Our second cruise on this same ship in six months. We are some thirty miles off the coast of Baja, approaching Cabo San Lucas by tomorrow morning, and one day almost to the hour since leaving San Diego on the Carnival Spirit with over 3,000 souls on board. Two paying passengers per crew member. Advice to new and repeat cruise aficionados: A single factor worth repeating; it¡¦s a matter of attitude. Go with the right attitude and any problem fades into insignificance. So I did what I preach in my management classes and pasted a smile on my face. I smiled at the Mexican family shouldering their way into the embarkation line, and they back off. I smiled at the security people and they were courteous. I smiled a broad greeting at the ticket counter clerk and got prompt, smiling attention in return. Attitude = response. Show a smile, get a smile. Show patience, get service beyond the call of duty. So far. Hope I don¡¦t have to edit this observation at a later date; after all, we are only into the eight-day trip by one eighth! This attitude thing wasmade quite easy a week before sailing when we opened a letter from Carnival Vacation Cub giving us our new cabin number¡K 5173, an upgrade from a window cabin to a balcony! And when we entered our cabin, a fine bottle of Merlot from Dickinson, the CEO himself, thanking me for my long letter of complaints from our experience with the Vacation Club fiasco. Being further resolved as I write.
We had asked for early seating and when boarding we discovered it was late sitting. No problem, we went straight to the dining room and the maitre de asked if wanted to sit with a group or alone and the change was made in less than a minute. Comfort, we are finding, is in the detail and not in the size. The ¡¥staterooms¡¦ are as small as on the sales literature, to repeat a bit of humor by Todd, our first trip Tour Director. But then you discover your oversize suitcase really does fit under the bed, and there are enough drawers and closet space to accommodate all that junk we brought on board. The detail. Can¡¦t turn on the shower hot water without having first turned on the cold. This is a wonderful feature especially since boiling-hot water is instantly available. I don¡¦t know if by a nearby instant hot water heater, but most likely from continuously running water through the pipes in an effort to exchange engine cooling water to save on fuel costs which makes a lot of sense. Rather than spill engine coolant into the ocean, they chill it first by running it through our showers and sinks! Also, the tap water is distilled water so don¡¦t buy expensive bottled water! (Note, if you open the bottle of water on the counter you will get a surprisingly large bill on your minibar account. Drink tap water!) And speaking of energy: I tried to trace the hydraulic fluid pumped by exercising machines in the Fitness Center into the engine room and failed. There are over 50 machines, most occupied by sweating, grunting, huffing and puffing people pouring their energy into these machines. The machines should be connected to generators and thus feed into the ship¡¦s propulsion system! Tried to get onto the bridge but that feature is no longer available on cruise ships since 9/11, same with the engine room. No visitors allowed. Also, no shore visitors are allowed either. On our first trip on the Carnival Spirit I was outraged at the high prices one had to pay for a drink or a beer. So on this trip I drained a five quart box/bladder of wine over a few weeks before sailing. I then took the bladder out of the box, cleaned it, tested it, and poured a bottle of Scotch into the bladder which then went into my suitcase. Even if they use an Xray to detect bottles, the bladder is invisible. So I smuggled a bottle of Scotch to enjoy a nightcap without paying a king¡¦s ransom. My wife took her Mexican leather covered flask of Brandy and it went through the receiving machines with no problem. Many people we talked with during the cruise say that they never have had any problem bringing a bottle of hooch on board in their luggage. There seem to be enough free activities to keep everybody who needs that kind of stimulation happy. During our first cruise we were quite content to simply explore, linger here and there, meet people, dance and occasionally do one of the activities. On this cruise my wife is going for broke in participating in as many activities as possible while I sit by a window in a comfortable chair and read Michener¡¦s ¡§Alaska¡¨. Back to the details. The bathroom: A roll of toilet paper at the ready and three more in plain sight waiting to be of service without hesitation. The shower drain is backed up by a series of channels allowing excess water to bleed into another outlet thus preventing flooding on the deck. Where you could easily slip, fall and break your skull. Enough cantilevered glass bottomed trays hanging from both sides of the sink for all the goodies you ever thought of bringing. Mirrors everywhere, from above sink, to on dresser, to full length on the door. Enough to scare any Dracula into permanent hiding. The air conditioning control actually works! Turn it up hair and instant reaction. No noise, no heavy duty relay kicking in and out every few minutes. Apparently controlled from outside monitoring incoming and outgoing air from each stateroom. Since the doors are watertight, the air inside must be pumped in and out. So the room is always fresh and at exactly the right temperature. Bedside lamps just enough light for your side to read by and move about at night, not enough to bother your mate while asleep. Of course there are no television programs worth watching, but enough ship videos of activities and engineering tours to satisfy my curiosity. But I¡¦d still like to see the bridge! Because we have a balcony, and because the main reason for our passion for the Mexican Riviera is to enjoy the tropical air, we left the door open all the time we were in the cabin. When the door is open, the air conditioning automatically shuts off. Again, quality is in this kind of detail. An ode to the toilet. It must be remembered that eating is the primary activity on a cruise ship. Continental breakfast at six overlooking the foaming wake of the ship in the twilight. Breakfast at around eight including fruits, ham, hash browns and a three-egg omelet, not counting the toast and whatever else you can load onto a tray¡K not plate, but tray. Then at ten, then at noon, then at mid afternoon, then dinner and lastly the midnight feast amidships. Where does all that food go? Consider ¡V the human body can only digest and convert so many calories and nutrients into food for the body. The rest must be discharged. You have 3,000 some odd souls on board. The toilet on a cruise ship must be the most efficient and trouble-free piece of engineering on the whole ship. If toilets were allowed to clog, there would be another 500 plumbers on board to feed and entertain and the cost would be prohibitive. End of the cruise industry. The name on the toilet is simply ¡§EVAC¡¨ surrounded by a simple logo. I have no idea where they are made, but if you have your legs pinched together and you push the Evac button you will be sucked into the bowl with no way to get out except to shove a tube between your legs to let the air into the vacuum. It takes one point seven seconds from push to full evacuation of anything in that toilet bowl. Anything! I can imagine all that excrement going into a tank and further mechanical processes feeding oxygen into it as it is being stirred and stirred and stirred. The resulting methane gas must be in the tons and surely fed into the diesel engines or burners somewhere on the ship. There is no way for the amount of sewage to be dumped into the ocean without having the Green Peace people up in arms and the dolphins far, far away from the ships. No dolphins, fewer guests. Bad for business. I imagine the remaining sludge to be sold as cleaned, bagged manure at each port. Closing in on Zihuatanejo we watched a school of dolphins surf on the bow waves of the ship. They had as much fun as we did in watching them. Yesterday was half a day in Acapulco and Melen was able to get into her magical Acapulco bay water and become a young girl again, without arthritic pain, free to move as she felt. In Acapulco we got off the ship and walked a half mile south along the boulevard, returned to El Perico which we had discovered on our first trip, had our ceviche cocktails, shot of tequila, couple of beers, some lunch and ambled off a few yards to sit under the shade of an umbrella, paid your $2 rental fee, and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon. The rest of the vacationers were on guided tours or chose to remain on board. Since we both speak Spanish we entertained ourselves by showing an interest in the few vendors walking the beach on this weekday. One lady in her mid forties approached and offered a massage. We quickly discovered she is a shaman, witch-doctor if you will, and dickered with her for two massages and spirit cleansing. She gave us her phone number Lucia, 74 41 33 31 97 and asked us to call ahead the next time and she and her apprentice daughter would be waiting for us for a repeat session. It was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable massages I have ever had and my wife says the same for her. Cost? $25 total for two, plus a $5 gratuity I was eager to pay. My advice: Learn what you can about the places you will be stopping. Make contact with as many tour companies via Internet as you can. Ask friends. Play the newsgroups. Do things on you own! The tours are OK for the novice and the person who just wants to get a feel for things. And of course the Cruise Ship company will be promoting tours where they get a fair commission. I am learning that every trick in the book is being used to part me with my money. The people The Armenians on our first cruise were big, boisterous, loud and oblivious of the rest of us on the ship. They crashed lines, held heated arguments in the middle of the passageway without a care. On this cruise about half the passengers are Hispanic, mostly Mexicans who have done well in the US and now enjoying family reunions. They kept to themselves, were very polite, easily leaving space for others, easy smiles, gracious in their manner, the kind of people you¡¦d like being round! Sit long enough in one place and somebody will sit nearby. A minute later you will make a comment or the other and a conversation will start. ¡§ Nice day¡¨ ¡§ Yep¡¨ ¡§ Where are you from?¡¨ And so it goes for as long as you can both stand the nothingness of the chat or until something really strikes you both and animation begins. Often the silence becomes oppressive and you find an excuse to move on. As chance often has it, you move to the stern only to find your ¡¥new-found¡¦ friend already there. Melen noted this is the perfect venue for a family reunion. Everybody can do as they see fit without getting lost in the shuffle. There are many family groups on this cruise. Grandparents reluctantly rolling strollers with babes down the isles as their ¡¥kids¡¦ enjoy the Jacuzzi or??? But only infrequently as most family groups could be seen eating together, lounging by the pool, or just hanging out. I think a cruise would be the perfect setting for a seminar. One took place on this cruise for a group studying mediation. Their fee was about $1,000 per person for the course, plus discounted group fees for the cruise. Like it or not you will be seated with the same bunch of people every night. If I were to make a suggestion to the cruise companies it would be to rotate tables thus giving us all a chance to meet other people. But then, I imagine most people like the security of having at least one predictable element to their daily life of adventures at sea and on land. (Since writing this in the middle of the cruise, I am now thankful for no rotation as we are getting to know some wonderful people and it¡¦s good to have something sure, something known to look forward to other than your stateroom.) It was, in fact, a sad parting of the ways with our two LA area, fun-loving couple sharing the table with us. Our shore tours were simply getting to shore, walking, taking a short boat ride to a quiet cove and dipping into the ocean blue as we did in Zihuatanejo. In Manzanillo we debated calling our cab driver from the past trip¡K the president of the local taxi cab association who had said he would make a special deal for anybody mentioning my name. Joel Andres Virgen Lopez, Cell. 044 (314) 10 305 28. ¡V but instead found a shuttle service to downtown for $3 round trip and we took it. Our objective was to find something interesting in Manzanillo other than tourist traps. We found a typical Mexican restaurant in an old hotel, just a block from where the shuttle dropped us off. We spent the rest of the day there sipping Micheladas (Lime juice, beer, salt-rimmed glass, ice), munching Mexican appetizers, meeting other travelers from the Carnival Spirit with like minded love for authentic Mexico, and had a wonderful time. Our bar and food bill for the hours spent there was $18 US. The Director, Mr. Emilio Fernandez Lopez helped the waitresses and bus-boys with a smile on his face, answered questions and told us the story of the hotel. Hotel Colonial, corner of Fco. Bocanegra and Avenida Mexico, just a block south of the Western side of the Plaza. He promised to send me an email when his phone gets connected sometime ¡¥manana¡¦ which means sometime in the future. We will be inviting our friends from Colima to join us there next October and will most likely call the Los Candiles (the hotel¡¦s restaurant) to set up a special buffet for the occasion. I¡¦ll be calling 01 314 332 10 80 or 332-06-68. On the subject of FUN! What may be fun for some, cold be hell for others. What hell may be to some, could be fun for others. So our cruise ship offers a seemingly endless menu of activities, shows, and the like. But I have learned that I need to learn how to have fun. And I¡¦m betting that I am not alone. After a lifetime of challenges it is difficult to wake up in the morning knowing there is nothing at all that must be done to bring bread and fish to the table. But the sense of having to do something, to be active in the quest for money and goods is buried within most of us. And retirement, or long vacations, brings this to the surface. There must be half a dozen eager beaver professional cheer leaders of the crew who spend most of their time cajoling, encouraging, demanding and teaching us how to perform for one activity or other. The ¡§Marriage Game¡¨, dance contests, slot machine contests, are but a few examples. Then there is the full sized chess set, arts and crafts room, the library, casino, bars and lounges. Not to mention privacy in your own room with your personal playmate. There¡¦s the Jacuzzis, four of them! The sauna, steam room, massage tables, 50 torture exercise machines and the endless sea. The shore tours either guided or on your own or with friends. The endless opportunity to shop and spend money. Evening shows and being waited on by professionals in the most elegant settings since the Titanic at prices within the reach of those of us who are not among the rich and famous. On this trip my wife was lucky enough to get selected to participate in the hypnotist act and after the show, and during the next few days, I learned what it is like to be the husband of a celebrity! Years ago she had both our children under hypnosis so she knows something abut it. On stage she showed herself to be the perfect subject and the hypnotist made the most of it. Toward the end, the last act was for the participants to believe they were belly dancers. Well, my wife, having been a professional belly dancer for 17 years, really let go, forgetting arthritis, and danced away making the audience go wild with applause and shouts, whistles and gypsy cries. She brought the house down! After that, almost everywhere we went she was met with smiles and questions ¡§did you really go under?¡¨, ¡§what was it like?¡¨, ¡§do you remember anything?¡¨ ¡V great fun! Ship geography. There was no way in heaven or earth for us to have known how to decide the location of our stateroom. As chance would have it, we made out like bandits with no cops in town. Level 5 and three quarters aft, just four levels from the munchies and fantail which became Melen¡¦s querencia. (Querencia is that place a bull finds when entering the bull ring and chasing away the men in capes. Then returns after each attack. One point 6 minutes from room to lemonade, tea, munchies, coffee, chocolate, munchies, water, ice¡K Five minutes round trip to the Pharaoh¡¦s Palace, the main theatre and meeting place for some shore excursions up near the bow of the ship. Never more than a thirty second wait for any elevator, ever! On the subject of FOOD Twenty four hour Pizza was advertised, and fulfilled. Gourmet dinners were advertised and have lived up to their promise. Service is always with a smile and on a scale of one to ten, a ten. We always have two options for breakfast ¡V on the Lido Deck or in the main dining room. Same for lunch and same for dinner. The main dining room menu has always had at least five selections for appetizers, two for salads, five for the main course and several desert choices. Lobster, Filet Mignon, Veal, Prime Rib, Tiger Shrimp, Pacific Salmon, Quail, Duck, and various very elegant pastas were enjoyed by the four of us at our small table. Our next table neighbors were seen refusing an occasional dish that did not suit them for whatever reason and I noticed it was exchanged with an apology and a winning smile by our waiter. I brought the bottle of Merlot to our table on the last night and Luka, our waiter promptly brought the four wine glasses and pulled the cork with grace and great smile, poured the sample for my wife, and then for the rest of us. On the formal night we received a bottle of chilled champagne compliments of the Vacation Club. A nice touch. During my lifetime I have had the good fortune to dine at four and five star restaurants such as Anton¡¦s in New Orleans, The Brown Palace in Denver, Tijuana¡¦s Country Club, The Ritz Carlton, and the like. I am rating our dining on the Carnival Spirit at that level. Perhaps there is a more limited variety of things one could ask our waiters, but whatever is within their reach was made available to us with a simple request. Most often, they would make the offer and we would either accept or reject. To me, this is a sign of true quality. On the Lido deck 9 there are 9 distinct mini-buffets, the fruit bar, pizza bar, four breakfast/lunch bars one specialty bar, one oriental bar and the hamburger/steak/hot dog bar. The quality is good, but the appeal seems to be for those who measure good food and eating by the ¡§all you can eat¡¨ mindset. The specialty bar offered Mexican fare one day and other national favorites on other days. The oriental bar was never short of sushi, sauces, wont-ton soups, sweet & sour and the like. There is always an ample supply of iced tea, lemonade, orange juice, coffee, decaf, chocolate and ice. Some statistics. 2,400 passengers, among them are some 300 kids. A crew of 924 made up of people from over 70 countries speaking some 60 languages, all getting along just fine. Over half the crew are in food and beverage services from receiving product to cleaning up and everything in between. Crew members are recruited in Carnival Cruise offices all over the world, are sent to a four week Carnival University, then assigned to one ship or other for apprenticeship and then full crew status. They work six to seven months, then take a six-week vacation and if qualified, are assigned to another ship. An observation: The inside cabins are dark and you never know when it¡¦s daylight or night by looking. So on our first cruise we kept the TV on to the forward looking camera which provided enough light to keep from stumbling. On this cruise we had the drapes pulled open all the time and enjoyed the view! Jose and his helper, our cabin boys clean up and make the bed twice a day, once in the morning breakfast, and once during the evening meal. Mints and sculpted towel designs greeted us every night and were superb mood-lifters and smile-makers to end the day with. They also made it impossible for us to tell the purser to lower the $80 per person tip as ¡¥suggested¡¦ on our bill. What with Luka and his assistant, the other servers and crew, we got our money¡¦s worth, and more. "¦ Wayne Lundberg, 2005 www.pueblaprotocol.com Chula Vista, CA
Booked direct with Carnival. Documents arrived within two weeks of booking. Did our own air from Vancouver.
Embarkation and Debarkation were very smooth and quick. Contrary to reviews we read the San Diego cruise terminal is just fine.
We had an inside room on deck 7. Lots of storage space, hanger, drawers etc. no pant hangers we always take out own.
Interactive TV is great. We booked our shore excursions on the second day and received our tickets within two hours.
Dining. We like early seating which we did but felt that 5:45pm was too early. Service good food fine but portions are on the small side.
Buffet was great for breakfast and lunch but for dinner there were not many choices. The buffet layout is superb. Lots of stations and variety. Hot dogs and burgers were good and always available on the pool deck.
Entertainment. We went to all the shows and they were just fine. Your crusing to have fun and enjoy if you relax and take the good with the bad it all evens out in the end.
Casino. Nice layout came away with $40.00 on slots.
Age average would havebeen 55. Lots of deck space and lounges.
We would sail with Carnival again.
This was our fifth cruise and the third on a Carnival ship. The ship was clean and the help very friendly and helpful. Food was good and the supper club was great! We ate at the supper club twice. We enjoyed our ports of call and tours. The entertainment on the ship was the only disappointment.
The stage was being worked on and they really didn't have it together in this department. We parked across from the dock in San Diego in paid parking. This was a big mistake, our car was broken into and the radio was stolen.
The Spirit is a very nice ship and this was our second time on her with a different itinerary. Embarkation was a breeze compared to other ports we had left from. We were at the port by 10:30am and on the ship by 11:45. Within an hour of being on the ship one of the bar staff informed us that the main show lounge would be closed for the entire cruise. This announcement was made to all passengers at dinner the first night. They tried to make it sound like this would be a good thing for us with more entertainment throught different parts of the ship. Each table was given a color and a schedule when your main show would be each evening. Confusing as one night your show would be at 8:30p, next at 9:45, then 10:30 at night. Some times it was in the Verailles lounge, somtimes on the Lido deck (which was cold, especially on formal nights and they refused to close the glass roof) and other times in a small lounge. The first night the room was overfull with standing room only, but as theweek went on, there were shows with only 30 people at them. I think people gave up and quit going and for older people like our table mates which were elderly, it was too late for them. When we went to the pursers desk to inquire as to why carnival didn't inform passengers ahead of time to give them the opportunity to change cruises or go at a different date, they said this just came up. Have a hard time believing this wasn't known a week or two before the cruise.
The entertainment is a big part of what you pay for and they offered nothing to passengers in way of compensation. On a positive note a couple of the comedians were excellent. Food service and quality appears to have gone down on Carnival. Since they have went to automatic tipping,the service staff are not near as attentive as they were in the past. Rooms were clean and tidy, but we only seen our room steward 2 - 3 times the entire 8 day cruise.
Ports of call - Aculpuca was interesting, lots to do - we hired a taxi for $80.00 for 7 hrs and he took us all over and waited for us when we were in the markets, at the beach, cliff divers and bought us beer to drink when driving around. He spoke very good english and gave us a lot of history of the city and country. We hired him ourselves once we got off the ship. he did a great job and we left him a big tip for his service. Zihautanjo was next port and we absolutely loved it. It still retains the charm of a mexican fishing village with colorful markets, friendly people and we will definetely come back here to stay. We spent the afternoon on the beach eating authentic meican food cooked in a little stall on the beach and drinking buckets of beer. Our bill at the end of the day was $23.00. Sand was nice with very clear warm water. Went parasailing for $25.oo and got some fantastic pictures from up in the air. Don't bother going over to Ixtapa as it is americanized hotels and over priced shopping. Buy in Zee. Manzanilla is a port the ship should skip. It's a port city with not much for shopping and it cost lots of money to get anywhere there by taxi. No shopping at the pier. Beaches were ok, but water much colder than in the other two ports. Carnival should pick another port. We did not ship excursions as we have cruised enough to know you can get the same thing off the ship much cheaper. I like my sea days and I wish carnival would leave the hot tubs open past 10pm. Often this is when it would be nice to sit in them , relaxand look at the stars. Ship was full but never seem crowded. Cruise director was fantastic, best one we have encountered, he was out and about talking to everyone. Also the maitre d' was the best yet also, he was always coming by your table each evening to talk and inquire as to how you were enjoying everything. Usually you only see them their last night when they want their tip. Very very disappointed with the main show lounge being closed and not told till after we were on ship. This was our 4th carnival cruise and will most likely go back to another cruise line for our next cruise.
This cruise was planned as a family reunion, so the criteria for chosing a ship was based on west coast, warm weather, and January. So Carnival Spirit was the only ship that met everything. Boy, what a bad choice! The only saviong grace on this cruise was that our entire family was onboard. The food was truly bad, the entertainment was poor, the service was well below acceptable, and the ports are uninspiring...except for xtapa.
We have been on 10+ cruises, on most major lines, and this was by far the most disapointing cruise ever! I have given Carnival 4 chances to prove themselves worthy of our business, and they have failed every time...this being the worst. I am not sure why their quality is so far below the other lines, really...I just don't understand it. If you have already booked, remember that the weather will surely be beautiful, if you have not booked...DON'T! Seriously, I have never written a poor review like this before, but Carnival Spirit will do nothing but break you Spirits. Lisa
A letter I sent to Carnival re. on our recent New Year's Eve Cruise Dear Sirs: I would like to call your attention to a recent cruise (December 27, 2004 to Mexico, leaving from San Diego on Carnival Spirit) and the experiences my friends and I had.
There were three of us in cabin #7121, active single adults 50+, all of us haing been on previous Carnival Cruises (Pride, Legend) and enjoyed them immensly. We signed on for the New Year's Eve cruise, paying almost double the regular price, and as a result expected much better service / ammenities / perks than ever before. Obviously, our expectations were not met or I would not be writing this letter!
From Carnival telephone representative Michael Eldridge (who rarely returned our calls), to the terminal staff in San Diego (where our mixed-up boarding passes took about 45 minutes to straighten out by an employee who barely knew how to run a computer), to the staff at the Purser's Desk (who made empty promises), this turned out to be the most disappointing cruise and the worst value of our combined cruising experiences.
Listed are just a fewexamples: 1. Shows (if you can call them that) "Big Band" - a nine piece group, louder than the singers they accompanied Denny Brunk - "Incredible International Recording Artist" - he sang off key and most of the guests walked out of the show Guest Talent (?) Show Pepper - Silent Comedy, many guests walked out. He was followed by..... Stanly Ullman - billed as "Hilarious" Comedy, more guests left. Recreation Staff and Cruise Director - (Where did you ever find them?) performing skits. And on the final night....."Singin' with the Big Band and the Spirit Dancers" - 20 minute show consisting of 2 short numbers by the dancers and a few songs by the band. Guests were sitting there looking at each other and wondering where the rest of the show was. What a way to end a cruise!
2. Our cabin steward, Garth, was extremely unfriendly and provided the least amount of service he could get away with. He kept locking the refrigerator, left someone else's cigarette butts on our veranda, etc. We had to strip our own beds and throw sheets on the floor to get our linens changed.
3. Public restrooms had numerous toilets, hand dryers, etc. that were out of order. Soap and tissue dispensers empty. Bad odors in all restrooms, which sometimes seeped out into the hallways.
4. Speaking of odors ... hallways to guest cabins were always extremely foul smelling, carpeting was filthy, room service trays and dishes seldom picked up off floor.
5. Food in all restaurants including formal dining room was always cold. One bright spot was our dining room server, Alisabet and Assistant Lido Deck Maitre, Zvonko who bent over backwards to make things better.
6. Television. There was no choice of music other than alternative rock. Other ships always had a broad variety of music. Movies were not as listed in daily newsletter. The same three movies played over and over all 8 days of the cruise.
7. Kids .... pre-school age and up everywhere! In the adult lounges, sitting at the bars, doing cartwheels on the dance floors, in the adult pool and spa, running down the hallways. Where was security?
This is just the tip of the iceburg. We sincerely hope this is not an example off what Carnival Cruise Lines has deteriorated to, and if so, what is happening on their affilliate lines?
We have decided, obviously not to cruise Carnival again soon unless we hear that condoitions have changed.
I know its late in the season but maybe this report of our trip will be of some value to people who are heading to Alaska next year. Three of us went on our trip - me, my husband and my sister-in-law. All in our mid 50's. We all had a wonderful time. Although some reports say that Carnival ships including the Spirit are over done, it is done on such a grand scale that it is impressive. Lots of bronzes and rich reds. Plenty of lounges to sit and people watch. The casino was large and my husband did well there. Although the ship carries about 2200 passengers it never felt crowed except when you were trying to disembark in port. If you timed your departure a little later there was no problem. The dining room is well appointed and the service was friendly and effecient. Our waiter Marion from Roumania and his assistant Katalin from Hungary were wonderful. He was the clown and she was his straight man. They made our meals very enjoyable.
The ship was easy to get around after the first day or so as longas you remembered which way was forward and which way was aft. The entertainment was varied and mostly good. It was geared to an older crowd. I would say that the vast majority of people on the ship were in their 70s and 80s. The next lagest group were in their 50s and 60s. The rest of the people were in their 40s with a few 20s and 30s. Camp Carnival must have done a wonderful job because there were 60 children onboard whom you never saw. Towel animals were funny and I enjoyed seeing the different ones each night. More announcements than on Celebrity ships but not so many that they were annoying. Food generally good with some dishes really good. Desserts were tasty. Lobster was awful. If you are a big eater you probably would not have been happy with the portion sizes which were small. However, you could always ask for more including more desserts.
8/28 Flew from Fort Lauderdale to Anchorage on Delta through Atlanta. Flight was long but uneventful. Just before we arrived in Anchorage we flew over quite a few glaciers which were visible on the right side of plane. It was an amazing first sight of Alaska. Got into Anchorage quite late, picked up our rental car from Avis and went to the hotel. I booked the Sheraton through Price Line and got rooms for $129.00 per night. Rooms were comfortable and clean.
8/29 Drove to Denali which took us a little more than 5 hours to get there. That included a stop for lunch just before the pull out to get your first glimpse of McKinley. However, there was no McKinley. Too much smoke in the air from the fires north of Fairbanks. We stayed at the Denali River Cabins right on the Nenana River. What a wonderful way to sleep with the sound of rushing water. Booked them ahead of time - $139.00 per night. Went into Denali Park in the late afternoon and visited the kennels and watched a dog sled demonstration. Fun to see the dogs and the puppies.
8/30 Woke up real early to be at the Park by 7:30 to start our trek on the shuttle into the park. Thanks to the advice of people who had taken the trip before we took the shuttle to Eilson Visitors Center and saw a lot of wildlife but no McKinley - still obscured by smoke. Grizzly bears (at least 8 or 9), Dall sheep, eagles, 1 lone wolf by the river (pretty far away) and a herd of caribu - no moose. Our bus driver Cissy was wonderful she really told us alot about the Park and the animals. It was really really really cold when we started out in the early morning, especially if you are from South Florida. We had to scrape ice off our windshield in the mornings.
8/31 Got up early again and started back to Anchorage. Stopped in Talkeetna on the way back so my sister-in-law could take a plane ride to try to see Mt. McKinley. She was successful. The pilot was able to get above the clouds and they had a clear view of the summit. Stopped in Palmer to see the Alaska State Fair which was fun. Had really good fried halibut at the Fair. Saw the huge vegetables which won the prizes. Went on to Anchorage and stayed overnight again at the Sheraton.
So far the weather had been fairly nice. No rain and some sun. But the weather got nasty once we got to Whittier to get on the ship.
9/1 Left Anchorage and drove to Whittier. Started to rain on the way and was raining fairly hard by the time we got to the ship. We dropped off the bags and my husband turned the car in at Avis. I think Avis is the only car rental agency which has a drop off in Whittier. It was a $100.00 drop off charge but with 3 people it was cheaper and more convenient than trying to get transportation from Anchorage with the cruise ship. The most important benefit is if you arrive between trains or buses there is no one there and check in is a snap. Check in was painless since there were only about 6 people ahead of us. The agents were efficient and friendly. Again no line at security. Got our picture taken and got on the ship. Only complaint was you had to go out in the rain to get on the ship. Small complaint. Got on the ship around 1:30 and had lunch on the Lido deck. Started raining even harder so we couldn't go on deck when the ship was leaving port. Explored the ship, had dinner (lobster which wasn't any good - only bad meal we had) at the open seating and went to bed since the we would be at College Fjord early the next morning.
9/2 Woke up at six am to make sure we didn't miss the glaciers. We stopped in front of Harvard glacier for way over an hour. Saw the glacier calve - amazing sight. The cruise through the Sound was smooth but things really started rocking when we got to the Gulf of Alaska. Don't know if it was true but the crew said the waves were 12 feet with 40 MPH winds. Really rough. Dinner was sparsely attended since the majority of the passengers were sea sick. It was our first formal night. Made it kind of hard to walk all dressed up. The entertainment was cancelled because the weather was too rough. It was rescheduled for later in the cruise.
9/3 Arrived at our first port - Sitka. Still raining. My husband went on the fishing shore excursion though the ship and caught a decent size salmon which will be shipped home. Probably the most expensive salmon we will ever eat. My sister-in-law and I went on the Captain's Choice Beach Walk (in the rain of course). Saw whales, eagles, sea otters (a mama with her baby on her chest)and a sea lion when we returned to the dock. We tendered in which is a lengthy process. Most of the time you sit and wait for your number to be called. Sitka was the only port whre we had to tender. That night we ate in the Supper Club. The food and the service was first rate. The $25.00 premium was well worth the extra money.
9/4 Next port - Juneau - We were there until 11:00pm. We had booked a whale watch with Orca Enterprises with Cap'n Larry. Great time. Small boat - only 20+ people. Saw humpback whales and an island with hundreds of sea lions. And of course we saw eagles. Walked around town and then went back to the ship when it started to rain again. When we got back to the ship there was an eagle in a tree right outside our balcony.
9/5 Skagway - early morning ship excursion hike in a forest and a float trip down the river. It was booked as moderate activity, however, there was a lot of climbing up and a lot of climbing down over slippery rocks, tree roots and mud. I think it was more intense than moderate. But it was fun. I came back to the ship muddy and cold. Went back into town and it started to rain hard. People who took the White Pass train in the afternoon didn't see much since it was snowing at the pass.
9/6 Ketchikan - sun glorious sun. The port that was supposed to have the most rain was the only place we had any sun. Fun town to walk around. Don't miss Creek Street. Salmon were running when we were there. I had booked a tour with Island Wings to go bear watching. It was incredible. Although we only saw one bear, he/she was there for quite a while. The bear was running up and down the stream catching salmon, biting off their heads and going after another one. Finally the bear came up onto the road less than 20 yards from where we (4 of us) were standing on the logging road bridge, looked us over and ambled off. Walked back to the sea plane dock (about 2 miles) and waited for Michele to pick us up. On the way back we flew through some of the fjords and saw about 50 mountain goats on a ridge. Got back to the ship with about 15 minutes to spare.
9/7 Cruising through the inside passage on our way to Vancouver. Passed by a pod of Killer Whales and saw several dolphin. Of course it was raining again.
9/8 Arrived in Vancouver. Since we were making our own way to our hotel we were one of the last people to leave the ship. The line for taxis was extremely long so we took a limo to the hotel instead. We stayed at the Sheraton Wall Center (4 star hotel)which I got through Hotline for $49.00 per night. Walked downtown and then it started raining again.
9/9 Took a day trip to Victoria whale watching. Finally we saw sun. Expensive and not worth it. Saw more whales on the ferry over than on the whale watch. We had been to Victoria over 10 years ago and it was more fun then. Fewer boats and more whales. Wouldn't recommend the day trip to Victoria.
9/10 Got to the airport with no problem, no lines at Delta or at security. Flight home uneventful.
We found the Carnival spirit to be a very nice cruise ship. Overall, received good service and attention from the staff. The ship interior is quite nice - nicer than I had expected. This was our second cruise (first was in the Carribbean) and we came away with four key lessons learned:
1. The 7-day Northbound Alaska cruise is the best to select. This is what we had and I'm so glad we did. The Northbound trip saves the best scenery and glaciers for the last. The roundtrip cruises that take you back to Vancouver would miss the sights of the last two days of Prince William Sound and College Fjord which, in my opinion, was the photographic jewel of the trip.
2. If you can afford to do so, upgrade to a suite. At a minimum, you absolutely must have an outside balcony. I decided to upgrade to a suite several months before the cruise and IT WAS THE BEST DECISION I'VE EVER MADE. Of all cruise destinations, ALASKA IS THE ONE cruise where you truly get value of an outisde balcony because you are seeing sights all the timealong the way. For most cruises, all the outside balcony lets you see is ocean - no big dealt. On an Alaska cruise, you'll see beautfiul scenery, glaciers and wildlife galore. I found about 2/3rds of all the pictures I took were from our room balcony and I got some absolutely beautiful, postcard-like pictures that will I will have for my lifetime.
3. Select a room on the port (i.e, left) side of the ship. Our room was on the port side and I was wondering if it was the better side or not. In the end, think the port side has the slight edge for the Northbound cruises as you'll see the other side of the Inland Passage and the numerous other small isles along the way. The starboard (i.e., right) side on the Northbound route lets you see more coastline but I really think the port side provides a slight advantage for sightseeing and picture taking.
4. Take the GrandView train from Whittier to Anchorage ..and by all means, DO NOT PACK AWAY YOUR CAMERA IN YOUR LUGGAGE for the flight home! The train enables you see much more beautiful sights than the bus trip to Anchorage. Take the train (thru Carnival's connection/excursion with the Alaska Railroad) to Anchorage and enjoy the opportunity for more breathtaking pics.
Embarkation from Vancouver was relatively painless - total time from getting off the plane to sitting on the Lido Deck with a "beverage" was 3 hours. The luggage went directly from plane to ship which was both nice and scary. Nice because we didn't have to mess with it and scary because I feared that it would disappear and we'd spend the entire week wearing the same clothes! However within 2 hours of when we first stepped on the Spirit, our luggage was outside our cabin door. We had booked a 8a guaranty. When I received our docs, I checked the back of the Sail & Sign card. It showed our booking number and then 7178 which in fact turned out to be our assigned cabin (Veranda Deck; Portside with a nice balcony).
Although the Spirit is quite large, we found it easy to navigate and it never seemed crowded. We spent a lot of time on Lido Deck and occasionally had the outdoor pool to ourselves. Food on Lido was good - enough variety to keep everyone happy. Only used Dining Room a few times. Again food was good, butwe just didn't want to have to stop whatever we were doing to dress for dinner.
Kids enjoyed the ship and joined a lot of the teen activities - including disco, trivia games, putting contests, and especially the late night dodge ball games. My 17 y/o felt there were a lot of things geared toward her age group, but my 13 y/o didn't. Most of the stuff was either for under 12 or the 15-17 age group. He tended to just do the sports things in the 15-17 age group and stayed away from the rest of the activities.
Since it was Alaska, the scenery was gorgeous. We were really glad we booked a balcony and spent a considerable amount of time just enjoying the view. Weather was excellent - sunny and warm. We actually spent almost the entire cruise in shorts/tee-shirts (although we're from Wisconsin so maybe we're just used to cooler weather?)
We booked 2 excursions on our own: Floatplane in Ketchikan via Family Air and whale watching in Juneau with Orca Enterprises. Floatplane was fun and Family Air gave us a great tour with a stop on a small lake to step outside, walk around and even try to catch fish. Whale watching w/Capt Larry was great too. On Saturday morning, they announced we'd be 2 hrs late getting into Juneau. I was able to call Orca Enterprises via cell phone (from our balcony) and they already knew of the anticipated delay. They held the excursion for us and another couple from the Spirit. Turned out there were only 18 passengers so we had plenty of space to move around. I know all the excursions see whales because all the boats tended to congregate in the same areas, but we really liked being on a smaller boat with fewer passengers.
We also booked a couple excursions thru the ship using the interative tv feature. The kids and I went on the Sea Otter Quest in Sitka while my husband went on the Advanced Hiking/Biking. We all enjoyed our respective excursions. Tender in Sitka wasn't too bad although it was the only time we encountered people cutting the lines - (we referred to them as sightings of the "grey-hair budders")
Since we had a late flight out of Anchorage, we added the Blackstone Glacier Adventure Cruise out of Whittier. It was an awesome way to end our trip. Great cruise and probably the best meal we had the entire trip. They served a halibut lunch that was to die for - complete with warm choc chip cookies for dessert. After the excursion, we then all boarded a bus to Anchorage where we were reunited with our luggage at the Eagen Center. Since the line waiting for the transportation to the airport was still quite long at 6 pm, we opted to just take a taxi. Cost was $20 (15 plus tip) which seemed like a bargain when the alternative was standing in line on the sidewalk in Anchorage.
For a first cruise, I think this trip set the bar high for future cruises. There weren't any glitches and overall we thought all the staff and other passengers were pleasant. My advice echos all the other posters: Take half the clothes and twice the $$!
I wrote this to a friend to describe our Alaska vacation and thought others might be interested. We were a group of five, 2 parents, grandmother, daughter (12) and son (9). We traveled on the Carnival Spirit southbound starting 6/9/2004. This was my husband and my second cruise and our children's first cruise. The first portion of the description is more oriented to the ports of call, with comments on the ship following.
For our trip, we flew into Anchorage. Second day we woke up to drizzly rain. I think this is typical for Alaska. We drove up to Talkeetna, which is a small town about 1/2 way to Denali Park. There we planned to take a flightseeing trip around Mt. McKinley, but it wasn't to be. The mountain remained hidden all day. So we had lunch, walked around town and the took the last horseback riding tour of the day. Turned out pretty nice as we went along the Talkeetna river and had several water crossing due to the river being high. Afterwards it was back to Anchorage.
Third day we took the Alaska Railroad to Whittier. This was a veryscenic ride with mountains, glaciers, the sound and a few sheep along the way. We boarded our ship upon arrival and spent the afternoon walking around.
Forth day we woke up to find mountains and glaciers just outside the window. Having a balcony room was wonderful and highly recommended for a trip with so much scenery just outside the window. Our ship pulled up to within 600 feet of the Harvard Glacier and just sat there for awhile. The glacier is very white and blue, with pieces of it falling off every minute or so. This was a great way to start our cruise and a big plus for cruising southbound. We spent the day viewing the scenery. Doug found time to go swimming. He also especially enjoyed a big lawn sized chess set that was setup on the back of the Lido deck. By now the man at the pizza counter knew Doug personally as he had made several trips there. Keri and I went on a ship treasure hunt. Our team won first place, a plastic model of the ship.
Fifth day was our first port, Sitka. This was the only port that we had to tender into. Here one of the "mountains" is a volcano and we had enough visibility to see it from the ship. We started the day with a 3 hour "Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest". The tour was done from a large catamaran boat. We spent about an hour watching Humpback whales, then cruised closer to the shore to see sea otters, seals and an eagles nest. The tour left us in Sitka, where we had time to walk around town, visit a Russian church and then onto a park. The park had a nice walk with various totem poles along the way. Back on ship Doug found time to play more chess and do more swimming. Meanwhile Keri was finding ship life boring, as she was unwilling to meet anyone her own age.
Sixth day was Juneau, Mike's favorite city. We got off the boat and meet up with ERA Aviation for a wonderful excursion. Started with a helicopter ride over four glaciers, with mountains all around. We landed on a snow covered valley where a dog sledding camp was erected. Over two hundred dogs, each with its own little house. We met an experienced musher, mine had come in 3rd place in the Yukon Quest. Then we set off on a dogsled ride. Kids and adults alike all enjoyed the trip, including the time at the end where we petted the dogs and talked with our musher guide. All too quickly the helicopters where back with the next batch of customers. We were flown back to the airport and then dropped off by our ship. After lunch, we headed into Juneau. Mike visits state capitals and this was the last one on his list. Mike and Dolores toured the capital building, while Doug and I visited the Douglas City Museum just across the street. The museum was small, but had a nice mining exhibit as well as a display of the original entrys for the Alaska state flag contest.
Next day we were in Skagway. Keri loves horses, so I found a tour online through Southeast Tours. We walked into town where their van picked us up and drove us through White Pass and then into the Yukon. The scenery is wonderful and our driver told us the history of the gold rush as we went along. He had a good sense of humor that fit right in with Doug. He tried to out do Doug on seemly random facts and then tried to trick Doug with a knock-knock joke (but failed). We stopped several times to take pictures of mountains reflected in the lakes. Our last stop was at Emerald Lake, then on to horseback riding. This was the highlight of Keri's trip. She liked the ride because they went up and down hills allowing the horse to actually run at times. We stopped at a lookout over Emerald Lake. We also got off our horse at the midpoint of the ride and walked up a hill to an overlook. Hugh valley with a river at the bottom. It seemed like we were the only people in the whole area. We had been a bit nervous about trying this tour with Dolores, but she enjoyed the trip as well. The only problem with this tour was it's length (6 hours including the ride both ways). We got back to Skagway about an hour to spare. Luckily the town is small and we used the time to do some shopping.
Next port was Ketchikan. Again we started with a tour, this time a float plane ride with Island Tours. We were picked up at the cruise dock. A short drive brought us to their float plane dock. Then it was off into the sky. Saw a few Orcas from above and then flew into the Misty Fjord's National Monument. Just wonderful scenery. You can see so much from the air. We landed on a lake and the kids hiked a short way up a small stream/waterfall. When we landed back at the dock there were about 50 eagles circling the water near by. They were feeding on something. What a show. Again we spent the afternoon walking/shopping in town.
Next day was cruising through inside passage toward Vancouver. Nice scenery, but not as breath taking as what we had left behind. Doug finally caught up with camp Carnival where he colored a t-shirt and played games on the computers. Keri and Doug both entered an ice cream eating contest, with Keri coming in first for her age group (another ship model was awarded).
Debarkation in Vancouver went fairly smoothly, though getting a rental car from the port was a bit of a pain in the neck. We head for Capilano Suspension Bridge, a nice but smaller sized park. The bridge is very high and long. They also have built a path through the treetops. You traverse smaller suspension bridges that are hung between large Douglas Firs. The forest is described as a rainforest, but seems like a normal evergreen forest. I guess I think of tropical plants with the term rainforest. There is a nice (though short) path to follow through the woods. The kids liked the length, but Mike and I might have preferred it to be more of a hike. We ate lunch just across the street from the park. The food was good, but a bit on the high price side for what we had. We spent the night at Landis Hotel. This was nice for a family, as we were able to get a suite that was very spacious. That evening we walked down to a path that takes you through Stanley park. Doug played on the rocks and in the sand.
Next day it was on to the airport. We sailed through US customs and then security. We had heard this could take hours, but it only took 15 minutes.
Weather on our trip depends on your point of view. We had rain in Anchorage. Then overcast skies for two days. In Sitka the cruise director told us it was the best she had see all season, though we had light showers in the morning. Juneau was clear skies. Skagway started out with a beautiful morning. A couple of raindrops just as our horseback tour was ending, then it poured down raining for our return trip to the town. Ketchikan was again overcast and we hit showers in the Misty Fjords. We also had sunny skies in Vancouver. For me this weather was fine, but for Mike a bit of a downer. He gets depressed with too many cloudy days.
This was Mike and my second cruise. First one on a Celebrity ship and this one on Carnival Spirit. We found ourselves comparing the cruises constantly. Perhaps with more cruises we would stop that habit. Our Carnival crew was great. Cabin steward kept our rooms in order and left us animals made of towels every evening. Our favorite was a monkey that was hanging from the ceiling. Our waiters at dinner were very nice, though they seemed to be at bit rushed. The waiters did a great job of entertaining us each evening with a dance or song. The Camp Carnival crew were very friendly and seemed to enjoy working with children.
The decor of the Spirit is a bit on the loud side but I actually liked most of the art pieces around the ship. The ship layout allows for the hugh amount of people to move freely. Our only crowds were just before dinner in the evening. Doug was disappointed that the slide did not operate on our cruise, though this was understandable since it was outside. He did like the indoor pool and we appreciated the fact that it stayed open until 9 or 10pm each evening.
We enjoyed our food on the Spirit. The Lido deck buffet style food was surprisingly good. I often find buffet food overcooked, but they had a couple of chefs at each station. There was quite a variety of styles. We liked the Chinese, especially the soup. The carvery made good sandwiches. Doug loved the pizza. Keri and I enjoyed a salmon and caper pizza. While Mike and I found the calzone covered in pesto sauce to be enjoyable. At breakfast time I fell in love with the puff pastries. Very light, with either apple or custard filling. Our entire party loved the soft serve yogurt/ice cream, that was available 24 hours a day. Main seating breakfast wasn't anything spectacular and we only did it once. Main seating dinner was a bit better after the first night. Not sure what happened that night, but every dish (except dessert) was tasteless. Also found that Carnival doesn't know how to make a cheesecake. I tried every one that was offered (this is one of my favorite desserts), but all were lacking the rich creamy flavor I expect. Carnival's midnight buffet was a bit of a disappointment. Only a couple of ice carvings. They had a couple of good desserts, but I was expecting more. They also needed to do a better job of controlling the flow of people.
If you haven't cruised before food one is thing that you may want to lower your expectations on before you go. We had always heard about the wonderful food on cruises. There is certainly plenty to eat and we all gained several pounds. However I have eaten at many very nice landside restaurants and for the most part they are significantly better. The food on both our cruises was good and some dishes were very good, but it wasn't excellent. However, the food is a very good value for the price of a cruise. Especially, since you have breakfast, lunch, dinner and all snacks included. Once you set your expectations correctly everything is fine.
Our favorite entertainment on Carnival was the dancers and singer combination acts. There were two of these. We were surprised to find the acts and songs oriented to an older crowd. They actually seemed to be a bit more for those older than us and certainly were of no interest to our kids. Dolores enjoyed the Big Band night quite a bit.
Overall I loved Alaska and would return without hesitation. Mike enjoyed himself, but the weather just wasn't quite good enough. He has many other places on his list, before he will think of returning. We found Alaska to be a good destination for families, because the kids liked the excursions as much as we did. Also, the excursions were exciting, but not too taxing for Dolores. Carnival provided a good value for our money. Great room size and very child friendly.