day that got better (and warmer) the farther south we went. Room service showed up right on time with coffee, juice and toast!
Signed up at the Spa for all-over massages! I'm now a member of the 'Spa Culture!'
We went exploring -- the Carnival Spirit is about 950 ft long! We were mostly on decks 9 and 10 (Lido and Sun deck) and Deck 2 and 3 -- More bars, stores, clubs, the Casino -- just more fun!
The 'Ship Drivers' are all Italian, but the hospitality folks are from EVERYWHERE!
Sunday, December 2 -- It was nice enough for Deck time, and swim in the salt-water pools and Hot Tubs (three each to choose from!) I was gonna go on the slide, but didn't ever get that done -- next time!
Monday, December 3 -- We pulled into Acapulco at noon, and tied up on the Quay (north end of the bay) tail-to-tail with a smaller ship.
We got off and met the guides for a bus trip south through town on the Scenic Acapulco & Beach Escape excursion, over the ridge (MILLION Dollar homes EVERYWHERE!) and down south past the airport to a Beach Club.
I got out into the surf for about an hour, and then Ann & I spent time in the pool with the swim-up bar. They put on a Mexican buffet for us, and then local performers dancing, with the sunset as backdrop!
We loaded up, drove back through town early evening -- many church Congregations were parading to the square to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe anniversary -- but we didn't stop.
Drove up past the ship to see the cliff divers (and shop!) -- guess I shouldn't have tried that high-dive at night -- my knee was sore after! :)
Home to the Ship -- we pulled out about 1AM, but I wasn't up to watch!
Tuesday, December 4 -- Next morning at about 7, we pulled into Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa (Zewat for short) and anchored in the center of the cove. Boats and Condos everywhere you looked!
Went by lifeboat to the small pier and then out on the Picante Catamaran for snorkeling. I hope the underwater camera pix come out (hmm -- maybe I needed to be closer?)
Started to storm up as we were coming back -- Ann HAD to tip the local guide diver -- in the skimpy Speedo. The deck was alive -- dancing, singing, drinking (did I mention drinking?)
We cleaned up, ate, and headed back to our cabin to watch the wild lightning from the veranda as we pulled out into the dark sea!
Wednesday, December 5 -- Next morning -- sunny again as we pulled in and tied up in the busy port of Manzanillo -- Container ships loading and un-loading all around!
Overnight, Ann's CPAP machine ate itself! We were in a panic, but the Clinic down on Deck A (below Deck 1) had a loaner!
My Nextel came right up when I turned it on in the harbor, but when I tried to call out for information for the phone # to Walla Walla (WA) Home Medical, I couldn't understand the 'message' coming over in Spanish. Probably something about entering a credit card?
I DID get through on 'push to talk' to my son John in Jacksonville, Florida! Blippp-blipp - 'Hey Dad - how ya dooin?'
Cool or what? John determined he could call me back, so he Googled the number I needed, and called to Walla Walla, and Home Medical called US - got the settings for the machine, and we arranged for a loaner to be waiting Saturday night when we got home -- WHAT a DEAL!
Note to self: next trip, take Nextel and set up International Calling, even if you don't want to call anybody! Be sure important numbers are in the directory!
We didn't get off in Manzanillo, and mostly sunned and pooled and (well -- ate, natch! Maybe a drink, or three???)
Turns out there was a swimming beach about 1/4 mile away from the Spirit, but we couldn't see it from where we were tied up! Otherwise we would have got off and taken a taxi over.
Just at dark, we untied and did about three 90 degree turns to get back out of there -- THEN we saw the beach!!!
Thursday, December 6 -- The morning was fine, and we did the deck/pool stuff, and cruised past Cabo -- looks dry and dusty there! Friends that have been there pointed out John Travolta's house in one of the pictures!
By late afternoon, it was getting colder -- no more pool.
We went to the top-of-the-ship (Deck 10-11) to the fancy Nouveau Supper Club that's under the skylight above the Atrium. I ordered a 24 oz Porterhouse Steak -- should have taken a pix BEFORE I 'ate the whole thing!'
Later, I went up and watched the folks at the Mexican Midnight deck party -- it was MUCH cooler by then! I was MUCH too full to eat anything!
Wandering around, I found the 'flying bridge' on Deck 10 in the very bow and it was dark enough to find the 'exploding comet' and view the stars!
Friday, December 7 -- Next morning -- big rollers and clouds! I really don't remember much about what we did that day, except eat & sit on the Veranda!
Saturday, December 8 -- We pulled into San Diego about 6:30 AM and tied up -- looked like it did when we left -- cold and rainy! Sad to be back, but we were ready to get off.
Debarkation was delayed AS USUAL while the crew tried to find several folks that needed to check in with Immigration -- this has happened EVERY cruise -- how about a personal escort for these people at 6:30 AM?
Otherwise, the new numbered tags worked well, and the jam-up on deck one wasn't too bad. Because the Oosterdam was using the big terminal and ramp, we disembarked directly to the pier.
By the time we got off, it had cleared off, and we bussed over to the airport in warm sunshine and checked in way early for our flight.
We used the new 'Express Check-in' where the Ship took care of moving the luggage to the airport, and checking it in -- we had our first leg boarding passes the night before we arrive at San Diego! IT WORKS!
We scheduled a bus excursion to the airport -- don't actually know why -- but the real problem was that there were no signs pointing to the right bus. We wandered around a bit, but then found somebody to point the way.
At the airport, we sat with Woody Pittman (http://www.woodypittman.com/) the magician/comic that had been part of one of the evening shows. Woody is a very interesting guy, and trying to make all his dates, including cruise shows, seems very tough! Try to see him somewhere!
I heard them call the earlier flight to San Jose (since we were so early) and announce that there were two seats left if anybody wanted to go early -- so we did! GOOD decision!
The original schedule was only an hour in San Jose -- and we would NEVER have made it -- with the having to walk out to the street and find a bus to the other end of the airport, and then Security again -- JEEZ!
Well, being two hours early 'cause we took the earlier flight, we did have time for a sandwich and beer before our 4PM to Portland. San Jose cards EVERYBODY -- grey hair wasn't enough! I upgraded us to 1st Class to Portland for $50 per seat -- but Ann is worth it!
We enjoyed a beautiful sunset and then letting down in the dark into Portland.
The Ramada Shuttle came right away, our car was where we left it at the hotel (remember the hotel?) and we were on I-84 eastbound about 1:15 after we landed!!!!
We were in San Diego at 1:15 PM, and Pendleton topping off the coffee at about 9:30 PM!
We pulled into the house about 10:00 PM and dropped everything.
Well, there was lots more to do on board than I have written about (or even found out about!) -- we went to shows almost every night, sit-down dinner most nights, and a couple sit-down lunches, and even breakfast in the dining room the morning we pulled in. There was ALWAYS food on the Lido deck, but I only managed to find somebody to serve pizza once -- I should have left it alone!
I did Karaoke in the Cool Club with LIZ nearly every night, and almost got in the final night Legends production with 8-9 songs performed by the cruisers that were chosen at Karaoke (I was beaten out by the REAL Frank Sinatra) with costumes, and the orchestra, and the dancers and YOU WOULD NOT believe it all! I could not get a video of that show, DURN IT!
Earlier that evening we had an Australian Girls dance group that performed -- they were AWESOME! I won a trophy with 4 other guys doing syncro-swimming in the Dome Pool (!!!!) and MUCH more!
The crew was wonderful! I went on for two pages on the evaluation form! Our cabin Steward "Sue" and her assistant were out there in the hall 24/7 I swear! Up on deck, our glasses never got below ½ full!
There's just no end to the fun! But it was GOOD to be home, and in our own bed with our puppy's tail thumping on the floor!
The Spirit is a beautiful ship that was very easy to navigate. Her overall condition was excellent. She sparkled and shined.
Our cabin was a corner aft wraparound. It was laid out very nice with a sitting area that moved into a dressing room that moved into the bedroom. The bathroom was fullsized with a spa tub. I used the tub every night. Our balcony was huge. We could see behind us and to the port side. The only thing I would change for an Alaska sailing is to get the same cabin on the main deck. Those cabins have more of an overhang from the top that would help quite a bit with drizzle and rain. The aft balconies are nice because we were sheltered from the wind.
The service we received was very good for the most part. Our cabin was always clean and any request we had our cabin steward did everything within his power to make it so. We were always addressed by our names and they always had a smile on their faces.
The food was very good in the dining room as was theservice. The waiter remembered my husband's aversion to vegetables and made sure not a single onion touched his plate. My cappuccino was delivered every night without having to ask. The Lido Buffet was just good. We ate lunch a lot at the Deli which was excellent. This area was the only part of the ship I found hard to navigate. I kept getting turned around. Room service food was ok. I would have liked to have had some hot menu items. The room service was excellent, though. I would place the order and it arrived within 10 minutes.
We booked our airfare and transfers though Carnival. They booked our flight though Alaska Air. I loved flying with Alaska Air. We got to the airport early and upgraded our seats to first class for $50 each. What a way to start a vacation. Our flight arrived on time. We retrieved our bags then literally turned around and gave them to the Carnival employee. They checked our transfer ticket and took us straight to the bus. The bus ride to Whittier was about an hour. We had VIP Boarding which was nice. Boarding was a breeze. Our room was ready when we got on the ship so we just stood out on our balcony checking everything out.
Our cruise experience with Carnival was STELLAR and I would highly reccomend cruising with them.
I'd like to share some highlights of this ship as it was my first cruise I was nervous and excited. First off embarkation in San Diego was a breeze. We got there around 11:00 Used the Cloud 9 shuttle van from the airport for 24.00 for 4 people. Used a taxi after debarkation for 2 and it was 13.00, expect delays with all the traffic which adds to the fare.
We were in our room after eating on the Lido deck by 2:OO. We were totally upgraded from an 8A to a 9A a large room behind the elevators with extra large balcony. Totally loved it! Ship was a little rocky that night, had taken a pill but still ended up putting a patch on.
First stop MANZANILLO: I read a lot of posts and some lead us not to get off because it was industrial port. Don't listen. Get off and go to the right. There are lines of Taxis. One man spoke better English than the others asked for LA PLAYA CERVASA. We just wanted to go to the beach soak up some rays and have some cheap Mexicanbeer. There were 3 choice ranging from 10-15 dollars for all 4 of us. We went to the farthest for 15.00. We set the time with him and tipped and he was back 15 min early walking the beach looking for us!!! Even stopped at a store on the way back so we could get some pop to take back on board.
Now the beach, nothing fancy plenty of tables and chairs and umbrellas, a ways down we could see resorts also. The snorkeling catamaran was also spotted out a little ways from where we sat. Coronas were 10 for 10.00 and they ran us a tab. Now we didn't eat anything here or drink other than the beer and the water we brought from the boat. (Tips I learned on this board, we used wide mouth Gatorade bottles and filled with ice before leaving ship, made for nice cold water to drink during the day. Also remember is you don't drink the water you sure don't use the ice and no fresh fruit or fresh vegetable, we didn't even use the limes! Needless to say we never got sick any where, one worry relieved. It was a nice quiet relaxing day at the beach, it is a little rocky in places but you couldn't beat the price. There are lots of t-shirt booths, wait till later in the day to buy the go down from 6.50 to 3/10.00. Also there are a lot of vendors that come by but all leave without a problem. We also got a really cool hand carved eagle and turtle there from one of the locals for 20.00 ea.
The next port Acapulco, again I learned from here to have an excursion. We did snorkeling at 12.00 before that we had a leisurely breakfast and went into the port area mall I will call it. There were free things from different stores there on the map that is available on the boat for this area. We dared out of the mall area for only a few minutes and came back because of all of the pushy vendors and taxi drivers. Had a beer at the bar in the mall and waited for our excursion. What a trip there were about 20 of us on about a 38 foot motor boat / cabin that has been gutted for snorkeling. The 2 drivers Carlos & ???? Can't remember his name met all of us with pops and waters. There was a 110 Qt cooler with Coronas for the way back. These 2 made the trip very enjoyable with ??? Diving down and bringing up starfish and blowfish and other sea life for us to see. On our way back all the guests par took in the coronas and we all had a little party the guys were in no hurry to get back in. They even let my husband drive the boat in the ocean.
By the time we got to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo my sea sickness patch was wearing off and we had none left in our group so taking the pills made me very sleep but we kept going. This was a tender port and due to me we tendered kind of late. We walked the streets and found a nice new American restaurant owner in the center of one of the areas. He was giving out 2/1 coupons for margarita of pina colada or something else. Very nice to talk with answered some of our questions and said we're welcome to use his rest room even if we don't order. Told us how ice was purified and how to tell. We were excited to hear because up till then we stuck with coronas and were ready for a true Mexican margarita. Also his waiter was a native but spoke very good English, his name was Angel. We made it buy there after finding all the beach front cantinas to be more pricy than other ports and there beer was warm!!!! The place is called THREE AMIGOS and it's in Zihuatanejo. Great drinks, cold beer and good food. I really wish this new owner well and hope others stop into see him.
Back on board headed home the best show was the HYPNOTIST, hands down. Some of the other shows were more Vegas style not our cup of tea. There was always scavenger hunts and trivia going on but we mainly hung at the adult pool at the rear of the boat.
Debarkation took awhile as some guests weren't responding to their names being called but our other family did self debarkation and made there 11:00 flight no problem and we had VIP because we had been upgraded to a suite. People were all patient and was raining in San Diego and like I mentioned earlier it was just as easy to catch a cab than wait for Carnival shuttle. All in all it was a wonderful trip didn't care for the formal nights or dinners but definitely the good out weighs the bad. We haven't been home 2 weeks and my sister in law has booked us on the Conquest going out of Galveston in December.
Thank goodness for this site I'm already reading up and though it was only fair to post my thoughts on our cruise with hopes that it helps someone else! Happy Cruising!
Just returned from a 12-day Hawaii to Ensenada cruise with my wife and two daughters aboard the Carnival Spirit. Overall we had a great time on the ship, the Hawaiian Islands, and the 5 days at sea crossing the Pacific. This was our 3rd cruise and second time with Carnival. Our kids (3 and 6 year old girls) had a wonderful time at Camp Carnival and loved the Camp Carnival staff immensely.
Days 1 & 2 Honolulu - Aloha Tower Pier Upon arrival at Honolulu airport we picked up a rental car and proceeded to the Aloha Tower pier. There is 4 hour limited metered parking at the pier terminal, and adjacent to the ship's pier is the Aloha Tower shopping center that charges $25 for 24 hour parking with no in/out privileges so don't waste your money there. Instead, park across the street behind the Comp-USA store for overnight parking. Check-in was a breeze; there were no lines at embarkation at our arrival time, although it got busy later in the afternoon. However, the private security company staff hired to perform passenger screening at the pier were rude, obnoxious, andwere inconsistent in their policies and procedures. They made passengers remove articles of clothing not even required by TSA at US airports. Shopping, Waikiki beach, Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, all easily accessible with rental car. Stopped by the Costco to pick up a few bottles of wine for the dining room dinners. Our waiter was excellent and never charged a corkage fee!
Day 3 Nawiliwili, Kauai Took a shuttle bus from the ship to the airport and picked up our rental car, then headed to Waimea canyon in the morning. In the afternoon drove back to the airport and took a helicopter tour. Fantastically beautiful island. This port is rental car unfriendly; no car parking allowed anywhere nearby the ship.
Day 4 Kona, Hawaii Tendered to the harbor. The tendering process was complicated due to another cruise ship being in the harbor at the same time. We were told that the pier could accept only one tender boat at a time. We walked around town for some shopping and rode some horses in the afternoon at a ranch up in the hills. We didn't book a rental car for this stop and didn't feel we needed one here.
Day 5, Hilo Hawaii Took a shuttle from the cruise terminal to the airport for a helicopter tour of the island's lava fields. Wife got sick in the copter, but otherwise it was magnificent seeing the flowing lava only viewable from above. Rental car parking is nearby the cruise ship terminal.
Day 6 Lahaina, Maui Another tender to the pier, and another fiasco competing with another cruise ship for tender access. Took a shuttle to pick up a rental car and then went to the Maui Ocean Center. Under no circumstance should you go to the MOC with a ship excursion since the ship charges more than double the walk up admission price of $22 for adults. Afterwards went swimming at a beach, then shopping in Lahaina. You can get 4 hour validated parking with any purchase at the Hard Rock Cafe or Banana Republic. Plan to return to the ship at least 2 hours prior to departure (if more than one cruise ship is in the harbor) because it gets really busy with a long wait going through security to get to your tender. Lahaina is in desperate need of a cruise ship pier so large ships can dock.
Day 7 Kahului Maui The friendliest port for rental cars with a free parking lot right next to the cruise ship terminal. Get a rental car here if you need to buy souvenirs, since there's a Costco and Super K-Mart right next to the airport. Shopping during the day and went to a Luau at night. Again, don't book this through the cruise ship unless you want to waste money or feel insecure driving around Maui at night in your own rental car. In our case, a luau for a family of four cost only $160, $80 per adult and under 6 free. Had I booked this through the ship it would have cost almost $500 since they charge $100 per kid while many luau's are free for kids. Book your luau early because they often sell out.
5 days at Sea: Went by quicker than we thought it would. Most of the voyage was with 3-5 feet swells with white caps as the wind blew fairly strong the entire way home. Seasickness patches recommended for Pacific ocean crossings. Kids enjoyed their time at Camp Carnival which was staffed by Indonesian, South African, Phillipine, and Croatian staff, all very polite and professional. Went through a sales pitch for Carnival Vacation Club... bottom line is it's a ripoff and you can get much better cruise prices online or through Costco Travel Agency. Don't get suckered into the hype of that program.
Food: Empire Dining Room food was good with generous portions. Fish and lobster were fresh, meat was sometimes a bit chewy. Only shortcoming with the Empire Dining Room was the limited variety of food. Vegetarian friendly menu. Lido Deck Buffet food was decent; about what you'd expect at midrange Vegas buffet. Pizza was a bit soggy though. Desserts and tropical fruit were also very good. I didn't go to the extra cost dining club so can't comment on it.
Service: Dining room wait staff was entertaining, professional, and did a good job keeping everyone happy. Room stewards also did a good job keeping things tidy and clean. Beware of the contents of your minibar or else you'll be in for a surprise when your Sign and Sail statement arrives on the last evening of the cruise.
Entertainment: Average at best. Evening shows put my wife and I close to deep sleep, we walked out for a few laps outside on deck 10 to recover. Daytime seems to be the only time for any activities on the pool decks, because after 8pm the outside decks and pools were long deserted. This may be due to the average age of the passengers, which I'm guessing was well north of 60. Bingo and towel folding lessons were big hits on this cruise. Watching hordes of Seniors pushing their walkers, canes, and jockeying their electric carts to the front of the lines for first dining in the Empire Room was entertaining, but I didn't see that activity listed in the "Carnival Capers".
Carnival Internet Service: Carnival wireless only works in public areas on the ship. Service is painfully slow (below 70 Kbps when working) if you're used to broadband internet at home; I don't know if this is by design to soak you for more money at $0.40 cents/minute or if it's just because their system sucks. You may get a wireless signal in port from a nearby hotel or unlocked router if you're lucky.
Note about Car Rentals: Prior to boarding the ship, reserve rental cars for every Hawaiian port whether you're going to get a car or not. Reservations made ahead of time will save you about $30-40 per day compared to if you just show up at the counter without a reservation. Avoid AVIS; they require a credit card deposit. With reservations you can get a decent car for under $40/day. Good luck getting any kind of excursion from Carnival for $40...
Debarkation: This is what torpedoed the cruise for us. Everything went well until we got off the ship in Ensenada, Mexico. Of course there is the customary dreaded early morning wake-up along with a long wait until your color and number are called, (although kudos to Carnival for opening the breakfast buffet and dining room at 04:30). The real surprise was once we boarded the buses for the "complimentary transfer" to San Diego airport. I definitely got more than I bargained for... not only did we get a free Carnival Excursion of the Slums and Shantytowns of Tijuana en route to the US border, but we got to walk through US Customs in the rain unaided by Carnival to find our buses parked down a side street past the US border station.
Once we arrived at the San Diego Airport, the bus driver appeared content to stay inside his bus while the passengers waited outside in the light rain. It became obvious our driver wouldn't budge, so I wound up opening the cargo holds of our bus to remove luggage for my fellow bus passengers. I also got to crawl inside the bus cargo hold to retrieve more luggage packed deep inside, ensuring my clothes and hands were sufficiently soiled in the process. I wasn't obligated to do this but since nobody from Carnival was on hand to do this and since my fellow bus passengers were obviously older than me, somebody had to do it or it wasn't going to get done anytime soon. Clearly Carnival dropped the ball with this area...
The icing on the cake was after I pulled out the last piece of luggage and crawled out of the bus cargo hold, my wife admonished me for keeping her and my two daughters waiting longer than necessary!
Even though this was a repositioning cruise, the Spirit completed this itinerary before and will do the same cruise again sometime in 2007. On the last day on board the ship the Cruise Director pleaded for "exceeded expectations" marks for the passenger comment cards; surely Carnival can easily do better for the Ensenada to USA transfers for the passengers. Even if Carnival has to charge a nominal fee to improve the bus transfer service, it would be well worth it.
Just returned from a 12 day cruise on the Carnival Spirit. This was my first Carnival Cruise and I was pleasantly surprised. I have cruised 9 times but was hesitant to try Carnival due to it's reputation as a "party ship" since my husband and I prefer to not be in a rowdy young crowd. Perhaps the fact that it was a 12 day cruise to Hawaii, it ended up being a much older crowd. The ship was really beautiful and well laid out. I found it easy to get around and find everything. Our balcony cabin was spacious and well appointed, with plenty of storage space. The bed was so comfortable, which I understand now why Carnival actually sells the mattress if you want to buy it.
What was most impressive about the cabin is that it was so soundproof. I never heard anything outside, even when the ship was docking! On other cruises, the noise was sometimes so bad, especially when the seas were rough. The bathroom was even roomier than other ships. Only downfall was there were smokers around our balcony, so when we went outside, we hadto deal with 2nd hand smoke. The balcony could have been deeper. Our cabin steward gave us good service and we probably only saw him twice over 12 days. A different towel animal everynight which was a nice touch.
We also had excellent service in the dining room, better than on most cruises. The food was good and nicely presented, and the portions were adequate, not too big. I did find that the beef could have been more tender, filet mignon was chewy, and prime rib was tough as well. There was many times when the food came out and it was different then I expected it. Not bad, just different then what the menu indicated. More gourmet than I prefer, I guess.
The waiters entertained us every night with a different dance or song. Upstairs, the Lido buffet was very well designed with different stations for certain foods, a deli station, a grill station, a salad station, etc. It was nice not to all be crowded in one area, you usually did not wait in line long and you had plenty of tables to sit at. It was the best buffet layout I have seen on any of the ships.
The entertainment was on par with other ships I have been on. Usually you have a choice of the Las Vegas revue or a one man show, but on this cruise, you didn't have a choice. Actually the best show was on the last night, when they took cruise passengers who were part of the karaoke nights and made stars out of them in a Carnival Legends show. It was completely choreographed and included the dancers and the costumes were great. Lots of talent!
The ports were good but we had to tender into Kona and Maui, and this was the worse part of the trip. Getting back on the tenders was a nightmare and some people had to wait in line for 2 hours. Part of that was due to the security measures but with two ships in port, only one could tender at a time, which made for a long wait. Waited too long to book some of the popular tours thinking we could get them on our own, this was our mistake. We had five days at sea and disembarked in Ensenada. Then had to bus it back to San Diego for 70 miles. Very depressing seeing dirty Mexico after beautiful Hawaii. Had to get off buses at border, walk through customs and reboard buses. That adds lots of time. Little kids panhandling as you stood in line, very sad!
When we arrived at San Diego airport, we discovered that some of our luggage was dropped off with another bus and left on sidewalk. Not a good system. We had to walk quite a ways to go find our missing luggage which anyone could have picked up!
Other than those final problems, it was a great trip and we all enjoyed our Hawaii cruise.
Wednesday Sept 20th. - Awoke at 5:00a.m. We a signed up for Carnival's Fly Aweigh program, meaning we left our flight booking to them. Arrived at the airport at 6:30a.m. By our request, security checkpoint workers hand-checked all of our film. It took them a while as we had 5 Super 8 Movie Film cartridges and 20 or more rolls of 35mm film. They were unfamiliar with Super 8 Movie film cartridges and insisted upon removing them from the boxes and wrappers. They did a VERY thorough check on the film. They also confiscated a very small tube of toothpaste that I had l left in my carry on pack. Three and a half hour plane ride was smooth for the most part and we landed in Vancouver International Airport at about 11:05a.m. (15 minutes late). During our flight, Northwest offered complimentary beverages and small snack boxes for about $5 each. Do all the airlines charge for meals now?
Immigration/customs line and bag retrieval took about one and a half hours. At immigration we were asked, "How long will you be in Canada," "Where is your cruise going to," "How longis your cruise," and a couple other questions like that. Once we had our luggage we found a Carnival representative and handed it over to them to transport it to the ship. We heard other people on the flight say that we didn't need to claim our luggage at the airport and that Carnival would do it for us. That was the first we heard of that and it just didn't sound right. We boarded a motor coach to transport us to the pier, but we had to wait for the bus to fill up to leave, which took about a half hour.
The bus ride to the pier took 45 minutes. Vancouver didn't look a whole lot different from other big cities we'd been to. I was studying how the trolley cars travelled on a BIG mess of wires suspended above the streets. It looked very complex. Weather in Vancouver was 50's, overcast, and rainy. Traffic was slow and heavy with many, many stops at traffic lights.
The line for U.S. immigration at the pier went very quickly. The officers, looking very tired, said little and wasted no time in stamping our passports to send us onward. Carnival's computers were down for the embarkation process, but it went still went surprisingly quick, taking about a half hour. I'm guessing that they did not sell many of the pictures taken during embarkation as they did not even use any background. Their backdrop was just a plain empty concrete terminal.
Once aboard, at about 2:30 or 3, we got food right away at the La Playa Grille on the Lido deck. There were four different buffet lines but we were very hungry and picked the shortest one. It was very crowded and took at least 5 five minutes for us to find a table. Most of the other cruise guests were older, retired folks. Not many kids, and only 21 honeymooners including us. During this first day on the ship we were constantly solicited for drinks and it got a little annoying after a while. Their daily drink specials were $7.00 with a souvenir cup, or $3.50 without the cup.
The lifeboat drill alarm was very shrill and deafening.. Did it really need to be that loud? Muster stations were moved to alternate indoor locations due to the bad weather. Ours was in the Pharaoh's Palace. It's not every day that you sit in a large auditorium filled with other people wearing bright orange life jackets. The ship left about 2 hours late at 7p.m. We were way, way too tired to go up on deck to see the ship pull out of the harbor. It was too dark and foggy, so not much to see anyway. It was smooth sailing for the next few hours. Our bags were delivered to our door before we went to our late seated dinner at 8:15pm. Seated with us was a young couple, Maurice and Karen, from Vancouver.
They said Carnival upgraded their interior room to a balcony room. They were excited until they found out that a lifeboat blocked about 85% of their ocean view. I ordered the Indian Vegetarian Dinner. It was delicious with rice, homemade cottage cheese, a curled tortilla, and some other stuff. Went to bed right after dinner at about 10:30 or 11. I awoke to the sound of my night stand's drawer sliding open. Sailing became very rough overnight. The cabin walls and fixtures squeaked and creaked as the boat rocked from side to side.
Thursday Sept. 21 - We slept until about 9:30a.m. The ship was still rocking quite a bit. My wife took Dramamine and I wore the Travel-eze motion sickness bracelets which sell for about 9.99 a pair at pharmacies like Walgreens. I'm not sure if I really needed them, but it was more of a preventative measure. Upper decks 10 and 11 (topless deck) were still closed due to the bad weather. Wind speeds ranged from 30-40mph, The water-slide was closed and "under renovation" for the duration of the cruise. The water in the pools on the Lido deck was really sloshing around. They remained empty for the day and I imagine swimming in them would be the equivalent of being in a giant washing machine.
The magician we saw, Bobby Borgia, was good. He did a neat trick which involved sliding cards off the top of a deck using his shadow. The late night "R" rated comedian, Carl Faulkenberry, was ok and the best out of all four that we saw.
I tried the exercise room but felt queazy there because it was on the top deck on the front of the ship. Some free weights rolled around the floor a little. Yeech! We went to dinner and the other couple at our table decided to leave us to ourselves since it was our honeymoon. We later saw them at a table by themselves. I am hoping they didn't move because we offended them somehow. After all, I did get kind of sweaty when I ate that spicy Indian food the previous night. Winds and waves seemed to calm down a little bit later in the day. We could hear a loud rumbling underneath the dining room. It sounded like someone was bowling with a boulder. Maybe it was the ship's stabilizers? I've heard it in the dining room on other cruises we've taken. And it was always when we were on rough seas.
Friday, Sept 22. - Wind and waves had calmed down quite a bit. Wind was 10-20mph. The sun came out a little bit here and there, but it remained mostly cloudy. People were starting to layout on the Lido deck in sunbathing attire. It was becoming warm enough for that. Pool Olympics were hilarious, especially the two guys teamed together in the synchronized swimming contest. Later that evening we went to the Captain's Cocktail Party in a very packed Pharaoh's Palace where I drank a couple of free whiskey Sours. The drink servers didn't seem to be giving equal amount of attention to everyone there. Most everyone arrived at the same time, and we watched some people get served 2 or 3 rounds of drinks before we even had our first. They seemed to be frequenting through the right and left thirds of the theater a lot more than the middle, where we were. It was also a formal night in the dining room, so we dressed accordingly. Lobster Tail was among the many dishes they offered. It's my wife's favorite. We attended Karaoke again.
Saturday, Sept 23. - We didn't sleep very well. The bed is rock hard and realized that we must be under a laundry room because we were awoken by a washing machine pounding and going bonkers. Weather was still cool and cloudy for the most part. We saw "Survivor" on the Lido deck. A female contestant's shirt accidentally came off during one the challenges leaving her a little embarrassed in her bra. And if that wasn't enough, she later gave up her bra when it came to the scavenger hunt challenge and her team had trouble finding a bikini top. She did have her shirt back at the time she gave up the bra, but it was white and very wet. Very funny. We also attended a game called "Battle of the Sexes" where you're almost guaranteed to be called on to participate if you come with a mate. The losers of this challenge get bopped over the head with a big inflated rubber doll. We also went to horse-racing which was fun but the Carnival staff member who hosted it was loud and obnoxious. I tried to avoid future activities which that staff member was a part of. We skipped dinner in the Empire restaurant because of fatigue and nothing on the menu looked great. Dinner on the Lido deck took a lot less time and was a nice change of pace. The hot tub was empty when I used it between 7 and 7:30p.m.. Our air conditioner seemed to shut off in the middle of the night and our room became hot and stuffy.
Sunday, Sept 24. - Sailing was smooth and the weather was cloudy with patches of sun. Winds were 10-20mph. We watched the second half of "Survivor" after spending all morning at a table on the Lido deck. A game we attended in the Pharaoh's Palace called, "It's In The Bag," was a blast. I won't say too much about it except that it involves ship guests, wanting to participate, to come with the biggest bag they can possibly find and stuff it with anything and everything. You never know what item the game's host might ask for. Guys, be wary of how you participate in this game. You may just end up as one of three drag queen contestants!! Later on that night we saw old-fashioned comedian Norm Crosby. He was well received by some of the older folks but failed to strike our funny bones.
Monday, Sept 25. - The weather was warmer with partly cloudy skies. Wind was 10-20mph. We saw the ice carving demo and men's hairy chest competition. The men in the competition lacked the enthusiasm and zaniness we've seen in past Carnival men's hairy chest competitions. We had some yummy Blackberry and Raspberry Margaritas at the Margarita Fiesta in the Spirit Atrium. One of the lines for lunch in the La Playa Grill on the Lido deck was super long all day. They must have been serving something very good there but we didn't want to bother with it. It's not like you can't easily find great food elsewhere at anytime. For dinner in the Empire restaurant, I ordered the Baked Herb Polenta, which was good. Their vegetarian dishes, which they offer every night, are usually a safe choice. Kristi ordered a chicken dish in which they served her half a chicken with mashed potatoes. Given that they also serve you an appetizer and salad beforehand, this is way, way too much food for the average person to eat. Carnival's food proportions are usually reasonable, but this was ridiculous. The guest talent show was okay but didn't offer much of anything new for us. It featured mostly singers who we'd seen numerous times before in the karaoke lounge. The show ended with a hilarious skit put on by the Carnival Cruise staff which made it all worth while. Without a doubt, it was the highlight of the show.
Tuesday, Sept 26. - The ship arrives in Lahaina, Maui after five days at sea on we anxious to be in on land in Hawaii. The tendering process was a hassle to get ashore. People booked on the ship's shore excursions were tendered in first. Everyone else had to go up to the Lido deck to get tender boat stickers. Carnival should have organized a line or another system for passing out the stickers because hundreds of people were just crowding around the stage fighting to get a sticker from one of the three representatives distributing them. Eventually some lines were formed but they were still disorganized with the ends not clearly defined. It was a huge mess with a lot of annoyed people pushing to get to the front. Some of them were angry and shouting at the Carnival staff. Luckily we got out of the whole mess with tender sticker #7. I felt sorry for the poor guests that I saw with tender boat sticker #20 and 21. I wonder if they made it ashore before 11a.m.? They used a couple of the ship's life boats for the tendering boats which had a capacity for 150 people each. But Carnival decided to fill them up half way because the boats would be too stuffy and cramped otherwise. This probably created a much more pleasant (if you can call it that) tendering trip but severely slowed everyone getting ashore in a timely manner. Tendering started at 8a.m. and they called our tender sticker # at about 9a.m.
We got ashore at about 9:30a.m. We had to rush to get to the location of our rental car courtesy shuttle pickup for 9:30a.m. If we missed it, we were told the next pickup wouldn't be until 10:30a.m.. All that rushing was for nothing as the driver arrived late at about 9:45 or 9:50a.m.. The distance between the pier and all the car rental agency near the airport was about 10 miles. With the exception of Kona on the Big Island, I haven't found any places to rent a car on any of the islands where you don't have to be shuttled to the airport. By the time we had our car it was a little after 10a.m. That didn't leave us much time to do stuff, plus the rental agency had to further cut into our fun time by making their last shuttle run to the pier at 4p.m.. They also asked that the rental car passengers be dropped off at the pier before the drivers came back to return the cars. This made sense as it saved room in the courtesy shuttle but it still created further inconvenience for us. Maybe Dollar should get a BIGGER shuttle or have two shuttles operating at a time! So that left us with about 4 hours to do something.
We had a scenic drive from the Western to Northern end or West Maui. The road is a bit narrow and very winding. Most of the time the speed limit was 35mph or under. We got a great view of the Northern coastline and bluffs. One of the two stops we made was at a blowhole on a rock shelf by the shoreline. The tide goes under the shelf and spits water through the hole about 20 or 30 feet into the air. A little further up the road we stopped at Olivine Pools, a great place to sit still and watch tidal pool life or to take a refreshing dip or snorkel in one of the larger tidal pools.
The walk up and down the bluff to both of these stops was a bit strenuous. Also, the trails were difficult to follow as they often split into other trails. This became frustrating as I didn't want to waste too much of our precious time hiking down trails to nowhere. We saw a lot of stacks of small rocks all over. I still don't know the significance of those. We didn't have time to do anything else so we just returned the car and got in the long line to tender back to shore. On the rental car agency's courtesy shuttle ride back to the pier I overheard one cruise guest say that he paid $50.00 to rent a car and then his family and he ended up going snorkeling right across the street from where they rented the car. Later when back on the ship, a couple in the hot tub told me that Carnival's 38 mile bike tour down the mountain got rained and HAILED on. And they paid $154.00 a person for that! What's even crazier is that there were supposedly some people, not on the tour, biking uphill. We just got a few sprinkles for about 20 minutes during our whole time on the island. The ship departed Lahaina at around 6p.m.
Wednesday, Sept 27th - The boat docked in Kahului, Maui around 8a.m. and wasn't scheduled to leave until 10:30p.m., so we planned a lot of activities for this day. We had another car rental through Dollar. The courtesy shuttle ride from the pier was only about five minutes to the rental car agency at the airport. We got a white Nissan Sentra. The courtesy shuttle bus driver was a sweet little old guy named Uncle John. On the way to Hana we stopped at a small natural foods hippie grocery store, Mana's, in the town of Pa'ia where they have reasonably priced delicious packaged vegetable wraps; two for $5.75. We were advised by Uncle John to stop in this town to get something to eat as there aren't really any opportunities to get food for many, many miles onward. The road to Hana twisted and winded a lot through narrow mountain roads. The speed limit was about 25 mph most of the way. We stopped at a couple of small waterfalls along the roadside. It took us about two and a half hours to drive three miles from Hana. At this point we checked out some wet caves at Waianapanapa State Park.
Regretfully, we only had about twenty minutes to explore this beautiful area which also had a very nice volcanic sand beach nestled in a cove with some other caves we saw people walking in and out of. I wish we could have spent all day there. We spent too much time driving and not enough time to walk around enjoying the sights at the many different roadside pull offs. We felt extremely rushed and would have had a lot more time had we not booked a luau excursion for 4:15p.m.. We returned the rental car at 3p.m., took the courtesy shuttle back with "Uncle John," and then boarded the bus for the Luau. It was in Lahaina, where the ship was the previous day on the southern end of West Maui, and took about 45 minutes to get to.
The Luau was at the Hyatt and I think was called "Drums of the Pacific." It consisted of an all you can eat buffet (Hawaiian style food), open bar, and a show that lasted for about one and a half hours. Each guest was greeted, had a necklace made of tiny seashells placed around their neck, and had their choice of watered-down Mai-Tais or Fruit Punch when we arrived. A waiter served us drinks until the show started. From then on we were allowed to go and get our own drinks at the open bar which not many people took advantage of. That made it extremely easy to walk up to the bar and get a drink whenever. The bartender was all smiles. The food was also very good. We didn't try any the steak but we heard a couple raving about it later. The luau began at 5:15p.m. and we were told it would last until 8:15p.m. It ended about a half hour early at 7:45p.m.. Right away people made a mad-dash for the buses because there were only half as many to bring us back as there were to bring us there. This meant that many people had to wait at the hotel for about one and a half hours while the buses dropped off the first load of people. We were fortunate to have been seated near the exit at the luau which made it easy for us to be on one of the first buses back to the ship.
If you're going to take full advantage of the open bar at this luau, I would strongly advise taking a bathroom break before boarding the bus back to the ship. I failed to do this and began to really regret it about ten minutes into the bus trip back. And of course the stupid bathroom on the bus was out of order. So I squirmed in my seat for the last half hour of the bus trip. Once the bus arrived near the pier, security had to come aboard and thoroughly check everyone's ID before any of us could get off the bus. That seemed to take forever. Eventually we made it off and luckily there was a porta-potty about fifty feet from the bus. Once aboard the ship I went to a very dead karaoke lounge and sang "Have You Ever Seen The Rain." It probably wasn't very good. The karaoke lounge closed about two hours early that night due to lack of interest/attendance. I saw fewer and fewer people going to karaoke as the cruise progressed. I think people were growing tired of seeing the same singers every night.
Thursday, Sept. 28 - We arrived in Nawiliwili, Kaui a little bit late. Like Kahului, the town was not very impressive. For some reason Carnival decided to cut an hour off our time at this port. That required that we be back on board at 4:30 instead of 5:30p.m.. It didn't leave us much time and again we felt very rushed. Our rental car shuttle was there shortly after we stepped off. The staff at the Dollar Car Rental agency at Lihue airport was extremely S-L-O-W. Our time was cut further by having to return the car by 3 or 3:30 in order to catch Dollar's courtesy shuttle back to the ship.
We drove up to Opaeka Falls and had trouble finding a parking spot, so we went further down the road to Keahua Forestry Arboretum. A lot of cars were parked there but we did not see where everyone was at. What was the big attraction here? An outdated (2001) Fodor's book said that there was a nice pond with a tarzan swing here but we failed to find it. I was really bummed out about that. Anyways, it was a nice quiet little secluded park with a lot of trees, a river, and chickens roaming freely. We then went back to Opaeka Falls, shot some photos, spending only about ten minutes there. I don't think you can hike to the bottom of the falls but you can see them from a distance on a roadside pull off. Then we took about an hour long drive up to the north coast to see Waikapala'e and Waikanaloa Wet Caves and Maniniholo Dry Cave. The first half of the drive was very easy. The second half was on very twisty, narrow roads with a lot of one lane bridges and no shoulder. We averaged only about 15 - 30 mph on this stretch.
There was a beach right across from Maniniholo Dry Cave and parking was a little bit of a problem. The road ended further up by the Wet Caves where the parking lots were extremely full and cramped. Driving into this parking lot, if you can call it that, was a nightmare and we had a difficult time just turning around to get out as I had tons of other people behind me looking for a spot to park. They didn't leave me enough room to turn around at the end of road. There was also a beach here. We eventually turned around and drove back down the road to find a small 20 minute limit parking spot by one of the probably less spectacular wet caves. You could walk a little ways into the entrance of the cave but couldn't swim in it due to loads of bacteria in the water. The caves were cool to see but I probably would have chosen to do something else if I had known that it was going to consume most of the day driving there.
Friday, Sept. 29th - The ship arrived in a rainy, overcast Hilo, Hawaii at 9a.m. just as scheduled. For some reason edition of Carnival Capers for that day showed the ship's arrival time as 8a.m. in Hilo. Our official cruise documents showed an arrival time of 9a.m. so that created a little confusion. The pier in Hilo was just another ugly cargo port. We took a courtesy shuttle to the rental car agency at the airport which was a mile or two from the pier. The service counter for Dollar rent-a-car was surprisingly minimal. It consisted of three younger girls working under a tent with a few fold-up chairs and a fold-up table. No computers even. The check in line moved very quick considering what they had to work with. We drove to Walmart and picked up some Macadema Nuts which we had been seeing at gift shops all over. They are a bit cheaper at Walmart, so I would advise buying them there. I didn't go inside but my wife told me that they had a whole aisle devoted to Hawaiian gifts for tourists.
While she was inside I used a pay phone to set-up a car rental for our next day in Kona, Hawaii. That was the only port where I hadn't reserved a car rental before we left. It was a major hassle because none of the agencies we called offered pier pick-up except Dollar but only if you reserved 48 hours ahead of time which we were too late for. Thrifty had a rental cars at a location right by the pier but they were all reserved. So make a reservation well ahead of time if you're planning on renting a car in Hawaii. It shouldn't require giving them a card credit number so there won't be any penalty if you decide to cancel the car rental. The drive to Volcanoes National Park was an easy half hour drive and the weather was starting to clear up a bit. Once we arrived it was still cloudy but not raining. The entrance fee was $10.00 a car for seven days. We had enough time to take a short hike through a lava tube, and a 36 mile round trip drive down Chain of Craters Road.
For my wife, what was at the end of that road turned out to be the highlight of our whole cruise. From there the road was closed to cars and we had to hike about a mile down to where the lava field had covered the road. We could still see a "No Parking" sign standing which was almost fully covered in the solidified lava. Large flumes were coming from about two miles further down the road where the lava field was still active pouring into the ocean. We could have hiked closer to it, but didn't have time for it. The smoke was so thick that we probably wouldn't have been able to see better details anyway. We overheard people that took the Volcano National Park tour with Carnival expressing disappointment. They were only given the opportunity to hike through the short lava tube and stop at one lookout point. The rest of their tour was spent on the bus with their guides talking about some of the park's noteworthy features as they zipped past them. It sounds like they were rushed through. Later that night, on the cruise ship's way to Kona, the captain gave us a real treat by sailing close to where the active lava was pouring into the ocean. It was a beautiful orange glow in the distant darkness. The captain even turned the ship around for awhile so the passengers on the other side could see to. A great way to end a terrific day!
Saturday, Sept. 30th. - We decided to cancel our car rental that we made yesterday after hearing that there were nice beaches and snorkeling sites right off the pier that we tendering into at Kona. We slept in avoiding that we imagined would be on deck two in the fight to get a tender sticker. The process was so ugly and disorganized in at our first stop in Lahaina, Maui and I didn't feel like dealing with it again. By 9:30a.m., an hour and a half after shore tendering had began, most guests were tendered ashore and you didn't need a tender sticker anymore.
About fifty feet from the pier there really was a nice beach, snorkeling site, and shopping galore. We decided to go to Kahalu'u Beach, which I had read about being a decent snorkeling site, but needed transportation there. A guy at a booth marked "Information" was quick to approach us and tell us about a shuttle that would take us there for $5 a person, each way. So that would have been $20.00 round trip. Luckily we decided not to take it because we soon after discovered a cute wood paneled trolley to take us there for FREE. The driver was very cheery like a lot of other Hawaiians we had met. We gave her a little tip upon stepping off. The beach was very hot and sunny. There wasn't much shade and the sand was absolutely scorching under our bare feet. So we quickly dropped off our stuff with someone there who kept it secure in a mini-trailer for $5.00 and went snorkeling with our own gear.
The snorkeling was okay but was nothing like the calm, uncrowded, gorgeously colorful cove in Dominican Republic we were at six years ago. The snorkeling there was excellent. We ended up going too far out to where the surfers and body surfers were and had a very difficult time fighting the current back to shore. It scared the crap out of my wife who then decided that to stay out of the ocean for the remainder of our cruise. We took it easy on the beach where a bunch of sea turtles were swimming close to shore. Some people wading were startled when the tide threw the turtles at their feet. But they were harmless.
We took the trolley back and I snorkeled at the beach close to the pier where we had been tendered into. We also shopped a little and ate a deliciously breaded and fried seafood lunch at "Splashers Grill." We passed a place that served gigantic slushies, but were too full for one. A very relaxing, inexpensive day for a change. I don't regret not renting a car in this port at all.
Later that night we saw the "Carnival Legends" show. It was most of the karaoke lounge regular performers from the cruise dressed up and performing as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Gloria Estefan, Madonna, Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, Frank Sinatra, Ricky Martin, Britney Spears, Sonny and Cher, Elvis Presley, and Elton John. Some of the staff from Carnival played the parts of the celebrities of who they couldn't get any of the guests to audition for. Auditions took place in the karaoke lounge on the earlier sea days. So if you have any desire to dress up like any of the fore-mentioned celebrities and sing in front of hundreds of people, you may want to give these auditions a shot. Not many people competed in the auditions so a good singing voice isn't required. Maybe just tolerable one. The show was worth seeing but a bit tiring at times as we had seen most of these guests perform on the karaoke stage two or three times every night.
Sunday: October 1st - We permanently docked (until the next cruise) in Honolulu and caught the car rental courtesy shuttle for Dollar. The waiting area for the rental shuttle was hard to find at the pier. Weather in Honolulu was hot and mostly cloudy with small patches of rain which we drove into going from the southern to northern end of the island. The inner mountainous area of Oahu is green and gorgeous. Driving around Honolulu wasn't too hard. The city wasn't as ugly as I thought it would be. Not being a fan of big cities, we quickly drove out of Honolulu and up to Waimea Bay on the north end. That drive took about an hour as we took Hwy 83 on the eastern coast. The tide at Waimea Bay was disappointingly low and nobody was surfing. The tour group that Carnival took to watch the surfers here must have been a little ticked. Our cruise director really hyped this tour up when she said something like "your jaw will drop to the floor when you see the size of some of these waves the surfers challenge in Waimea Bay."
We snorkeled at a small marine preserve a couple miles down the road. The water here was very calm and sheltered but too shallow in many areas. It was difficult to step around the numerous spiny sea urchins. We stopped at one of the many roadside shrimp booths on the way back. It was called Romy's, I think. The steamed prawns were good. We also checked Halona Blowhole which was not very active at the time. I kind of wish we would have tried snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, but we were reluctant to drive there since numerous sources said that the parking lot fills up very early. I didn't feel like dealing with a disappointment like that today. When we got back to the ship we organized the mess in our cabin, packed our bags, and ate our last gourmet dinner in the Empire Restaurant. Our bags were outside our door by 10:00p.m. and we went to bed shortly after.
Monday: October 2nd - We awoke and ate breakfast in the Empire Restaurant for the first and last time. The food wasn't much different from what you would get at the Lido deck breakfast buffet. It was just a little bit of a change being seated and served for breakfast. Everybody was given tags the night before which signified what order they would be allowed off the ship. Our tag was called at about 9:00a.m. or a little after that. Since our flight was at 5:00p.m. we were in no rush to get off the ship. We decided to get off anyway so we weren't in staff's way as they cleaned the cabins and other areas of the ship for the next cruise guests arriving that afternoon. We didn't have to settle a bill because they already had our credit card info. An itemized bill was sent to our room the previous night holding no surprises. All we had to do to exit the ship was swipe our "Sail and Sign" card for the last time.
A few people had actually disembarked yesterday, skipping their last night on the ship. And there were other people that were taking the cruise again, leaving out of Honolulu and sailing back to Vancouver. That would be a 24 day cruise. Once we were off the boat we had to track down where the porters put our luggage in the terminal. After I saw what was going on with the luggage, I was glad that we didn't wait to get off the ship. People were either not paying attention or in too much of a rush because they were walking out with other people's luggage. I think most of it got sorted out before anyone actually left the terminal with the wrong bags, but I'm still glad we claimed ours quickly. On the bus ride to the airport we noticed solar panels on many of the homes in Honolulu. What a great example to set! I hope to start seeing more of those around the U.S..
My wife was not happy with the heat that day in Honolulu so she really hated the airport which was not fully enclosed from the outdoors. The check-in and security check point lines were very long and there were only a few large fans to blow hot air on everyone. We had an extremely long wait sitting at the gate from about noon to 5:00p.m.. The airplane ride was seven hours long and very uncomfortable. They screened a movie, "Lake House" but I had two tall people with fat heads sitting in front of me making it hard to watch. We arrived in Minneapolis at about 12:30a.m. Hawaii time or 5:30a.m. our time. Being back home wasn't bad, but it took more than a week for that nasty jet lag to wear off.
Food was always available somewhere on this cruise. The 24 hour pizzeria was okay but not outstanding. Chocolate and vanilla ice cream was also available 24 hours. It was hard to resist the sundae bar, filled with diced candy toppings and gooey syrups, which was set-up for two hours a day on our days at sea. The food at the La Playa Grille on the lido deck, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, was served buffet style and always good. The lines were usually not too bad, taking only a few minutes to get to the food. Getting a table to sit at could sometimes be a minor hassle. Everyday they offered some different ethnic foods such as Mexican, Italian, or Indian. A salad bar, dessert bar, fruit bar, build-your-own burger bar, and deli were always good alternatives here. Tables are set-up inside and outside. Most people ate dinner in the more formal Empire Restaurant. Meals consisted of dinner rolls, a small appetizer and salad, main entree, and dessert.
Plan for dinner here to take about an hour or an hour and a half. You are assigned a table before you board and in most cases it will be at a table with other people. But they do a good job of seating you with people your age/marital status. You can also request a table move at any time. The menu changes daily, has a good variety and ethnic diversity, and always offers at least one meat, pasta, seafood, vegetarian, and weight watchers dish every night. With a few exceptions, we loved everything we ordered and our waiter was very cheery. If you order a dish and don't like it, no problem, they will take it away and let you choose something else from the menu. If a person wanted to, I think one could order every dish on the menu to sample at once. Extremely wasteful and unnecessary, in my opinion, but a person could probably do it. Although these dishes are considered gourmet, sometimes the same dishes can be found served simultaneously in the less formal La Playa Grille. All of the fore mentioned food is inclusive in your boarding price. You can reserve a table at the Nouveau Supper Club, which is not inclusive and apparently a bit pricey, as an alternative to the La Playa Grille and Empire Restaurant. We haven't tried it so I can't write anything about it.
Drinks such as apple juice, orange juice, fruit punch, coffee, and tea were also inclusive and always available from a dispenser on the Lido deck. There were also small milk cartons. Soda cards were available but had to be purchased for the whole duration of the cruise. The overall purchase price amounted to costing $5.50 a day. Since sodas cost $1.75 a can, the cards were not a good deal unless you drank more than three sodas a day. Daily specials were about $7 with a souvenir cup, or $4 without. Prices, including gratuity, for drinks I purchased were as follows: $4.00 for whiskey sour, $6.00 for a Guinness, $6 or 7 for a Pina Colada. I'm not sure how much regular domestic beer was but I think I remember hearing that you could buy 4 bottles in a bucket of ice for $11.00.
Our interior cabin was small but very clean and well-kept. The room consisted of a queen-sized bed, a desk, a very small table and two chairs, two night stands, a few drawers, a closet with shelves, two other closets to hang clothes in, and a television. The bathroom was very small but adequate enough for one person to move around in. There was a shower stall but no bathtub. Our cabin steward kept a kleenex over a loud vent with EXTREMELY powerful suction. There was no switch to shut it off.
The ship's nighttime entertainment - Comedy: Carl Faulkenberry (RECOMMENDED), Norm Crosby, Mrs. Hughes, Percy Crews Dancing: Standing Room Only starring The Carnival Spirit Dancers, High Spirits starring The Carnival Spirit Dancers Music: Las Vegas Headliner Mr. Motown Jerome Dabney, Singin' with the Big Band starring Carnival's Ambassador of Swing Ned Rifken,
Carnival Guest Performances: The Guest Talent Show, Carnival Legends, Karaoke (almost every night). All of these are RECOMMENDED.
Stunts: The Incredible Balancing of Pepper
Hypnosis: Hypnotic Showtime starring the Hypnotic Powers of Jac Rene
Magic: Comedy Variety Showtime starring the The Magical Comedy of Bobby Borgia (RECOMMENDED)
Games: Bingo, Deck Party Fun & Games, Carnival Colors Conga Line Competition
The ship's daytime entertainment and activities - Games: Bingo (Carnival has this game going on all the time. It must be a huge money maker for them), Shuffleboard, Horse Racing, Ship-Wide Scavenger Hunt, Sea Feud, Family Ping-Pong Tournament, T.V. Theme Trivia, Adult Knock-out Volleyball Competition, General Knowledge Trivia, Golf Putting Tournament, Game Show Mania, Alphabet Game, Music in Movies Trivia, World Visual Trivia, Liar's Club, Slogan Trivia, 3 Bear Story, Board Game Fun, Ice Carving Competition, Men's Hairy Chest Competition, Win, Lose or Draw, Charades, Match Game, Science and Technology Trivia, Survivor Challenge, Scattergories, Who wants to be a Carnivalaire, Is it in the Bag!?! (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED), Sports Trivia, Urban Myth Trivia, Battle of the Sexes (RECOMMENDED), Love, Sex & Romance Quiz, Newly Wed/Not So Newly Wed Game (RECOMMENDED), Ultimate Mind Game, Pool Olympics (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED), Movie and Music Trivia, Famous Faces Quiz.
Informative: Towel Folding Demonstration, Adult Arts and Crafts
Dancing: Dance Classes, Austin Powers Dance Class,
Word of warning about the activities; Carnival seems to plan a lot of activities for the sea days and not much for when in port somewhere. So there isn't much to do on board while the ship is docked. Why would you not want to make the most of Hawaii anyway!?!
Carnival's shore excursion prices for 2006 -
Lahaina, Maui Atlantis Submarine: $99.00 Complete Island Helicopter Tour: $329.00 Haleakala/Lahaina & Iao Valley: $93.00 Hana & Haleakala Helicopter Tour: $250.00 Heavenly Hana: $125.00 Iao Valley & Maui Tropical Plantation: $53.00 Maui Downhill 38 Mile Super Day Bike Safari: $154.00 Maui Ocean Center: $52.00 Snorkel Adventure: $99.00 Wonders of Haleakala: $47.00
Kahalui, Maui Atlantis Submarine: $119.00 Complete Island Helicopter Tour: $329.00 Haleakala/Lahaina & Iao Valley: $89.00 Haleakala Ranch ATV Adventure: $169.00 Haleakala Ranch Horseback Riding Adventure: $154.00 Hana & Haleakala Helicopter Ride Tour: $250.00 Heavenly Hana: $125.00 Iao Valley & Maui Tropical Plantation: $49.00 Ka'Anapali Beach Break: $119.00 Maui Downhill 38 Mile Super Day Bike Safari: $154.00 (You may get rained or even hailed on) Maui Luau: $135.00 (This is luau takes place at the Hyatt and is regarded by the book "Maui Revealed" as the best Luau on Maui second to Old Lahaina Luau. Maui Ocean Center: $49.00 Wonders of Haleakala: $45.00
Nawiliwili, Kauai Aloha Kauai Adventure: $154.00 Heaven & Earth & North Shore Experience: $249.00 Kauai North Coast Experience: $47.00 Kauai's Grand Helicopter Tour: $262.00 Poipu Horseback Riding: $159.00 Seafun Shore Snorkel: $93.00 Tubing the Ditch: $134.00 Wailua River & Fern Grotto: $107.00 Waimea Canyon Tour: $48.00 Waterfall Hiking Adventure: $149.00
Hilo, Hawaii Circle of Fire Helicopter: $242.00 Discover Hilo, Waves & Waterfalls: $59.00 Hilo Chain of Craters: $89.00 Hilo City & Akaka Falls $57.00 Hilo Historical Tour: $59.00 Land of Frozen Fire: $89.00 Mauna Kea Summit Tour: $119.00 Volcano National Park: $54.00
Kona, Hawaii Atlantis Submarine: $109.00 Captain Zodiac Snorkel Adventure: $104.00 Deep Sea Fishing: $198.00 Kahua Ranch ATV Adventure & Scenic Drive: $164.00 Kailua Village Walk: $33.00 Kona Afternoon Snorkel Cruise: $75.00 Kona Coffee Living History Farm: $59.00 Kona Historical Tour: $39.00 Kona Morning Snorkel Cruise: $109.00 Parker Ranch: $54.00
Honolulu, Oahu Honolulu City Tour: $29.00 Natural Highlights: $59.00 Paradise Cove Luau: $104.00 Pearl Harbor & North Shore Experience: $89.00 Pearl Harbor/Punchbowl & City Tour: $39.00
Will we only did one of the ship's excursions, which turned out to be a lot of fun by the way, I still believe that renting a car is the best way to see the island. In all my online research of comments made by people who have visited the islands, I have yet to find someone who disagrees.
Carnival videotaped a lot of the deck activities and shore excursions and then later aired them throughout the day on the ship's cable system. You could later buy everything they recorded on dvd at the end of the cruise. I suppose you could make your own dvd if you brought your own dvd recorder and hooked it up to the cabin's television set. We had fun watching these and the two channels with the ship's live stationary cameras which showed the conditions outside beyond the ship's bow and stern. There was another channel that continuously aired the talk given about shore tours. Another channel displayed the current wind speed, ship's speed, time, and map of the ship's location. Then there was another channel which continuously aired historical documentaries on the Hawaiian Islands. The other channels were CBS, NBC, ABC, Discover, CNN, TNT, Fox News, Cartoon Network, TBS, Music Videos, and Three Channels with free movies. The free movies included: The Ringer, Tristan and Isolde, Robots, Big Momma's House 2, The Blue Butterfly, Cheaper By the Dozen 2, Paradise Sought, Ask the Dust, The Arrangement, Sandlot 2, Rumor Has It, The Chronicles of Narnia, Hawaii's Vengeful Goddess, Like Mike 2, Aquamarine, The Extra, Hawaiian Paradise, A & E Best of Both Worlds: Hawaii, America's Deadliest Volcanoes, Haunted Hawaii, Battleline: Pearl Harbor, Hawaii's Last Queen. Most of these movies we had never heard of or had no interest in. The only ones we watched were the documentaries about Hawaii. There were also pay movies for the rip-off price of $9.00 which we also declined on. I'm certainly not paying more to see a movie once on a small tv than I would in a full size theater.
Summary - The overall quality of this cruise was great. The staff was friendly, our cabin and public areas were clean, the ship's design and artwork was attractive for the most part, service was mostly good and prompt, the entertainment that we saw ranged from fair to excellent, and there was no shortage of tasty food. The Islands were all gorgeous and it was EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to choose what we wanted to do on each one. I could spend a week on each one in order to see everything I want. My favorite is Maui and I would love to spend more time on the road to Hana. My wife's favorite is the Big Island mainly because of Volcanoes National Park.
It is hard for me to recommend this cruise since we felt so rushed on all the stops. It's not Carnival's fault, it's more that there's just too much to see on each island. In that respect, it was hard to plan what to do in the few hours that we had on each island especially when what we really want to do is on the other side of the island of where we're docked. That is why I really appreciated our stop in Kona, Hawaii where everything we wanted to do was right off the pier. A land vacation would be a much better way to do it. In no way was it a bad cruise or a waste of money. We probably would have felt the same had it been another cruise line. In fact, we plan on taking the Spirit again sometime to Alaska.
We paid for our retirement cruise over a two year period,including shore excursions. May of 2006 my wife had stints put in her heart. We walk 3.5 miles every day. While on the cruise she started having chest pains. We tried to exchange a shore excursion we thought to be to stressfull for her. The on board personell refused saying people were all time trying to get out of what they signed up for,besides she didn't have heart surgery yesterday. We returned home on 9/3 on9/7 she had a stress test, on 9/13 she had quadruple bypass surgery. What great customer service.
This was our second cruise on this ship in the last 11 months. We sailed the same itinerary on June 29, 2005 with my son and his family. (see review dated 6/29/05) This trip was a follow-up to that excellent cruise.
Once again we enjoyed the ship and the ports. We were a party of 10 (all seniors)this time with six people being first time visitors to Alaska.
All had balcony cabins and made good use of the wildlife viewing opportunities the balconies provided. Had quite a bit of rain which is not unusual for the inside passage, did put a little damper on the port activities in Ketchikan and Juneau. This being my fourth Alaska cruise I've learned to hold our major tours to Skagway and Sitka where chances of sunshine are better.
We did the White Pass RR excursion in Skagway and had a great time, all 10 of us were accommodated in the special handicap access car on the train due to my wife utilizing a battery powered scooter. This car has a wheelchair lift as well as areas without seats so that folks in wheelchairs or scooters havegood viewing spots. This is one of those not to be missed shore excursions.
Our next port was Sitka and this held my favorite shore excursion of any Alaska Port. That is the Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest. We took this tour twice before and the last time on July 4, 2005 we took my wifes scooter with us on the tour and then into Sitka for the Fourth of July festivities.
This time we had a very rude surprise in that we were not allowed to take the tour with the scooter, apparently Allen Marine who runs the tour changed their policy regarding handicap access. We were not aware of this even though I had e-mailed Carnival requesting info about using scooters on board ship.
Carnival's written answer indicated there would be no problem even though I later learned the Allen Marine had notified Carnival of the new Policy last fall. In any case my wife and I were forced to remain aboard ship for the entire day when Carnival also said they would not allow the scooter on their tenders.
This was our fourth cruise in the last 2 years, all with the scooter, it was the first time we encountered restrictions.
Since I am a travel agent I've asked Allen Marine and Carnival to advise me what the new policies are so that I can pass on the correct and truthful information on to my clients and the agencies I represent.
I would strongly suggest that any handicapped potential cruisers check with your cruise lines and travel agents about their policies toward the disabled before you book.
Our first cruise aboard Carnival Spirit. If this were our first cruise I believe it would have been our last. We flew into San Diego and were met at the airport by the Cruise Line and bused to the embarkation point. Was not the best but acceptable. Then came the bus ride to Ensenada. We were on a bus that had a jammed bathroom door and exhaust fumes coming up through the floor and a driver that we were sure was doing his best to kill us all. We spent about 5 hours on that bus.
When we got to the ship we were not allowed off the busses because there was some sort of delay and no one could tell us what it was. There was a person from Carnival who got on each bus, remember there were over 2 thousand people, and told us there was a problem but not what the problem was, in fact no one gave us an explanation for 5 days. Finally the pat excuse of computer problems was used. Need I say so far a trip from hell.
We boarded the ship finallyat about 9:30 PM. Food was still available on the Lido deck but was cold and stale. Our luggage was at our door when we got to our balcony state room which was very nice. Our cabin steward was perfect and very attentive. The bed linens actually fit the beds and were of excellent quality. No pilled sheets. Our Empire dining room staff was the best I have encountered on a cruise ship or possibly anywhere else. The food was not the best but ok. An alternative steak was offered if the menu items were not acceptable and that was usually very good. The food on the Lido deck was barely acceptable.
The Jazz Trio in one of the lounges was excellent as well as the group who played at the fantail pool each night we left port in Hawaii. The shows in the theater were not worth staying for. We left most after 15 minutes. Debarkation was almost as bad as embarkation as the ship was so slow in getting luggage off that the tour that we booked left the ship 1 ½ hours later then scheduled and there for we did not get a complete tour. At this point we were two sick of it all to complain. Carnival will not be our cruise line of choice in the future.