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.
Facts and Figures: Built and Delivered: April 2001 Gross Tonnage: 88,500 Length: 963 feet Beam: 105.7 feet Passenger Capacity: 2,124 Crew: 930 Captain: Marco Nogara & Pier Paolo Scala Hotel Director: Duncan Puttock Cruise Director: Michael Mullane Cruise Pictures: http://public.fotki.com/eroller/carnival_spirit/
Personal Cruise History: I'm 37 years old and reside in Atlanta, GA. My cruising history started at the young age of 12 on the beautiful Italian Liner LEONARDO DA VINCI. She remains my all time favorite ship. Since the LEONARDO, I've somehow racked up well over 50 cruises on all the major cruise lines (9 on Carnival), and a few of the not so major lines. I'm not loyal to any one line and generally like to try out any new ship or design. I'm also a big fan of the classic liners, and some of my best remembered voyages have been on these lovely old ladies. Unfortunately classic ships are few and far between in today's world of super-sized mega-liners. On this cruise I traveled with Christopffre, my partner of 8 years.
Pre-Cruise: We flew from Atlanta to Miami three days early to enjoy the fun and sun of South Beach. We werenot disappointed. Our convertible was rented though Alamo and we stayed at the Fontainebleau Hilton on Miami Beach. We secured the hotel reservation through Priceline at $90 per night. This was a great deal considering the time of year and the same room normally goes for over $200 per night. Upon arrival we were upgraded to an ocean view room on the 15th floor. It's amazing what a pleasant email to the Hotel Director beforehand can do for you. The room was a bit outdated but clean and huge. There was a giant walk-in closet and of course the wrap-around windows looking directly at the ocean and down Miami Beach. It was a wonderful view to wake up to every morning. In Miami we enjoyed dinner with friends at the Tides Hotel on South Beach and Deco Weekend. We also met up with friends in Ft. Lauderdale and Hollywood for dinner. The dinners certainly kept us busy between shopping and enjoying the beautiful hotel pool. The only negative about the hotel was the $17 per day charge for valet parking. There is no way around this and since the hotel also accommodates many conventions, the wait for your car can be lengthy.
Embarkation: One of the great things about renting through Alamo is the free transportation to the Miami Pier from their Miami airport location. Before retuning the car we dropped our luggage off at Pier 8, which is where CARNIVAL SPIRIT departed from. It was quite busy as Carnival's PARADISE and CARNIVAL VICTORY were also in port. After returning our car and taking the complimentary shuttle back to the pier, it was time to check-in. We had already filled out Carnival's new "Fun Pass" registration information online beforehand so we were all set. There were two lines, one for "Fun Pass" and one for those that did not complete registration in advance. Both lines looked equal in length, but we opted for the Fun Pass line. It moved very quickly and we were onboard the ship in about a half hour. Good job Carnival!
Cabin: Our cabin was a category 7A, number 5236. I personally picked out this cabin as it offers a triple size balcony at no extra charge. The location was excellent, with no noise even though the aft stairs and elevators were practically at our door. As I hoped the balcony was very large. The width was the same as all the other balconies, but the length was three times as long. There were three chairs and a table on the balcony, as well as night lighting with individual controls inside the cabin. Category 7A is sold as "obstructed view" by Carnival, and the obstruction is that lifeboats are located directly below the balcony. In no way do they block your view looking straight out, but they do block your view looking down. I have a picture that will give you a better understanding. Like all Spirit Class standard cabins, ours measured 185 square feet, had an excellent layout and design, more than adequate storage space, and was very comfortable and functional. Standard features are two lower beds convertible to a queen size, a sofa, safe, interactive TV (Fun Vision) with remote, and mini-bar. The bath contained a nice sized shower with tons of water pressure, a great showerhead, soap, shampoo, conditioner, and a complimentary assortment of personal care items such as toothpaste, dental floss, and lotion. There is also a comprehensive cabin directory, a Ports of Call book, and a CARNIVAL SPIRIT Inaugural book detailing the construction of the ship. Two complimentary bathrobes round out the list of amenities. I ordered some flowers and homemade cookies through Carnival online, and both were waiting for us when we arrived. Let me just say the cookies are well worth the cost! We enjoyed them the entire cruise. Our Cabin Steward Bonifacio introduced himself and delivered our luggage soon after we arrived, and did a superb job the entire cruise.
Ship: Much has already been written about CARNIVAL SPIRIT, so I won't go into details about every area of the ship. I will say that SPIRIT and CARNIVAL PRIDE are my two favorite Carnival ships. CARNIVAL SPIRIT is probably the most toned down of any Carnival ship, and this might have something to do with the fact that she is essentially Carnival's expedition ship. SPIRIT is the ship that travels through the Panama Canal, to Hawaii, and Alaska when not cruising the Caribbean. She is also fast, and we averaged 20-23 knots during all our days at sea. Many have stated they feel the Spirit Class ships have a tendency to move more then other Carnival ships, but I don't feel this is the case at all. Even at 23 knots you could barely notice any movement, except for some vibration in the aft section of the dining room, which is typical. I also enjoy the overall layout of the Spirit Class over all the other Carnival ships. The passenger flow is excellent and there are very few bottlenecks. Very rarely did the ship ever feel crowded, especially when compared to the CONQUEST, which I sailed on last July. Regarding the décor, it's actually very tasteful yet interesting. My partner who is not a fan of Carnival (until this cruise) even stated he would not have guessed it was a Carnival ship had he not known.
Pools/Spa: The pools, gym, and spa are important features for me, which is why they have their own category. I'm happy to report that all three are excellent on SPIRIT. The gym has all the latest equipment, is two levels, and has beautiful forward facing views. European techno music is blasted which is perfect to work out to. In the center is an adult's only hot tub, and to each side are men's and women's changing areas. Each changing area has wonderful private showers with five showerheads in each stall. Both the men and women have their own steam room and sauna as well. A unique feature is the steam room and sauna both have floor to ceiling windows, which face the ocean. Nice touch!
The pools on SPIRIT are also exceptional. There are three all together, saltwater, and each fairly large with a nice splash area if you don't want to get completely wet. One pool can be covered (not needed on our cruise) and also houses the afternoon band. Another pool is all the way aft with beautiful views of the ship's wake, and the third pool is directly mid-ship and is the quiet pool. Deck chairs were plentiful and there was little problem getting a good spot on this cruise, even if you didn't make it out on deck until noon like us. Of course no Carnival ship would be complete without a large slide, and SPIRIT is no exception. It's located all the way aft and doesn't actually connect to any of the pools as on other Carnival ships.
Food: Food is a very subjective topic, but my personal opinion is that it was excellent all around. Great quality, presentation, temperature, variety, and taste. I would rate it above recent cruises on Cunard, Princess, and Holland America. The selection at the La Playa Lido restaurant was excellent, and there were many different stations that offered various selections of regional food. The "Taste of Nations" section changed everyday to a different part of the world. Some of the other sections were a grill, deli, Asian section, pizza, salad and fruit bar, desert bar, ice cream stations, and rotisserie. Delicious soft serve ice cream and frozen yogurt, along with pizza and salads were available 24 hours along with room service.
Dining room cuisine was also excellent, and we enjoyed a wonderful table for two on the upper balcony, second sitting. I can't think of a single evening where there was not something on the menu that was truly appealing, and in each case it was delicious. Lobster, Beef Wellington, Filet Mignon, grilled shrimp, Steak Diane, rack of lamb, and Prime Rib were just a few of the choices.
One evening we also dined in the Nouveau Supper Club. This is the extra tariff specialty restaurant high up in the ship that costs $25 per person. It was well worth it as both the food and service were incredible. The other nice thing is that it is a true Supper Club, complete with it's own bar, dance floor, and live trio. The trio was excellent and many enjoyed a dance between dinner courses. The overall atmosphere was exquisite.
Service: For the most part service was excellent. Our main contact with the staff consisted of our cabin steward, dining room waiter, and dining room assistant. We could not have asked for better in each regard. Our waiter was so eager to please that he almost insisted on bringing an extra entrée, appetizer, or desert each evening just so we could try it. If we said no, it was almost like we were hurting his feelings. He was a true gem, along with his assistant Olga from Eastern Europe.
Our cabin steward did an amazing job, and without ever disturbing us which is the sign of a truly great steward. You would rarely see him, but sure enough every time you returned to the cabin it was cleaned, towels refreshed, and beds either turned down or made up. He also left us 4-5 of Carnival's trade mark "towel animals" which are always fun. Apparently the towel animals are so popular that Carnival now sells them in the gift shop. They are a miniature version and not real towels, but they look just like the real thing. Smart marketing on the part of Carnival.
Entertainment and Activities: In true Carnival fashion there was a huge variety of entertainment every night. Jazz, piano bar, disco, slow dancing, karaoke, sing-a-long, production shows, late night comedy, magicians, passenger talent show, etc. Even the casino had a live band and sitting area, which reminded one of Las Vegas. There were two production shows, "Standing Room Only", and "High Spirits". Both were good, but I've seen better on other Carnival ships. A third show called "Singin with the Band" stars 15-year Carnival veteran Christopher Alan Graves. This is his own production show that is a tribute to Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. This was probably my favorite show and I also enjoyed meeting Christopher for drinks afterward (he is a personal friend of my brother).
Daytime activities were typical Carnival, with many just for fun activities and plenty that were revenue producing as well. One thing I noticed was the toning down of PA announcements. Thankfully they were kept to about three a day which I think is acceptable. This was actually less then we experienced on the MAASDAM last June. I'm not sure if this is a new Carnival policy (I hope so) or just the style of this particular Cruise Director, but it was welcomed.
Fellow Passengers: As this cruise was 8-days during school time, there were not that many children and the average age was probably older then what people typically think of Carnival. While certainly not sedate by any means, this was not the drink until you drop crowd either. The disco was crowded on a couple nights (especially the last formal night when all the crew attended) but barely attended on others. We found our fellow passengers to be very pleasant and a pleasure to cruise with. No rowdiness, drunkenness, or obscene behavior was witnessed on this cruise. Everyone seemed to have a great time but were respectful of others.
Weather: I can't remember when I've had such consistently great weather on a cruise and pre-cruise. Everyday was sunny, warm, and in the mid-eighties. The only exceptions were embarkation afternoon in Miami and our day in Martinique, which were cloudy with some off and on rain. Seas were also calm, and dead calm on a few occasions.
Ports: Ports of call were St. Maarten, Barbados, and Martinique. We did not take any tours so I can't comment on them. We had been to all three ports before so we just took it easy, walked off the ship after the hordes had disembarked, and toured around on our own. I did meet up with several QM2 passengers in Barbados, which I had arranged in advance. It was great to hear all about the new QM2 from first hand experience over cocktails and Banks Beer.
Debarkation: Carnival has an excellent new debarkation process for passengers that can carry off all their own luggage and are US citizens with proper ID. If you meet these qualifications then you are the very first group to debark the ship, and do not have to wait for all the luggage to be off-loaded. We were cleared off the ship at about 7:40am, took a cab to the airport, and were able to make a 9:40am flight to Atlanta with plenty of time to spare. It's was great pulling into our driveway just after noon, having just disembarked a cruise earlier that morning. It was one of the quickest and painless debarkations of a mega-ship I have yet to experience.
Ship Spotting: Since I am an avid ship lover, one of the pleasures of cruising for me is spotting other cruise ships. I must be one of the few people that actually enjoy crowded Caribbean ports full of other cruise liners! I learned early on that Cunard's new QM2 would be docked with us in Barbados, and this was certainly a highlight for me. The ship is absolutely spectacular and is a must-sail for me. Overall this was a great cruise for ship spotting. Here is a list of all the ships seen in order during the cruise. PARADISE, CARNIVAL VICTORY, NORWEGIAN SUN, VOYAGER OF THE SEAS, MILLENNIUM, CARNIVAL TRIUMPH, OOSTERDAM, RADIANCE OF THE SEAS, OCEANA, SEVEN SEAS NAVIGATOR, QUEEN MARY 2, COSTA CLASSICA, EUROPEAN VISION, CRYSTAL SYMPHONY, ROYAL CLIPPER, CLUB MED 2, FACINATION, MAJESTY OF THE SEAS, BRILLIANCE OF THE SEAS, OLYMPIA VOYAGER.
Room for Improvement: Nothing is perfect, but there really was very little I was not satisfied with. Here are a few items I thought Carnival could improve upon.
The cabin TV needs additional free programming. There were plenty of pay-per-view movies, but only one free movie per day, and not a very good one at that.
I wish Carnival would go back to supplying pool towels by the pool. I hate having to guard my towel and take it back and forth to the cabin. I know this is an attempt to curtail chair saving but there must be a better way.
The Photo Shop ran out of the stuffed "Fun Ship Freddie's" by the second day of the cruise. They sell them at $15 a pop and they are cuter then the actual live mascot. I don't know why, but I really wanted one and was out of luck.
The gym is only open until 8pm and should be open at least until 11pm, or better yet, 24 hours.
Bar service was extremely slow, especially in the dining room and show lounge. This came as a surprise since during past Carnival cruises you virtually had to fight off the pestering bar waiters. Maybe Carnival is trying to be more low-key, but in any case it was annoyingly slow
Finally, the fantail deck area on Lido Deck 9 used to be teak. For some reason Carnival covered it over with a rubberized surface made to look like wood. I don't know why they did this? Thankfully teak is still used on the outdoor wrap-around promenade deck and a good portion of Sun Deck.
Conclusion: As I'm sure you gathered, we truly enjoyed ourselves on the CARNIVAL SPIRIT. Considering the price we paid and what we received in return it was a tremendous value. Would we sail on Carnival again? Absolutely! Carnival seems to shine best during the off-season when the ships are not filled to over 100% capacity with teens and children. The staff gives better service and is far less stressed. I also liked the fact it was not a typical "Spring Break" crowd as I'm getting a little old for that. For these reasons, future Carnival cruises will be on the Spirit Class, 7-days or longer, and during the off-season. I think for me personally that will help guarantee a successful cruise.
Pictures Site: Unfortunately my digital camera died just before this cruise began, so it was back to my old standby. I decided to try Kodak's 800-speed multi-use film with "blur-reduction" technology. I think it was a mistake as the pictures turned out too grainy. In the future, I will use film no faster then 400-speed. The Pictures are arranged into several different folders, each with it's own category. This way you can look at the pictures that interest you the most, without having to thumb through the entire lot.
My husband and I, and my brother and his girlfriend enjoyed ourselves immensely on the January 10th sailing of the Carnival Spirit. We departed Miami, and went to Belize, Costa Rica and Panama.
Embarkation - We were at the dock shortly before noon, and we were boarding by 12:10. Lines were short and moved quick. We had done online paperwork, but we didn't even get into the Funpass line, as it wasn't necessary. This was great!
The Ship - The Spirit is a beautiful ship! The atrium is awe-inspiring and gorgeous with all the rich-looking wood and antique copper. The Pharoah's Palace is amazingly detailed, as are most of the other public areas. The only area that screams Carnival is the lido deck, otherwise it is muted and classy. Don't forget to check out the Jungle hallway forward - it's very different compared to the decor on the rest of the ship. Also - the Spirit was very clean, all the time. We had relatively smooth sailing - yes, there were a few bumpy times, but only one that was significant, and it was around 2-3am one night.
Cabin - We had abalcony cabin on deck 6 (Empress?). As is typical of Carnival, it was large with a lot of storage space. There are two closets for hanging clothes, one closet with shelves, plus drawers and cabinets under the countertop for lots of stuff. The couch has two drawers underneath. The safe is plenty big for anything you want locked up. The shower is actually big enough to shave in!! and there are 3 shelves on EACH side of the bathroom mirror. We kept our balcony door open with a bungee cord most of the time - fresh air. We had great towel animals every night. Our room was kept very clean, and we had fresh pool towels every night.
Decks - On OUR sailing, there was plenty of deck space. Poolside spots didn't fill until 9:30 - 10am; upper decks didn't fill. I liked having 3 main pool areas, because passengers were not concentrated in only one area. It also seemed like there was just SO MUCH deck space! However, I slightly prefer the tiered decks of the Destiny-class. The lounge chairs are not the most comfortable, but they work (usually!).
Main Dining Room Food - Some was excellent, most was very good. We had every dinner in the Napoleon section of the main dining room. There were only two things declared "only ok" - the escargots and the French onion soup (surprisingly!). My faves included: grilled satay of chicken tenderloin, mushroom cream soup, pumpkin soup, lobster bisque, prime rib (one night was better than the others??), crab legs (night of Costa Rica), shrimp in just about any form, decadence of chocolate (SO GOOD), just about any chocolate dessert, hazelnut creme brulee, hot chocolate souffle (to die for), the pastas are great as appetizers. We had a few breakfasts and a lunch in the main dining room, good, but nothing spectacular.
Lido food - most of it was good to very good. LOVE the goat cheese / mushroom pizza, but it has to be fresh! Burgers were juicy and nummy. Deli is good of course. We tried Indian, which was good. I personally didn't care much for the Chinese food. There are so many options that it's hard to try them all! Love the free 24/7 juices, iced tea, coffee, etc. One small problem - the ice machines frequently were low/empty. There is free 24/7 soft serve ice cream and frozen yogurt - thanks, Carnival, for the choice!
Drinks - Newest fave is the Cappuccino (blended ice drink) - mmmmm nummy. Also love the dirty banana, the BBc, the mudslide.
Main Dining room service - we had the best service ever, thanks to Roland and Amit from India. By the 2nd night, Amit knew I didn't want rolls, and that I had regular coffee and my bro had decaf with dessert. Roland knew the entire table wanted skim milk with the main entree. Both guys kept our water glasses full. Besides extra tips, of course, we also specified those two on our comment cards as being outstanding.
Bar service - unless you really don't want to get up from your lounge, get your own drinks. Servers would come around frequently, but it took a LONG time for them to come back with drinks.
Shows - The big show "High Spirits" on the last formal night was THE BEST we have seen at sea. Don't look for much of a plot, but the costumes, singing, dancing, etc are great. The first big show "Standing Room Only" was good too. The Sinatra / Davis tribute was not our cup of tea, but others seemed to enjoy it. The comedians were ok to good. The Village Idiots missed the boat (literally), so we didn't get to see them.
Music - My favorite musicians were the "Margaret Trio" - absolutely beautiful! "Proverbial Tiger" plays jazz, but is very loud in the little area that they play in. John played piano and sang nicely, usually in the Atrium. The Sing-a-Long with Peter usually was Peter playing obscure songs - definitely not sing-a-long style. "Music Zone" played great rock songs from the 70s, 80s, etc.
Activities - There are tons of activities all the time. Just make sure to check your Capers every night for the next day, and see what you want to do.
Other Services - We didn't use room service, internet, casino, formalities or the spa/salon. We didn't play bingo, and didn't eat at the Supper Club.
Photography - There are backdrops set up every night for the photography staff to take pictures - formal nights there were probably 5 stations set up. We had a lot of photos taken, and some were very good, some were just ok. I think overall the staff does a great job.
Passengers - There seemed to be many more "older" folks than usual for Carnival. Several of us who have cruised with Carnival before were quite amazed at the average age on this particular sailing. On the other hand, there weren't many kids, so that was a bonus!
Belize - cave tubing with Reggie was fun! I would definitely recommend booking through them. There were 16 of us (I think). Jamal and Timmy took great care of us.
Costa Rica - we docked late, and they wouldn't let us off the ship until 12:30. Therefore we didn't have time for ziplining as we had planned. We went horse back riding thru Mambo, but he pulled a bait and switch on us, having the guide take us to a place NOT from the pictures he showed us. We ended up being led around the horses' pasture!!! And they didn't have enough horses, so some of us had to double up. And this was after waiting for one man to slowly get the saddles, and the horses, and saddle them all... We did get some $$ back, but we are still disappointed. Our guide through Mambo did try to make us happy, though. We got to hold a child monkey, and a 3-toed sloth. He would have taken us anywhere we wanted to go, but we just went for food at a restaurant that had a nice view of the dock/ship.
Panama - We did the 2 Oceans by Train. I enjoyed it a lot. Yes, it's expensive, but... now I can say I took a train from the east coast to the west coast and back again in 1 day. We had photo opps of the Bridge of Americas and Panama City. We stopped at the locks, watched an informational film, etc. I enjoyed the train ride, especially going on the outside viewing platform - nice breeze, and good for taking pics. We had different guides for the train and bus parts, and both were good with providing us facts and information.
Disembarkation - we had an early flight, so we opted to carry off our luggage ourself. This is a relatively new Carnival concept - if you have an early flight, you can choose to carry off all your own luggage (no more putting the luggage out the night before!), and Carnival allows this group of people off before anyone else!! We were off the boat at 7:45!! And since you're carrying your own luggage, you don't have to look through the piles of bags on dock.
Negatives - there were only two negatives that stood out to us on this sailing. The first was that we were late to dock at both Costa Rica and Panama. No reasons were given. As stated above, the late docking at Costa Rica prevented us from doing our planned excursion. In Panama, there were a lot of people waiting (and waiting) in the Pharoah's Palace for their excursions. The second negative is that Carnival lets "their" excursion passengers off first, and makes other passengers wait. This occurred at all ports. I don't think this is appropriate - it's like the people who ante up for an expensive excursion through Carnival get preferred treatment. Of course, neither of these little problems are significant at all, in the scheme of things. They were a little disappointing, but have no impact on us sailing with Carnival again.
Overall - hubby and I both rate this cruise fabulous! As noted above, the ship was beautiful, cabin spacious and clean, food nummy, service great, activities suitable for pretty much everyone. We have loved Carnival in the past, love it still, and will continue to cruise with them.
Embarkation: Normally I like to travel a day early but with the Holiday schedule we purchased our air through Carnival. Flights were on time on both embarkation and debarkation day. The shuttles were easy to find and we didn't have to wait long for them to load the buses. We had completed our Fun Pass prior to leaving so the lines moved very quickly for those passengers.
Cabin: We booked in July on an inside guarantee and were assigned Cabin 6117 a 4C category. The cabin was on the 6th deck (passenger deck) forward. The cabin had more than adequate storage with three closets, 2 with hangers and the other one with shelves. The desk had several drawers and with the two bedside tables with drawers we had plenty of storage. The cabin also had a mini bar that we did not have opened but it was nice for ice and glass storage. The addition of the bathrobes is a nice touch.
Empress Dining Room: I think there were 2400 people on board (700 children) so the dining room was crowded. We were assigned to the upper level in a boothfor 4 that they put a chair at the end for a 5th person. This made it awkward for the waiters and passengers to pass and also for the waiter to serve food. The food was great with a variety to pick from each evening.
Lido Food Service: The Lido area offered Chinese, Pizza, Salad Bar, Deli, and Taste of the Nations that changed every day. Because the ship was at capacity this area was usually crowded and at times it was hard to find a seat. That is why we used the Empress Dining Room for breakfast to avoid the crowds. There were always a wide variety of foods to choose from in this area. The Pizza and Ice Cream was available 24 hours a day.
Ports of Call: St. Maarten has a shopping area that you can take a water taxi for $5.00 a day you can ride it all you want. We went into town early to shop. We purchased the normal t-shirts, post cards and linens. In the afternoon we did the Shipwreck Snorkel excursion. They take you to an area where several boats were sunk during a hurricane. We saw a wide variety of fish and have a lot of fish pictures. After you snorkel, they take you on a coastal tour of the island. Barbados has a shopping area not far from the ship. Again, it has the normal souvenir items. They do run buses up and down the pier to this area. There is also more shopping in town. In the afternoon we took a Snorkel trip that was the best I've ever taken. The area had a large number of fish and also many varieties, but the number of fish seemed to be extremely high. Martinique was my least favorite stop. You are only on the island from 7am to 2pm. Since we had snorkeled twice, we decided to just take a cab into town and do some shopping. There was a flea market area that again had your normal souvenir items. The shops downtown were more expensive and there just didn't seem to be anything that interesting there. Probably should have done an island tour that day.
The Ship: While the ship was at capacity, it didn't seem crowded. I actually came out a winner in the Casino. Pharaoh Lounge does have some poor seating areas where your view was obstructed by a pillar. The shows in this Lounge were of a wide variety and very good. (Comedians, jugglers, Broadway show) They also had the Christmas show in this room. The other lounges always had some type of musical entertainment so you could always find somewhere to go for music. The gym and spa area was well equipped and had a whirlpool. This was nice for the days that the ones on deck became crowded.
In summary, a very nice 8-day cruise. I would definitely take this ship and the itinerary again.
This was our second cruise on the Carnival Spirit - that does say a lot already. We have also booked another cruise on its sister, the Pride, since returning - again, that does speak highly of our cruises on the Spirit. Our most recent trip was my 10th cruise in the past 3 years . I hope that emphasizes my observations here. The Spirit is gorgeous - I've never experienced a more opulent ship in terms of design. Read the book in the stateroom, and you will gain even more appreciation of how the designer interpreted different styles of interior design in each public room. But let's start from the start . embarkation.
Once again, we departed on the Spirit from our home port of San Diego, and once again, it was the second to the longest embarkation we've ever experienced - the first time on the Spirit from San Diego it took 4 hours. It took 2 hours to get on the ship this time, due to the key card system failing mid-embarkation. Even though living in San Diego, we prefer to leave from LA ports . we just thinkthey are more capable (and used to) boarding such a larger ship. The best part was upon embarkation, our bags arrived in our cabin in no time flat.
This leads to my favorite aspect of the Spirit class from Carnival - the cabins are a dream! Hands down this is the best balcony cabin we have had on Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian. Closet space is incredible - 3 closet doors to store all your items. One has shelves, but these too can be removed for those with more than 2 adults in the cabin. Moreover, there is plentiful space in the vanity/TV area - we packed books, booze and more in this area with no problem. Finally, under the leather sofa, two expansive drawers could hold a 3rd passenger's things or, in our case, 4 extra pillows and 2 extra blankets. The bath has built in shelves, allowing many people to separate their toiletries. The shower was small (as usual), but it had a removable showerhead, and wall shampoo and shower gel holders. In the cabin itself, you will enjoy a 19-inch TV (the biggest I have ever had), a full-size leather sofa and mini-fridge (stocked with booze, but ask the cabin steward to open, and you can squeeze in milks and water bottles, or the steward will empty it totally). The balcony is small, but great to sit and enjoy the air. (A standard balcony has 2 resin chairs, a small table and one mini-recliner chair). We had an extended balcony the first time on the Spirit and enjoyed the additional walking about space. Our one complaint - the TV service stunk for half the cruise. We like to stay in the room and watch TV on a cruise in the late afternoon/early evening, and all we saw for the first 4 nights were the same movies over and over, and then sports. We got more broadcast channels later in the cruise, which tempers this complaint. (But no close circuit Discovery, Travel Channel etc., as we have become accustomed.)
Gorgeous and over the top in decorating is the only way to describe it. The casino is the brightest I have seen with an incredible A/C system for smoke, The Louis 14th design was truly elegant -the loveliest casino I have seen on board. The bars are plentiful and varied with music. Club Cool is the venue for those in their 40s who wish to dance to a live band. The disco is too cool, too - only open after 11 p.m. to adults -- but serves up certain type music through the cruise. The Chippendale internet/library is beautiful, but I wish Carnival would open the library for more than 2 hours a day. The atrium and Artists Library were wonderful spots to drop by for a dinner or smoke before dinner. That reminds me, Carnival has limited smoking even more so than my last time on the Spirit - no problem here . you can still smoke on deck, the casino, the Lido pool and various other venues on board.
The Empire dining room is elegant to a "t." Gilt and wood create a symphony of elegance in the two story dining setting. There are plenty of tables for 2 and 4 for those wishing a more cozy dining respite. The maitre'd, David Bairos from Canada, is the most approachable maitre'd I've ever encountered. He was warm, friendly and outgoing throughout our sailing. On the menu, the duck and prime rib got kudos from our trip, but skip the turkey - it netted numerous thumbs down on our first cruise on the Spirit. Carnival perfected casual dining with its Lido deck choices - 9 in all! Let me see if I can recall them all - the deli, the salad bar, the rotisserie, the Taste of Nations (varies daily), the Asian outlet, the pizzeria, the dessert bar - I'm forgetting some. Bottom line is you had so much to choose from, and short lines, to boot. The deli was my favorite - the turkey sandwich on a roll is wonderful! We didn't pop for the $25 to dine at the specialty dining room - lots of incredible steak and crab -- but our appetites were met in the dining room. (Not to mention the room service - I love Carnival's BLTs!)
The Pharaohs Theater offers the standard production shows and comedians/singers - great to wrap up an evening, and not a bad seat in the house with its lack of pillars. On this cruise, we chose to turn in early most nights after our late-seating dinner. The goal, this trip, was to relax.
This time, we gravitated toward the Fantail Pool at the aft of the ship - very quiet, great Big Band music and a perfect place to read. The Lido pool had much more activity for those so inclined. The mid-ship pool (uncovered during our voyage) was a step down in the energy of the Lido pool. The trademark Carnival slide did not empty in the pool, just finished for lack of a better word. But it was super long, and the kids (and adults) seemed to enjoy it.
I am happy to say I had the best cabin steward ever on this trip. We are super easy on a cruise, and Ivana Eberg, never missed one opportunity to show she was on top of our needs and did not take advantage of how clean we were. Anytime I asked for the most minor things (including more Tums) she took care of it when we were back in the cabin. She was a dream!
This was the primary reason we chose this sailing of the Spirit. It was round-trip from San Diego to Acapulco, Zijuatenejo/Ixtapa and Manzanillo. Of the 3, we would head back to Zijuatenejo in a heartbeat! It's quiet beauty and slow pace made for a very relaxing day in port. Our first cruise on the Spirit was to Cabo and La Paz - again, we would head back to La Paz in a heartbeat. We love the warmth and quiet of "Old Mexico," and these fairly new ports still exude those qualities. Look for these cruises in the fall (October), after the Spirit concludes its Hawaiian cruises.
I think that's about it . once again we had a superb time on the Spirit. So much so we booked its sister, the Pride, for a Cruisemates cruise in February to Puerto Vallarta. Feel free to email with any questions. Also, search the Photo Galleries under my name, and you will be treated to 3 galleries of photos of the ship.
We chose Carnival for this trip because of price, itinerary, and the kids' program. We're a family of 3; My husband and I are in the mid-late 40's with a 9 year old daughter. We've been on Carnival before, and were not particularly impressed. Still, we decided to give it another try and we're glad we did! We shared the ship with hundreds of boat dealers, as a group called "Tracker Marine" had their annual Sales meeting aboard. That kept the numbers of kids WAY down in Camp Carnival, and added greatly to the enjoyment of our cruise. A VERY nice group of well mannered and seaworthy folks.
Embarkation: We left Colorado on July 30th. Easy flying to Vancouver. Easy finding the right place to catch the bus. Thrilled that our luggage would go to the ship without our needing to haul it along. A short tour of Vancouver on the way to the ship. Easy stopped right there. LONG lines, little organization, and a good hour before we got to our cabin. Not a pleasant way to start our vacation. Then, the mandatory lifeboat drill (having been on a couple ofother cruises, I find that safety is not as good on Carnival as it is on NCL).
Cabin: Plenty of storage space. Two doubles could be made up as a king, though it took our room steward 3 days to do this, even after repeated asking. (More on the room steward later). We were in a "partially obstructed" balcony (#5143) which I'd book again in an instant. Yes, there was a lifeboat there (one of the few that they used as tenders in ports), but it was not covering up any view for us. (I'd be REALLY careful about booking any of the cabins on the level under us....every 5th "partially obstructed French door" might have had a bit of a view, but not much!) Nice bathroom, plenty of room in the shower. Oh, the blowdryer took me about 30 minutes to find...it was in the topmost right-hand drawer in the cabin...not in the bathroom at all. That bottle of water is NOT free, though we had no sign telling us that. I'd rather drink lukewarm tap water (fine water, by the way) than pay for a bottle of water.
Food: Hit or miss. Food was available and plentiful at all times. The Lido deck food was perfect for my daughter. Both breakfasts and lunches there were fine with varied choices. We did discover that waiting 30-45 minutes after meals started being served allowed us to find tables. Very crowded, otherwise. The Empire dining room for dinner had good looking choices each day, though my husband couldn't possibly cut his NY strip on the first night, let alone eat it. The Filet Mignon tasted a bit grainy. I think they could have gotten a better cut of meat, but not at the low prices they'd have to work with, based on the price I paid for our cruise. All of the snowcrab that we could eat one night, and some very good salmon on the "catch of the day" menu. Didn't think anything special about the French Onion soup that had some rave reviews on these boards, and wasn't really pleased with the pumpkin soup, either. Desserts were okay, but not special. My 9 year old didn't like the cookies, and we found them to be inedible. The brownies (off of the kids' desert menu) were very good, however. Once we described how to make a brownie sundae, our wait team delivered both ice cream and a brownie to each of us and we had a very good dessert. I noticed (especially on the "upper Empire" level that most tables were for 2 or 4. I'd have preferred eating with others, but we got a table for just us.) Our service team was wonderful....I can't say enough good about Putu and Alberto. Putu was amazing with his origami skills and sent back to our cabin some interesting critters to entertain our daughter with. We made sure that we tipped them both extra. We didn't try the alternative restaurant.
Room Service: We only tried it once, but it was on time and (mostly) correct.
Cabin Steward: We tried (for the first and LAST time) to pre-tip our room steward. All we asked for was ice, on time cleaning, opening the mini bar (and clearing it out so that we could chill the wine our travel agent sent) and the life jacket for our daughter. We never had consistent ice, the cleaning was fair-poor (we found a can of orange juice, a pair of slippers and an M&M under the bed at the start). It took Allison 2 days to provide the life jacket. He never did clean out the minibar...just shoved the wine inside which caused us problems when we won a bottle of warm champagne at the "Not so Newlywed Show" and wanted to chill it for later.
Entertainment: We only went to one show. The singers were really good. Our daughter (with Camp Carnival) went to a couple and really liked them.
Ports of Call:
Ketchikan: We booked a sportfishing trip. Our daughter caught the first fish on our boat, a dogshark. Then, there were salmon. We'll find out how much when it all shows up here tomorrow. A good shore excursion, though I wouldn't be surprised if our salmon cost over $50 a pound by the time they get here between the cost of the excursion and the cost of processing and shipping!
Juneau: We had booked the glacier dogsledding trip which was cancelled. So, we walked down to where the other ships were docked and found a bus (light blue) which offered a ride to Mendenhall glacier for $10 round trip. We walked around for awhile, then decided to look at the underwater salmon camera. From there, we heard some strange noises which turned out to be a young black bear cub up in a tree. Got some great pictures when Mama came to "talk it down". Then, back to town to visit the Red Dog saloon (a funny pianist during the day, a country singer in the evening). Also, if you want to be driven to and from the ship (only during daylight hours), you can buy a day pass on the city trolley for $10 pp. You can do the glacier and the city tour for as little as $20pp.
Skagway: We had planned on trying for the dogsledding trip here if Juneau was cancelled. by the time we found out that Juneau dogsledding was cancelled, Skagway was booked. In the end, Skagway was cancelled, too. So, we went to M&M tours (RIGHT at port as one would walk to town) and booked their sledding on wheels trip. They also offer the sled on ice trip, but due to weather, they weren't flying. It was not the trip that we'd anticipated, but it was plenty fun. Our daughter, especially, liked that trip. She got loads of time to pet the dogs and got to hold a litter of puppies whose eyes had only opened that morning.
Sitka: We booked the Sea otter and Wildlife Quest on the ship. One big reason we did this is it's a tender port and after a week on the Norway, we've had enough tendering to last a lifetime. It was the biggest disappointment of a tour we took. Yes, we did see otters and sea lions, but nothing to "write home about". Still, it did get us off the ship in an orderly manner. One quick note: When they say to meet for a tour at a specific time, DO IT. (We got there 15 minutes early for each tour and were glad we did. If you "miss the boat", it's your problem....no refunds.)
Seward: Because we booked our airfare from Carnival, we got stuck with an 11:30PM flight home. (The guy at Carnival had never heard the term "air deviation". I'd specifically told him I'd rather pay for a room for a night than to take a red-eye flight with a tired kid). So, we opted for the one tour which would mostly kill off our last day, the Kenai Fjords cruise. However, the ship refused to discount the price as we already had our airport transfer paid for. (I'll bug the guy at Carnival about this one and hope for either a refund or a credit for a future cruise). It was a nice but really bumpy ride. Many folks got seasick on that one, and all of our baggage had already been shipped up to Anchorage. I don't know if it's generally as rough as it was that day, but am very grateful for my families sea legs. Also, they did not give us the advertised T-shirt. We took a bus up to Anchorage with a short stop at an animal refuge place where I got some good pictures of animals which we hadn't yet seen on the trip. Then, it was mass confusion as to where people went. Some got off at the airport while others of us went on the the Egan center to collect our luggage. Then, a good 30 minute wait for a bus to take us back to the airport. Not the best, but not horrible.
Shopping: Prices seemed to get higher the farther north we went. If you're really wanting Russian-like items, then wait for Sitka. Otherwise, buy early as many of the ports had much the same stuff. Also, make sure to check what you're buying. We found a number of "authentic" items with a small "made in China" sticker or mark on them.
Clothing: Some folks said not to bother with long underwear. I live in an area where the temps in February often drop below zero. We all took longjohns/wooly hats/gloves and were grateful that we'd brought them. The dining room had no problem with jeans and a nice shirt for dinner on the non-formal nights. I do have a good cruise wardrobe, so had "resort casual" packed and did wear some of it, but came home with more unworn "nice" clothing than anything else. I'd take 3 pairs of jeans rather than the 2 I packed and 1 pair of "nice" pants with a couple of interchangeable shirts. 2 formal wear outfits, too. Take comfortable shoes (2 pair)! Don't worry about boots...if you need them for an excursion, they'll be provided. People are right about the layers. For the coldest days, my long underwear with jeans, a long sleeve shirt, a sweat shirt and a lined windbreaker were fine. When we cruised the glacier, we were glad for the woolies!
Other things to bring: BRING GOOD BINOCULARS! We brought 2 pairs and should have brought 3. Most of the things you saw were some distance away. Also, I found a disposable panorama camera which should have some awesome pics on it. We brought 4 disposable cameras, and 16 rolls of 35mm film. Came home with one camera used and 10 rolls of film waiting for developing. Duct tape if you don't have an early morning on the last day. The speaker into the cabin started at 5:45AM. We didn't catch our tour until 8. The speaker is right behind the stool (where I suppose one is supposed to blow dry their hair?) and I'd have duct taped it if I'd found it earlier!
Camp Carnival and Kid stuff: Ah, a big part of the reason we went on this trip and the thing which sold us on a Carnival cruise again.... Carnival has instituted a "Kids dining program" where you drop your kid off at 6PM and they feed them (not on the first night, though). My daughter HATES to dress up, so didn't have to. However, we were early seating dinner which begins at 5:45PM. Our waiters understood why we were late for dinner each night. Carnival could have made this a bit easier by having us drop her off at 5:30. If you've got kids who will participate in Camp Carnival, you need to attend a meeting on the first night. It's followed by Parent/child activities. Camp Carnivals' policy of 9 and up year olds being allowed to sign themselves in and out could be a problem for some. Our daughter knew that we weren't offering her that option. We occasionally checked on her to see if she was having fun, but she knew that if she signed herself out, there would have been consequences. If you've got kids in this age bracket, make sure that you and they discuss this before you leave them. One parent went berserk toward the staff when she showed up to claim her son only to find out he'd signed himself out. Our daughter turned 9 in March, and I was afraid that some of the activities for the 9-12 year olds would be too advanced. So, I asked if we had the option of putting her into the younger group. I don't know if it's standard, but since there were so few kids on this cruise, they said it would be no problem. Really nice counselors. Just ask (politely) if you want to bend the age-range slightly. One night, they offered the 9 and ups a pool party under the dome. Parents MUST sign a waiver for this. Since the pool is over 4' deep, I'd only let my child do this if I know that they're a pretty fair swimmer (That was the incentive for 2 months of swim lessons prior to our cruise). The water slide never opened, as far as we saw. The Educruise stuff with Camp Carnival taught our daughter more than any of us (the not seasick ones) on the Kenai trip about whales. She provided a lot of information about the Orcas that we saw in abundance. The camp offered (on the second formal night) an "overnight challenge" (extra cost of $32 for the first child). We dropped her off at 6PM for dinner with the staff and they delivered her back to our cabin at 7:30AM. She had a blast playing hide and seek in the Pharaoh's Palace at 4AM, but did write on her comment card that the floor stank. And, if you decide that this is something you might want to do, be aware that you'll have a really tired and grouchy kid with you for much of the next day, as Camp Carnival has more limited activities for kids on that last sea-day.
Past guest party: The invitation was received less than 30 minutes before the party. We had to go in jeans. Watch out for the rum punch special, it was VERY strong! This party is one big chance to drink a lot for free. Unlike past cruises, they kept the drinks coming and coming. We were surprised to find that they brought dessert items to munch on first and saved the warm appetizers for later.
Casino: We did better there than we ever have. The odds weren't rotten (at least to us).
Debarkation: Smooth, as long as you don't mind getting up EARLY.
Overall: I'd love to sail on Carnival again for a family vacation. It was the best-yet cruise for our family. Alaska is expensive! Those shore excursions really add up. We never slowed down and felt that we needed a restful vacation once we got home. If it were just my husband and myself, I think I'll look for good deals on one of the premium lines where the meat is at least choice grade. I get enough "select" here at home. I will not pre-tip again. If it improved our service, I understand why I kept seeing fellow passengers refilling their own ice buckets.
We have recently returned from the May 14, 2003 Glacier Bay sailing on the Carnival Spirit. What a wonderful cruise it was! Kim and I are experienced cruisers in our mid forties sailing with our 3-year-old son, Christian. Our favorite cruise lines are Princess and Celebrity.
We picked this cruise for many reasons; itinerary, mid-week sailing date, price, ship and the fact the Spirit has an indoor, heated pool. It all came together for a wonderful week in Alaska.
We started by flying in to Vancouver the day before. The fact is the roundtrip Vancouver flight from Oakland for us was only 1/3 the price of the north/south Vancouver-Seward itinerary. We had booked a room at the Hyatt Regency through Priceline and got lucky with the weather in Vancouver. Our lucky weather would continue the entire week. The Hyatt is right in the center of downtown and close to everything. After checking in we caught the double decker bus tour right outside the hotel and took a bumpy ride around Vancouver. Next time we'll try the trolley. It couldn't possibly be as bumpy as the double decker bus. But we did have agood view. We went around to 23 places in the city and got off in Stanley Park. We walked around for a while and then caught another bus and continued. As mentioned by everyone, Vancouver is very scenic and really reminded us of San Francisco, only cleaner. It's fun to watch all the floatplanes and ferries on the waterfront. And we got a chance to say hello to our favorite ship, the Star Princess, in port that day and only clearing Lion's Gate Bridge at low tide by 2 feet!
Next day we took a short cab ride to Canada Place and started embarkation at 11:30 or so. Unfortunately, once again, "The computer system is down." This glitch seems to be following us. We had the same problem in San Francisco two months earlier. So after unloading our luggage, going through security and getting our picture taken we sat there for 90 minutes and waited. It's a long time for a 3 year old. Finally the Canada Place staff realized they needed to start check-in by hand and we were aboard in another half hour. One surprise was that U.S. Customs was the last checkpoint before boarding. That way we didn't have to do it in Juneau, our first stop.
I had been worried that I wasn't going to like the interior of the Spirit. I had seen many photos and she really looked ornate, even gaudy. Not in the old, neon Carnival way but in an overly decorated way. But the Spirit grew on me in person and I liked most everything about her. Certainly, the Spirit class is head and shoulders above the Holiday and Fantasy class Carnival ships. We were quite happy with our inside cabin on the Panorama Deck. Much classier than our previous Carnival cabins, with an increased use of finer materials used in the cabinets and bathroom. Really a fine cabin. And with Fiorella to straighten it up for us, we were in fine company. She did an A1 job.
We got lucky in the dining room both in location and dining companions. Carnival put us at a window table together with another family with a 4-year-old adorable girl. Pooja kept Christian interested in coming to dinner all week long. The Empire dining room is another very ornate space. Our waiter, Janeusz from Poland and assistant, Tina from Romania were excellent. Most nights they only had two tables so we always had their attention when needed. They both made a fuss over the two children and learned all our names the first night. Then they used our names the rest of the week. This restaurant had the most personable Maitre' D of all our cruises, David McNally from Ireland. Each night he came on the PA (which actually worked!) and shared a poem or story, made us laugh, and then segued into the cheesy but fun Carnival performance. He was a delight. The dining room food, while not quite as good as Princess or Celebrity, was still very good indeed, with very few complaints. Especially when you take the galley tour and see just how they serve over 1000 people at a time. The quality really is amazing.
The Lido buffet was also a hit. The food diversity was mouth-watering. The deli was open from 11am-11pm and served delicious sandwiches on several breads, including my favorite, fresh baked baguette. Then there was an Asian section, a nation of the day section, the rotisserie with several different meats, a salad bar and 24-hour pizza and ice cream. The grill had the usual along with drinks available 24 hours, too. No one went hungry. Breakfast got a little mundane, as it was the same every day. But no one went hungry. Unfortunately, the buffet does not have enough seating for all the people that want to sit there. Many times at breakfast and lunch it was very difficult to find a table. And since we were in Alaska, many people would stay at their seats, long after they were finished eating, to enjoy the scenery.
The entertainment on board was hit and miss. We saw all the shows in the theatre and the talent level was high. However, the production shows seem to be missing some thread, some thing that pulls the material together and gives it a reason to be called a show. Many times it just seemed like one production number after another, with no thought given as to theme. The Pharaoh's Palace theatre was really fun to look at and the costumes were amazing. Plus the 10-piece orchestra accompanied all the shows and that was great.
Unfortunately, this "Funship" carried no party band to dance to, a first for Carnival and very disappointing for my wife and I. Especially after seeing the banner, "Carnival Has The Fun" draped over the outside of the ship. They did have 2 good jazz groups and a classical trio for before dinner and a duo in Club Cool at night. But a duo playing hits for the elderly is not exactly a party band. The disco looked fun but wasn't open till 11pm and we never made it. I guess we're tweeners now.
Christian and I very much enjoyed the indoor heated pool and hot tubs. They added a lot to our cruise. Unfortunately, Carnival considers this pool to be an outdoor area with smoking allowed, even though the dome was closed the entire week. And the smokers were out in force, even pipes and cigars. It really stunk in there. And, of course, that's where the "outdoor" grill is so people were eating at tables as well. Disgusting! Port side was for non-smokers but Carnival personnel and security never enforced this rule. This is an area I would like to see improved by all cruise lines. Enforce those smoking rules!
All the ports were fun. In Juneau we went with Capt. Larry on the Awesome Orca (non-ship excursion) and had a ball. We got to see about 10 humpback whales, Dalls porpoises, Stellar sea lions, eagles and a brown bear on a distant shore. It was great! In Skagway we rented a car from Avis and drove up the road into British Columbia and on into the Yukon to Carcross. It was all about scenery and much of it was spectacular. After coming back, we drove around the gravel road to Dyea and saw harbor seals at the mouth of the river and many eagles waiting to feast on some fish. In Ketchikan we just walked around town and over to Creek Street and up the hill to the salmon hatchery. They also have an eagle enclosure there with two injured eagles. When the salmon return up the creek in June they'll swim right through the eagles' environment and the eagles get to hunt again. Nice touch.
Our cruise through Glacier Bay was really special, a day to remember, and with weather to match. We got a running commentary from the park rangers who boarded in the morning and they kept us informed about what we were seeing throughout the day. The mountains and multiple glaciers we saw were very impressive, really the reason people come to Alaska. Michelle, the Spirit's naturalist kept us informed the rest of the week.
Camp Carnival was pretty good but somewhat disappointing, too. They had a very security conscious but inefficient check in & out procedure that took way too long. The parents were kept behind a half-door while one person checked your ID and beeper. We couldn't just go in to see what the kids were doing. They called the child up to the door after check-out. Same procedure on check-in. They wouldn't just let the kids in first. This took too long even with only 42 kids in the program. I can't imagine what they do when they have 600 as a counselor told me they've had. There were lots of counselors and most were sincere and very nice, especially Nelly and Kendra. They had a couple of parent required sessions, one the whole afternoon of the last sea day. We didn't like that. We spent plenty of time with Christian. We didn't need Camp Carnival taking away our last afternoon which we would have liked to spend without our 3 year old. Oh well.
Carnival got lots of things right on this cruise and they are to be commended. We had a wonderful cruise to Alaska. It was great value for the money. The Spirit is a beautiful ship with lots of public spaces to relax in and enjoy. Most all the crew were friendly and helpful. And Alaska is beautiful, a much different cruise than being in the middle of the sea in the Caribbean or elsewhere. I never got to open my book. There were too many sights to see. This was an older crowd, especially for Carnival. But I'm sure there'll be more families once school is out. Bon Voyage!
We booked this cruise based on date and itinerary only - having always tried to avoid Carnival in the past. This was our 10th cruise overall and first to Hawaii. My wife Judy and our 14 year old daughter Erin boarded in Ensenada Mexico after a 90 minute very interesting bus ride from San Diego provided by the cruise line.
This was a 12 night cruise and the crowd was quite geriatric to say the least. This did not bother us untill about day 10 when we started to lose patience with the older folks always in the way or blocking where you wanted to go and of course moving like mollassas as older people do. I realize they can't help it - but after 10 days it started to get on my nerves. In one incident an older woman with a cane knocked an entire plate of food on the floor in the lido cafe at breakfast when she insisted on squeezing into the table next to us. She never even acknowledged what she had done or said she was sorry.
Anyway, enough of that. Having been on the Fantasyin 1995 I had already formed a somewhat negative opinion about Carnival prior to this cruise. I was wrong. This ship was neither dirty (as was the Fantasy) nor was the food substandard as had been our experience in 95. Everything was excellent, the ship is sparkling clean, the food is very good, I would say that on this cruise it was slightly better than Royal Caribbean but not as good as Celebrity.
The ship itself is something to see. The interior is done in a goofy art deco motif that grows on you as the cruise progresses. No neon here. Just muted, I would almost dark tones throughout the ship punctuated by a lot of stained glass and mural type art - and of course the red glass dome in the atrium which turns the whole thing pink during the day.
This is in sharp contrast to the pool deck which looks like a designer from Circus Circus in Las Vegas went nuts. The thing has circus colors everywhere and I thought it was rather stupid looking to be honest, but thats just my opinion. by the way, the selection of food up there is outstanding. They have it set up like a food court with stations for pizza and calzones, a carving station, a New York style deli, and out door grill, oriental and something called "Food of Nations", with a different type of cuisine featured every day. They offer desert and beverage stations there - with some of the best hot chocolate I've ever had. Much of this is available most of the day with the pizza and beverage stations open 24 hours.
On this cruise the weakest link was the entertainment - although if I were 80 I might feel differently. But I'm not, and there was very little in the way of entertainment aimed at the below 70 crowd. The cruise director was female and I was not impressed with her performance. They did offer a couple of shows by a hypnotist(sp?)and a husband and wife duo that would play in one of the lounges every night and they were good, but aside from that there wasn't much. They have a nice dance club on board but no one was ever there.
If you have teens over the age of 15 be aware that Carnival for whatever reason has chosen to ignore them with respect to their teen program. 16 and up need not apply and are apparently on their own. Our daughter is 14 so this was not a problem for us but I noticed this and thought it was wierd. The teen programs on cruise ships are mostly a place for them to meet other kids and go off on thier own anyway so maybe it doesn't matter - I don't know.
We found the staff to be great - couldn't do enough for you. Ports were typical Hawaii - I won't go into that except to say that Hawaii is a beatiful place that was nice to visit but one where I would not care to live. But it was great to experience all the natural beauty there and they have a lot.
So if you've been avoiding Carnival ships as we have due to earlier less than satisfactory experiences - try one of theier newer ships. We were very impressed and would cruise Carnival again in a minute.
If anyone has any questions I can answer feel free to drop me an email. Also I have placed some photos of our cruise on the photo album page.
Here's a quick summary for those who don't want the detail: We had a great time, the ship is beautiful and kept remarkably clean. All the service was friendly, even the casino dealers. The Camp Carnival program for kids is excellent and greatly adds to Mom & Dad's ability to relax and enjoy. Food was plentiful and of good quality. It's hard to beat the value of this trip (or it would be if I didn't drink at all).
This was the third cruise for my wife and me; the previous two were on NCL's Norway and Carnival's Imagination. It was the first cruise for our daughters, ages 6 and 10. We had debated going to an island versus taking a cruise, and whether to bring the girls or go by ourselves. Finally we decided on a cruise with the girls, and booked just a few weeks ahead through vacationstogo.com, our first time using them. We have nothing but positive feedback on their site and service. We flew from Rochester, N.Y. to Fort Lauderdale a day early via AirTran. Since we almost missed our last cruise due to late/missed flights, andsince Rochester had already received 120+ inches of snow this season, we didn't want to take any chances. It was probably a good decision as most of the Eastern Seaboard was shut down the previous weekend from major snowstorms.
We stayed at the Comfort Inn in Hollywood, about 15 minutes from the Ft. Lauderdale airport. It has a free airport shuttle, but if you're in a hurry you might want to price out a cab (or lie when you call the hotel and tell them you already have your luggage!). The cost for the night was $132, including a shuttle the next day for the four of us to the Port of Miami and a pretty nice buffet breakfast.
The shuttle ride to the port took about 30 minutes, and we encountered the usual chaos there. A Carnival rep directed us to give our bags to a porter, who was obviously expecting a tip, and who threw our bags into a cart approximately three feet away -- nice racket. We started the embarkation process about half an hour before it was scheduled to begin, along with quite a few other people. It didn't take long (don't forget to fill out boarding forms ahead of time!), and we were allowed to go right to our rooms. Our biggest surprise was that our room had been upgraded from ocean-view (probably on Deck 1 or 2) to a balcony room on Deck 5. The room was the same size, and the balcony is only about 3x6 feet, but the perception was definitely more elbow room. We had no room assignment until we boarded, and our contact at Vacationstogo.com had mentioned this might happen. With four people in one stateroom, every additional inch helped!
Carnival does a nice job with the 185 square feet claimed in the specs. In addition to the two twin beds that can be pushed together, there is a couch that converts to a bed and has two drawers underneath (some space taken by bedding), and a Pullman-type bed that drops out of the ceiling to form an upper bunk over the convertible bed. We had to let our girls take turns in the upper bunk to keep the peace. The guard that prevents rolling off the bunk was secure and long enough for us to feel it was safe, even with our accident-prone six-year-old up there. There was sufficient closet and storage space for the four of us, and my wife is not a light packer! There are leather thong pulls on the drawers and closet doors, which doesn't add much to the look, but does prevent you from catching clothes on knobs in the tight quarters.
The bathroom/shower was roomy for the limited space available, offering several rimmed shelves for storage, and the shower had sufficient room and plenty of water pressure. I generally prefer shower doors to a curtain, but this one wasn't bad.
We usually went to the buffet for breakfast. It was OK, but not outstanding. The scrambled eggs were OK, the bacon not as crispy as I prefer, the ham and sausages were good. After the first day, I usually had an omelet made, which was very good. There was also plenty of fresh fruit. We usually ate between 9 and 10 a.m., which could be a little crowded but never exceedingly so. I got a little perturbed one morning when I saw everything closing up as I went through, only to discover I had forgotten to change my watch went we went to different time zone!
My wife and older daughter had room service continental breakfast a few times; the food was OK and the service quick. We never tried the dining room for breakfast. We only had lunch a few times, also from the Lido buffet. Again it was good, with a quite a variety. Sometimes it gets a little confusing with the multiple stations, especially if it's crowded. Offering different regional cuisine each day for lunch is a nice touch. The hamburgers from the grill by the pool were all right.
Because of the kids, we took early seating at dinner. We were happy with our table for four on the lower level. It was off in a corner, with a partition on one end, blocking off a server station. There was a nice view, and we didn't find it disruptive being next to the station; in fact, we were always able to find our servers! I was glad we weren't in the main part of the room as it seemed more crowded and noisy. The food was high quality, especially the vegetables. Portions weren't overwhelming, but there was no problem ordering an extra appetizer or entrée. I tried the seafood pretty regularly and was always pleased with it. The kids usually ordered off the children's menu, which was mostly the typical junk food, plus a smaller version of the adult pasta entrée offered as the kids' special.
We were happy with our serving team. They served us in a timely fashion, even on those days (most of them) when we were running late. The barmaid (bar person?) was friendly and accurate, but not available a lot. On a trip to the restroom one night I happened to see where she had to go for drinks, and it was quite a ways from the dining room, so it was understandable. All the servers treated our two daughters well, and asked about them the couple of times they had dinner at the kids' camp.
We never tried the premium restaurant, which costs $25 per person, but everyone I talked to that did so said it was well worth the price.
We hit the 24-hour pizza place a couple of times, usually after a late night in the casino. We come from a city with many excellent pizza places; these pies were OK, and tasted great sitting out on the balcony at 3 a.m.!
The kids enjoyed the always-available ice cream stations also.
We purchased soft drink cards for the girls ($25 plus gratuity), thinking they'd save us quite a bit of money, but I'm not sure it was much more than break-even. They usually had juice or punch in the Lido, and soft drinks were included at dinner, and for whatever reason, the girls didn't use them as much as I would have thought. They might be a better deal for older kids.
The Camp Carnival program was great. We had to take the kids from noon to 2 p.m. for lunch, and from 5-7 p.m. for dinner. Other than that, they could attend camp at no additional charge from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and kids more than nine years old could sign themselves in and out. From 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. they would watch the two girls for $10 an hour. We loved the program, and all the counselors seemed both nice and competent. Just be sure to let them know at drop-off time if your spouse or some other adult can pick them up, and don't forget to bring your ship ID with you! They are very strict about following procedures.
Speaking of kids, there was not an overwhelming number on this cruise -- about 40 in each of four age groups, plus infants. There didn't seem to be large numbers of teenagers or rowdy partying types either. Most couples appeared to be in the 35-50 age group, and overall the atmosphere was pretty sedate. There were two average-sized pools and one small pool, all filled with salt water and never greatly crowded. The lounge areas near the pools were almost always crowded, but we always found some place to set up shop, and always found lounge chairs. One area where quality was lacking was the chaise lounges. The reclining mechanisms were shoddy, and they regularly fell apart. Even when functioning properly, they did not fold down anywhere near flat.
The water slide at the top of the ship was closed most of the way down due to high winds - and they were strong at that height! On the way back it was open most of the time and we used it quite a bit. The lines were not that long most of the time and it was a refreshing break and fun for the whole family. Obviously if there had been more children on board, the waits would have extended somewhat.
We only attended one show - a big band tribute to Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., mostly because the kids got to participate with a routine they practiced in camp. They loved being up on stage. I'm not a big show fan, but it was OK. We skipped most of the orientations as well, so I can't offer an opinion on the cruise director.
The casino is very nice, roomy, clean, and not real smoky. I usually could find a $10 blackjack table, sometimes $5, and I broke even up until the last night (you can guess how that went!). My wife played the slots and found a good variety of machines (not well paying for her, though). We both put in plenty of hours here without getting hurt too bad. All the dealers were friendly and would offer advice if asked without being condescending. There are a couple variations of Blackjack, Roulette, Caribbean Stud, and Let-It-Ride.
It was nice that all three stops were at cruise docks, so no tenders were involved. The St. Maarten pier was in a main shopping/beach area on the Dutch side of the island. The Barbados and Martinique piers were in industrial/commercial wharf environments. I wish the daily newsletter had provided some more general information about the stops, but it focused on cruise sponsored tours and excursions.
St. Maarten (7 a.m. to 4 p.m.). There is a water taxi from the dock that goes on a loop to 'uptown' and 'downtown' stops. Kids under 12 rode free and adults could buy an all day-pass for $5. We took it to the shopping area right off the beach and hit some stores. This is definitely the place for shopping on this cruise, especially for liquor -- e.g. Absolut and Tanqueray at $6-7 per bottle. The U.S. duty-free limit is two liters per family. We had four, and the Customs official looked right at it when we cleared back in Miami but didn't say anything. You are allowed two more bottles from Barbados, but the prices aren't nearly as good. Souvenirs were also very inexpensive and negotiable. After a little shopping, we spent the rest of the time at a small bar on the beach. They had beach service including lunches. We just rented some beach chairs and tanned and swam the day away. I can't remember the name of the place. Facing the beach, it's just to the left of the ferry stop furthest from the cruise dock. The ship departed almost exactly to the minute of the scheduled time.
Barbados (Noon to 10 p.m.). As noted, the ship docked in a rather grim wharf area; buses were provided to the main passenger terminals where taxis were available. Some sponsored outings did pick up right at the ship. It rained on and off most of the day, which I don't think is that unusual for Barbados. Everything here was more expensive than St. Maarten, and there was not much haggling. Cab rides from the terminal were posted at $20-$40 to go almost anywhere. We hired a driver for a short cruise of the island as it was raining when we started out. It was very lush and scenic. He stopped at a spot where a man had a couple of monkeys that would perch on you for pictures (and a small tip of course). The kids loved this. We had the driver drop us at Folkestone Marine Park, as we had read you could snorkel from the beach there. The park was small, without a big beach, but the swimming area is very sandy. There is a small dive/gift shop and changing rooms. It was a great spot to teach the kids to snorkel, as there were fish visible in shallow water. The cab picked us back up at the end of the day and we returned to the ship for dinner and gambling.
Martinique (7 a.m. 2 p.m.). My wife came down with an infection this morning so we got to visit the ship's infirmary for some antibiotics. The doctor and nurse were both very pleasant, and the wait was short. Since the ship was only in port a short time, and my wife wasn't feeling that well, we stayed on board and enjoyed the sparse crowds. From talking with other passengers that night at dinner and at the casino, those who went into town weren't too impressed, but those who went to one of the beaches said they were nice.
The usual process -- not real painful, but somewhat tedious. We had a late flight back, so we spent some time on the Lido deck before getting off the ship. The long lines through customs moved pretty quickly, and our inspection was fairly cursory. As I noted above, the official glanced at the four-bottle case of liquor from St. Maarten but didn't ask about it. He did question my wife as to how many cigarettes she was bringing back. It was confusing, and took a while to find transport back to the Ft. Lauderdale airport. The cost was about $40 for the four of us, but we had plenty of time so it wasn't too stressful. Once there, we found a little spot just past the airport with a picnic table under a tree, where we could have a leisurely takeout lunch. This was a nice find as our terminal was fairly small, and crowded, and not a good place to be with two tired kids.
Overall, we had a great time, and would definitely recommend this ship and itinerary, especially for families. There was plenty of at-sea time, great food and service, and interesting islands to explore. The roughest seas were about six foot waves, and no one experienced any discomfort. Since we've been home, we've already had 12-14 more inches of snow, plus an ice storm that cut the power for four days. I sure wish we were back onboard!
A fabulous cruise! The ship: Carnival's refreshing departure from neon and chrome to inlaid wood makes for a new level of affordable and fun elegance. The ports: amazing Central America, especially Belize, should be on everyone's must-see list. The staff: unusually helpful, due in part to leadership by cruise director Amy Van Wyk and a easy-going affable Captain, Pier Paolo Scala.
The first of many changes we noticed (see list below) was the ship's official name on our initial Carnival Caper newsletter. It's now called the DeAz/s Spirit. This stands for Diesel Engine Azipod Ship, a new propulsion technology for greater speed and more efficient fuel use. In addition, there are two stabilizers to make sea trips more steady. Unfortunately during three days of our eight they were broken. We rocked and rolled but not so much that we got sick.
Carnival's Spirit was built in 2001 as a new class prototype. The Carnival Legend and the Costa Atlantica are carbon copies. As usual, most of the crew are from countries such as Croatia, Indonesia, the Phillipines, various former Soviet republics, and Romania. The ship's navigational and engineering staff, including the Captain, are Italian. Socialhosts are from the US, Australia, and the UK.
Definitely take a taxi to and from the Miami airport -- it is way cheaper per person and much faster than the Carnival bus. Plus you don't have the long waits for other passengers, their bags, and the chaos involved getting on and off the ship. $18 for a cabful to or from the airport. If you get to Miami the day before, South Beach is a wild night among the pierced, tattooed, chic, barely clothed, and international crowd. Be sure to have breakfast at the News Cafe where movie stars frequently start their day. Although Carnival says embarkation starts at 1:30, get there by 11:30 and you'll be on by 12. Head for lunch on the Lido deck as your room will not be ready until 1:30. To save time, be sure to complete all paperwork before getting to port.
With an adult soda card, get all the soda you want - - a great savings over buying them one by one for $3. The card costs $39/adult for a 8 day cruise. Buy one the first day. We drank 4-6 sodas a day each saving over $100. There are cards for kids, too, at a lower price. The 24/7 pizza/salads/ice cream/yogurt are universal hits. They also serve calzones and chicken caesar salads on request, as well as some nonmainstream but delicious pizza (like goat cheese). Mildly amusing: the daytime pizza guy acts like the "Soup Nazi" on Seinfeld. Stand in the wrong place, ask for the wrong thing - no pizza for you! Dinner in the Empire Dining Room was consistently well-prepared, interesting, well- presented, and delicious. We loved the soups (pumpkin is not to be missed). The very best food and service yet on a Carnival ship.
The Nouveau Supper Club ($25 a person) is Carnival's experiment in "premium" dining. Although skeptical at first, we were won over. The service is impeccable as are the seven courses you'll receive. Be warned, though. Hustle up there FIRST THING to get the time and day you want for that special romantic dinner. Good times sell out quickly. And come hungry - this is not a dining experience for the timid of appetite. A very minor thing - sparkling water offered before the meal is not free, we discovered.
In Belize, the most popular tour in the country is the Cave Tubing (around $85), an astonishing day trip down an underground river. Panama's tours vary between visiting the Canal ($80) and actually going through the locks ($155). We chose the latter and it was well worth it. Costa Rica's port is as yet unimpressive but any tour to the rain forest will be exciting. Panama's port shopping and Free Zone shopping is second only to the deals in St. Maarten (which you won't be visiting on the Western itinerary). Book all your tours IMMEDIATELY upon getting on board.
On the Ship
Our cabin (Panorama 8186) was a treat. Lots of room, as in most Carnival ships, and spotless. Spirit's elevators, toilets, lights, and other systems always worked. Breakfast in the cabin is a wonderful way to wake up. Salmon, bagels, fruit, cereal, coffee, tea, and breads brought to your door starts the day off right. Breakfast is also served up on the Lido deck and in the main restaurant, Empire.
Lunch is standard fare except for the NY Deli which featured delicious reubens and roast beef. Lunch and dinner are on the Lido deck and in both restaurants. You'll wait 5-10 minutes at most stations. At dinner, all the fun flaming desserts (Cherries Jubilee, Baked Alaska, etc.) are no longer served "hot" due to past accidents (glad we weren't at those tables!). Best value? The wine markup is much less than landside restaurants. You can get many good ones (try the Chateau St Michelle) for under $20.
The most romantic spot is up by the mid-ship white navigational "ball". Hike up there late on a moonlight night and have a nearly 360 view of the ship and ocean. There are hot tubs everywhere. The "adults only" tub aft always had a kid in it during the day. The spa tub had no kids and was almost always empty. Despite Carnival's rules, people still save chairs on deck -- which irritates us no end. Get on deck by 9am if you want a chair near the pool.
The gym/spa features workout machines everywhere, a hot tub, separate wet and dry saunas for men and women, an aerobics studio on the second level (it's that big!), massage rooms, a hair salon, and locker rooms with five-head showers (gotta do these at least once). Want to indulge cheaply? Try the mind-numbing (in a good way) 45-minute Indian Scalp Massage in port or the last day when it's on sale for $44.
Carnival "taxes" your shipboard Sign and Sail card $10 per person per day for tips which be changed at the purser's desk. The Maitre'd has to be tipped separately. Ours did nothing special. He primarily made announcements and introduced the wait staff entertainment (which had us on our feet, especially the new "Ketchup Song" and the venerable "Macarena").
Cruise Director Amy Van Wyk should be on Broadway not on a mere cruise ship. She has a stunning stage presence singing and dancing, having started as a Carnival dancer since the early 90's. Amy became a CD in the last year, first on the Imagination. In the role of performer she's a pure knockout. In the role of emcee, however, loosening up would really help her natural charm come to the surface. The over-gestures and big winks that make her performances so compelling look artificial when just chatting from stage. Her recommendations for a happy cruise? Bring a pair of old shoes you can get dirty on excursions, book your special events early, and read the fine print. Carnival will not trick you (we found them to be very forthright) but there are policies and rules for everything, especially refunds.
Amy and asst CD Skippy from Australia do an informative "morning show" on TV each day. This innovative program, the only one in the fleet, gives timely data on the day's events, ports, changes, and charges. Watching will save you time calling the Purser's office with questions they've heard a zillion times before.
Finally, we loved the big band Spirit Orchestra and encourage Amy to have them play outside a few times for dancing on deck!
Not So Great
The waterslide is fun for kids but DANGEROUS for adult males. George was one of many guys who hit their heads in the last curve on the way down. Almost knocked him out. Carnival should have this slide open only for those under 130 pounds.
Stupid reached new heights during the Farewell Show. Its stars, the aptly-named Village Idiots, should have been thrown off the ship in the first five minutes.
At the casino, there is no easy money. You only choose how much to donate. Play Bingo the last day for the free cruise - otherwise unless you're bored Bingo is a waste of money. There are also Scratch-off Lotto cards for a buck. Carnival makes a mint on these. We NEVER heard of anyone winning.
At the Captain's Welcome, you don't get your picture taken with him unless you take it yourself. You'll only shake his hand if you happen to be in line when he is, which is only for about half an hour.
At the Asian Station (Lido deck), the sushi is either overcooked or vegetarian. Although this "saves" us from the perils of eating raw fish, this sushi was awful, truly awful. We heard from others that the Nouveau Supper Club's sushi was the real thing and quite good.
The Photo staff is talented and friendly but overworked due to their crazy scheduling. Let 'em sleep, Carnival!
Haven't Been on a Fun Ship in a While? There are many changes:
1. Wired? Fees for using the Internet are cheaper by 25% from a year ago. 2. Big gambler? Join Carnival's Ocean Players club to rack up point for comps for your next cruise. The casino now charges a 3% fee to buy chips on the Sign and Sail card. 3. Group gym classes like aerobics and kickboxing, formerly free, are now $10 each. 4. Like those little contests on board? With a few exceptions, you'll only win the infamously cheesy "ship on a stick" (not even worth bringing home). 5. There are minibars in many rooms but you'll still pay a "restocking fee" of 15% for pouring your own. The good news is that alcohol prices are the same as at the ship bars - no surcharges as in many hotels. 6. At some ports, especially tender ports, Carnival issues disembarking numbers to avoid long lines. 7. No more free pool towels -- you're on the hook for the blue Carnival beach towel in your cabin. Lose it and pay $22. Leave it on the cabin floor, however, and you'll get a fresh one in a few hours! 8. Getting off in Miami was fast given all the new security/immigration/customs procedures. 9. Wanna get hitched? There's a wedding chapel on board. Weddings happen in port before shoving off so Uncle Ed and Aunt Verna can attend without going on a cruise. In recovery? The chapel also aptly doubles as an AA meeting once a day.
Spirit alternates W and S Caribbean during the winter then goes to Alaska in the summer. Spring and Fall each feature a 16-day Panama Canal transit between San Diego and Miami. Hellos to Mike and Meg from Washington, first time cruisers who have caught the fever and will be back again!
To see all our reviews, visit www.strategicdevelopment.com/travel. Happy Cruising!