This was my second cruise overall and my first with Carnival, with my previous cruise being on the Sea Princess (Princess Cruise Lines).
We booked a cruise only package through Carnival and arranged the hotel, air and transportation on our own. I prefer to take a cab as it is much quicker than the bus transport and I believe it was actually cheaper given that 3 of us shared the cab.
We arrived in Miami the night before and stayed at the Best Western Marina Park Hotel on Biscayne Blvd. We chose this hotel for its location and because we read on the internet that there was a free shuttle to the port as well as a complementary breakfast. Well, Holiday Inn has taken over the property and the shuttle and the breakfast are no longer offered. On the bright side, it appears that the rooms have been renovated as we had a very large room which was in very nice condition. Also, we shared a cab to the pier with another couple and the ride was both short and inexpensive.
Embarkation: I wish Carnival would do something about the porters at thepier in Miami. They are extremely aggressive about taking your bags and I felt compelled to leave my bags and, of course, provide them with a tip for handling my bags. Frankly, in these times of heightened security, I would prefer not to leave my bags unattended and would have preferred to carry the bags to the terminal (a very short distance, I might add) on my own. Furthermore, one of the passengers at our dining room table had mentioned that their bus driver had warned them of porters who had ripped off other passengers and apparently nothing could be done about it as the porters all stick together when it comes to filing police reports. My recommendation: ignore the porters and take your own bags.
Once inside the terminal, the process seemed to move fairly efficiently. When it came to getting our sail and sign cards, however, the Carnival rep seemed extremely confused as to how we wanted to set up our accounts. I might add that we received two different answers when we spoke to the Purser's desk on the ship. I can't understand why Carnival can't train their staff in what seemed like a very simple matter. Once we got through this part, there was again confusion at the part where you get your picture taken. The line was moving well until we were stopped and told to wait until we were called. I couldn't understand how we would be called as there was no way of identifying us among the hundreds of people who were told to wait and, as I suspected, nobody was called. Rather, it was a mad dash for the photo line once it was apparent that this area was once again moving. I don't understand why they couldn't just have a line progression as they did when you first picked up your sign and sail cards. Get it together Carnival. Once you had your pictures, it once again appeared that we were being held up for no apparent reason. My guess is that we were being held back while the photographers were setting up. You can't imagine how livid this makes me. My guess is that the vast majority of these pictures get thrown in the trash, and I can't understand why they don't just set up a spot on the ship where people can voluntarily get their pictures taken after they have boarded. Also, for foreigners who bring their passports (including Canadians), be forewarned that Carnival takes possession of your passports during embarkation and does not return them to you until the end of the cruise, although I am not sure why. I contacted Carnival prior to the cruise to enquire in this regard and they assured me that passports were not taken. That being said, you will require a copy of your passport or photo I.D. whenever you leave the ship.
The Cabin: Once on the ship, everything proceeded very smoothly. We had a balcony cabin and I must say that it was a beautiful cabin (port side aft on the main deck). There was more than enough room for the 3 of us with tons of closet and storage spaces. The decor was very much to my liking, the balcony was quite large, and the bathroom was also well laid out. We also had a 20 or 21 inch TV with stations that seemed to change depending on the hour of the day, and there was a definite lack of movies. The selection was very poor with seemingly only B movies being played with the exception of Minority Report. The room had a Bar fridge which was stocked with liquor (at a charge, of course) but we simply stocked it with some soft drinks once the cabin steward opened it for us. The room also had a safe which is only accessible with a credit card. I don't understand why it couldn't be set up to open with the sign and sail card or equipped with a numbered code as it was very inconvenient with 3 people in the room but only one credit card having access.
The Ship: I've read comments about the ship's decor being gaudy but I do not share that opinion, and pictures I've seen on the Internet appear much darker than in reality and do not do the ship any justice. Personally, I thought the ship was beautiful in appearance and very well laid out. No negative comments in this regard.
Dining: The buffet was fantastic. Although this was one part of the ship where I didn't particularly care for the design, I must say that the quality and variety of the food and beverages being offered was absolutely superb. The deli and pizza were excellent and frequented on many occasions. The burgers and fries were also very good in addition to the regular buffet fare. I also appreciated the variety of beverages being offered: ice tea, lemonade, fruit punch, apple juice, milk, coffee, hot chocolate and regular tea. Excellent job Carnival.
The Empire Dining Room was beautiful. We had a table at the rail on the upper floor and it provided a very elegant atmosphere. The service was excellent although not as good as on Princess, and I suspect it's due to the fact that there are fewer staff working more tables. Regardless, the service was prompt and staff seemed eager to please. The food, while nothing out of the ordinary, was very good and quite plentiful. Good enough in fact that we cancelled our reservation at the Nouveau Supper Club. Also, special marks to the Maitre'D who went out of his way to assist us with a special request one night. He was extremely accommodating and courteous.
We tried room service on several occasions and found the food to be adequate and the service to be very prompt. My one request here would be an expanded room service menu.
The Shows: I didn't see any but I heard they were good. It seemed to be the standard fare as far as showgirls, comics and hypnotists are concerned. As for me, if I want to see a good show I go to Las Vegas. Having said that, what do you expect for free?
The Excursions: Rhino Rider in St. Maarten and Horseback riding (Barbados) sold out very quickly. I recommend you pick your excursions and sign up for them as soon as you get on the ship. In this regard, I have a very large gripe with carnival. There is usually nobody at the excursion desk so you are required to fill out a form and stuff it in a box. It's too late if you change your mind because there is nobody to talk to. We changed our minds about one excursion 2 minutes after we stuffed the box and did not get a chance to discuss it with someone until we went to the purser's desk (that's right --- still nobody at the excursion desk) 4 hours later at which time we were told there would be a 25% cancellation charge ( if cancelled 24 hours before the excursion) and no charge if we picked something else on the same date. In the end we decided to stay with the excursion we chose, but only because the alternative had already sold out. Princess had people working at the excursion desk on a regular basis, and I can't see why Carnival couldn't do the same. Carnival gets a failing grade in this regard.
The Islands: Martinique, St. Maarten and Barbados were all beautiful and the locals were very polite and accommodating. With that said, keep in mind that everything (including cab fare) is negotiable. A little bit of shopping and you will see that prices for similar items will vary considerably. Also, don't be intimidated by shopkeepers who tell you that they can't negotiate their price. On all but one occasion I was able to get a better price by telling them that I had seen the same article for sale in another store for several dollars cheaper and I would just buy it there, and this seemed to work to my advantage. For example, I was able to buy a $20 Polo shirt for $16. No big deal, except that we ended up getting 3 of them. I'm convinced that only suckers pay full price and I refuse to be one. On the other hand, the retailed is also entitled to make a reasonable profit.
The one problem with this itinerary is that we arrived at Barbados and Martinique on the weekend. Guess what? Almost everything is closed by 2:00 p.m. If you want to go shopping, forget about excursions because you just won't have the time.
Excursions: We did the Atlantis sub in Barbados ($85). The staff were great but the excursion was a let down. You do see a lot of fish and a shipwreck (actually, a ship that had been intentionally sunk) but it seemed like a bit of a let down. On the other hand, I can now say that I've been on a sub that went down 150 feet. In Martinique we did the Snorkel Adventure ($54). This was my first time snorkeling and I highly recommend it. The water is crystal clear and there is plenty to see. All 3 of us enjoyed this.
Disembarkation: Typical disembarkation process. Up at 5:30 a.m. to get ready to meet Customs at 6:15 a.m. and then off to breakfast and back to our room after that. Had to be out of the cabin at 8:30 to allow the staff to clean the cabins, which means you wait on 1 of 3 decks until your tag color is called. Again, it seemed like there was a great deal of confusion here. We waited for our tags (pink, main aft) to be called until finally, after about 1.5 hours we went to the purser's desk who insisted that ours had already been called. I assure you it had not been called as none of us heard it. Nevertheless, we departed at that time and caught a cab ($18 standard fare) to Miami International. Since tag colors are not monitored when you disembark, my guess is that we could have left regardless of what tag color had been called, and I will keep this in mind for future cruises.
My overall opinion was that this was a great cruise. The issues that needed improvement were minor and I would definitely recommend this ship and itinerary to everyone else. I never experienced any seasickness or even much motion as I had on my prior cruise with Princess (which I thoroughly enjoyed), and the rooms appeared to be very well sound proofed. Also, I had read comments about vibrations or shuddering and while I did detect something like that while in bed, I can honestly say that it did not disturb me which had been a concern of mine prior to the cruise as I tend to be a very light sleeper.
My husband and I were celebrating our 26th wedding anniversary on this cruise. We had a balcony cabin on the highest panorama deck. We were joined by another couple (friends) who ended up down the hall. I just read the other review on my same ship and boy was he wrong about a lot of things. First, they do NOT take up your passports. We were free to keep ours with us. The safe in the room opens with your sail and sign card..but only 1. The reason for the delay at embarkation was becuz the coast guard had not released the ship yet. Yes, we were one of the first ones on board..and after getting our pictures taken, waited in the lobby before boarding about 30 minutes. The people who were waiting to get their photo taken had no idea for the delay..Carnival should have told them. Also, the tour desk was always manned when we were there. Yes, there were some pushy French people, but I can take care of myself.
The food was GREAT! We could order as many appetizers or entre that we wanted. There were about6 choices for entre every night. On lobster night, I had 2 large tails and the table next to us had 3!! We had fabulous service as well and could not have asked for a better crew.
The took the Turtle Encounter and snorkel trip in Barbados..not the Kayak..it was the best ever. The sea turtles were phenomenal. We were swimming in their habitat. There were only about 10 on our little catamaran..3 total cats altogether. We took the snorkel cruise in Martinique and were disappointed. The water is pretty dark, but it is ok for the price..expect about 60 on the boat however!! We took our own gear, but they do have plenty.. the gear in Barbados was first class, but in Martinique, it was pretty cheesy.
The shopping in St Martaan was the best. Go to Kay's, ask for Sam and tell him I sent you. They have the absolute best prices, and you can get him pretty low. I bought Australian Opals and was pleasantly surprised by the price.
The disembarkation went very smooth. We had to be out of our cabins by 8:30..not 6:30..only Canadians had to do that to clear customs. We were at our car by 10:30 and driving home.
All in all, my husband is now hooked. The only down part of the entire cruise was the smoking in the casino. I am allergic, so I had a pretty rough time. The shows were pretty good too, especially the comedians and the entire review. And in case you are wondering, we are not old...we are in our early 50's.
Let me start out by saying, we had a great vacation and a vacation is what you put into it, your attitude, and what you get out of it, in our case, fun and relaxation.
Most wise travel agents will tell you that flying out the day before your cruise leaves is a wise move. We had never had a problem on our pervious cruises and enjoyed the time and hotel stays anticipating our cruise. This time we weren't so lucky! Sparing you the depressing & scarry details and making a long story short; our plane, which should of landed in Miami 2pm didn't land until 9pm. After a drink, we were able to relax at the hotel. Thank You Barb, our travel agent. Getting on the Spirit was a snap. Cab to terminal at 11:30am and on the ship by 12:15pm. Fast and speedy check-in.
We found the Spirit to be a wonderful ship, spacious, roomy, and well laid out. Our balcony room on the Empress Deck was nice and we used the balcony alot, even for sunning. The Atrium Lobby, Pharaoh's Palace and Empire Dining room were verywell done, but my favorite lounge was the Versailles Lounge. While the center pool around the Lido deck was usaully busy, the fantail pool was not very crowded and realitevly quiet. Also enjoyed the gymnasium and jogging track. The only negative comment I can make about this ship is that for being less than 2 years old, she looks a little tired. When we were on the Paradise years ago, it seemed that the crew took pride in taking care of it's ship. That pride was not evident on the Spirit.
Room Service: exellent Empire dining room: exellent La Playa Grille: average Nouveau Supper Club: outstanding The Fountain Cafe: exellent Pizzeria: average The best drinks are made at the Atrium Lobby and the Fantail Bar.
Our room steward was outstanding; from suppyling me with band aids for my blisters, my wife likes to dance, to finding hairspray for my wife, he went above and beyond the call of duty.
We always try to get to know our waiter a little and after getting to know him, we found out that this is his last contract and he misses his family. While this showed in his presentation, his service was exellent. For the first time on a cruise, we got to know our head waiter. We found him engaging, funny and helpful. The drink service in the Atrium Lobby and Lido deck was very good. The service in the lounges and casino was slow and erratic. The purser's desk was very helpful. The service at the Nouveau Supper Club is outstanding.
Except for the very weak show on opening night, the main lounge entertainment was very good. While many people grumbled About Amy(cuise director and entertainer), I found her to be a good entertainer and and adequate cruise director. The three late night comedians were exellent, but can anyone answer this question. Before each late night show and even in the Carnival Capers they warn you that the comedians act may be "R" Rated and have some offensive material. Why are people down at the purser's desk complaining that the comedians were offensive?
The Piano Bar was very good. While the duo in Club Cool was good, they did not play enough dance music, which they were supposed too. The steel drum band on the Lido deck was good and loud. The trio that played in the Nouveau Supper Club was outstanding as was the jazz trio and classical duo.
ACTIVITIES: Our group(9) brought home 12 "ships on a stick". We like all the contests and activites and participate in most on them. The trio who runs all the games on the ship were getting tired of seeing us at the games and created new rules to hinder our attempts at winnning. We did not complain as we really were not interested in "ships on a stick" but just in having fun. You wouldn't believe how many people want a "ship on a stick." We have some for sale, if you want one.
PORTS OF CALL:
St. Maarten or St. Marten or St. Marteen ???
The first thing we did when boarding the ship was to sign up for some shore tours. I was irked when we did not get on the "America's Cup" Regatta excursion. In talking to some people who had great fun on this excursion, it came out that all the people that went on this excursion were from one group. Hmmm! We did the Golden Eagle Catamaran and had a wonderful time. The service and entertainment the crew provided was outstanding. The snorkeling and beach stay was just beautiful as well as out tour around most on the island from the catamaran. I stongly reccommend that if you go to down town Phillipsburg that you take the water taxi to get there, it's worth the $3.00. My favorite shop was the Belgium Chocolate Shope- they deliver to the ship.
This was the only port we stopped at where we encountered other cruise ships, three others to be exact. Our group split up into two excursions; the Atlantis Submarine tour and Harrison's cave tour. Both groups came back happy with their tours. The cave was beautiful and the submarine was interesting; seeing a shipwreck, coral and plenty of fish. The best way to get to down town Birdgetown is by cab, however we did not stay long once there. It was way to crowded.
I found Martinique to be the most beautiful of the three ports we stopped at. I did wonder why the ship did not dock at the new Pointe Simone Terminal, we were the only ship in port- maybe the cabbies needed the money. We went into town and wanderd around and had a nice time. I think it helped that I spoke a little french. They don't pay much attention to our english. I can't fiqure out if they don't really understand english or are just rude because most of us don't speak french.We also caught the late Fun, Sun & Sailing tour. It was very nice and we had a great time. A word to the wise- skip the "bat cave" tour. Bats, crabs and stench---yeck!!
Our evening of dinner, dancing, service and a wonderful atmosphere overlooking Barbados at night at the Nouveau Supper Club. Golden Eagle Catamanran, a throughly enjoyable and realaxing day.
Almsot all the entertainment and the food.
Smoking on the ship- Paradise is #1. We need more no smoking ships.
Missing out on the Ameica's Cup Regatta.
Hope you have a Great cruise!
PRELUDE This was my 17th cruise and my Dad's 35th or so (we lose count). We have cruised Carnival, Celebrity, RCI, NCL, Princess, and Costa over the years, all of them multiple times. We have seen a lot of changes to the industry over the years, most of them bad, some of them good. For the most part, Carnival has definitely improved their product over the years. What I write is objective based on my past experiences, I am both critical and praising where it's deserved. I hope you enjoy the review.
EMBARKATION: After 30 plus years Carnival has yet to get the embarkation process to run smoothly. Sorry to say it that way, but it's just the facts. I imagine this is partly because the port facilities in Miami are too small to handle the megaships that Carnival has produced over the years, yet there seems to be no look of change for the future. Nothing is more frustrating than having to walk back and forth through lines like being at Disney World, people become impatient waiting for their turn to get to the representative and start their vacation. Othercruise lines I have been on have adjusted their embarkation process over the years to make it a more streamlined process, I just wish Carnival would do the same. So after you get checked in, finally..you proceed up the escalator to a table where you pick up your cruise card..then up another escalator to walk for what seems a mile to get to the photo opportunity. Ahhh, but that's not all, then you have to go down a flight of stairs of course showing your cruise card to security at the top, the first landing, and the bottom of the stairs.uggh! Now it's onto more meandering lines as you wait to have your photo taken for the A-Pass (honestly the greatest innovation in cruising) before you can finally walk the gang plank onto the ship. My Dad and I arrived at the port around 11:30 and were on the ship by 1:00pm..
THE SHIP One word describes the Spirit - beautiful!! Thank God they finally got away from the gaudy neon and fitted out the Spirit class in elegance. If the ship didn't have the trademark Carnival funnel, you wouldn't know you were on a Carnival ship. Spirit is in the same decor class as the Grand Princess and Century type vessels. The layout of the ship is also very accommodating. Traffic flow is very seldom congested, accept around the photo gallery and the lounges outside the dining room. The theater has been well thought out and designed. There truly isn't a bad seat in the house. The Pharoah theme is well done and not overkill. Also, look for the hidden elevators inside the theater that can take you from the Versaille Lounge below to the top deck of the Pharoah Lounge. I didn't notice it until mid way through the cruise.
The casino is probably the best one I've ever seen at sea. There is a nice bar area within the casino that flows with the entire room. It is well lit and you never have that cramped feeling or leave the casino smelling of smoke. The table layout is excellent as they alternate between blackjack, Caribbean poker, 3 card poker, and roulette which makes the casino look more active than it is sometimes.
The dining room has also been well thought out. The server lines are behind the line of booth tables, so you don't have to watch the waiters preparing your dishes. I just wish they would stop putting booths in the dining room and go to just tables and chairs to add to the elegance.
THE ROOM We had a balcony room on deck 6. The room is more than spacious and probably has the nicest bathroom layout I've ever seen. Finally a bathroom that you don't have to sit at an angle to use, and better yet, a shower curtain that doesn't hug you while you wash..
The room is accented by wood veneers and eye pleasing colors. I only wish they would have designed the rooms to have the seating area next to the balcony doors instead of placing the beds there instead.
SERVICE Carnival is trying to upgrade their image with the Spirit class ships, and have with the acception of the service on board. They are close, but still have a long way to go. Our room steward was excellent and was always pleasant. We also had excellent dining room service from our assistant waiter, Radka. Our waiter was relatively new so he fumbled a lot, yet he was always accommodating and did his best to please us.
The photo staff was excellent and beyond taking a variety of superb photos, they were very talkative and proud of the job they were doing. My Dad and I were talking with the photo manager one night about the Panama Canal and he actually went into the photo studio and brought out photos he had taken during transit that they did not sell on the ship. He also told of his adventures through Panama to catch the ship as she sailed through the canal river.
The biggest problem we had was bar service, whether it was poolside, in a lounge, in the disco, or the casino. The barstaff was not friendly at all and I noticed how the waiters and waitresses would take an entire trays worth of orders before going to the bar to fill up the orders. Sometimes this would take 30 minutes or so until you were refreshed. This may not seem to be a big deal to some, but when you are used to being pampered by bar staff on other cruises, you begin to expect the same everywhere. One day I ordered a Pina Colada 15 minutes before the pool games started, and when the drink actually came, the games were just finishing..that's too long. The bartenders were also very stand offish and not overly friendly. For what they charge for drinks and tips, they need to address this. Also, in order to have dark rum poored on top of your Pina Colada, be prepared to pay and extra dollar.
Finally - the cruise staff!!!! UGGGHH!!! Our cruise director was Amy from Wisconsin..and I had read reviews about her prior to the cruise. All the reviews were correct, she is terrible!! She also only has a staff of 3 others to accommodate 2,100 passengers that are craving activities. Fun ship? I don't think so. We had 5 days at sea over the cruise because we didn't stop in Costa Rica, and there were literally no activities planned for those sea days outside of bingo and art auctions. When we didn't stop in Costa Rica, it took Amy until NOON to come up with activities for our sea day, which of course was Jackpot Bingo!!!
FOOD Better than I could have ever expected from Carnival. Kudos to them for putting together excellent menus and selections. Even the Lido grill area had a variety of selections daily that were very tasty. The only bad thing was breakfast in the Lido was the same thing every day.no variety at all.
PORTS Panama - we took the canal tour on a tour boat going from the Mira Flora locks to midway through the canal river. Awesome experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone. A little pricey at $ 155 each, but a once in a lifetime tour. We passed the World when we were in the river, nice to see the all condo ship up close.
Costa Rica - well, we almost docked there, but since the swells were so large, the captain decided to pull out and go to sea. We watched the cargo ship next to us rock back and forth even though it was fully tied to the dock.
Belize - We took the Alan Ra Mayan Ruins tour. They are restoring the ruins now and it looked like they were using modern techniques. If you go to ruins, check out Chachoben in Mexico our of Costa Maya port.those are much better. It still wasn't a bad tour, it's always interesting to see the past.
ENTERTAINMENT The comedians were excellent, Eddie Capone was on board and he was great. There was also two guys, the Village Idiots that did a midnite show which was hilarious, only no one was there to see it but a handful. They did perform the last night in a regular show and were excellent. I only saw one production show, and it was okay, but had no continuity to it..lots of effects, no substance. Of course we missed the Newlywed Game and another one time show because "AMY" planned them during 2nd sitting dinner so the ones fortunate enough to dine late could not attend those shows.
Other than that, the ship literally died by midnite. The disco was seldom full and the only other place of activity after midnite was the casino. What happened to the Fun Ship of old?
THE CRUISE Okay, straight truth on the ship movement.she rocked and rolled, pitched up and down the entire trip. The only day she didn't move a lot was the last day at sea. Granted we had 30 knot winds all the way from Miami to Panama and up to Belize, the seas never had white caps, just swells. I personally like the movement of a ship at sea and feel it's part of the experience, but a lot of others didn't which was evident by the vomit bags staged throughout every stairwell and elevator. I was under the impression that the azipod system allowed for a vibration free cruise. I guess I was misinformed because the entire back of the ship consistently vibrated back and forth with a lot of noise to accompany the vibration. The vibration was worse on the top deck aft.so I imagine the ones staying in the aft cabins had that comforting vibration to help them sleep the entire trip.
DISLIKES: Spray on decking around the pool areas.ugggh!!! This stuff always gets slippery and there are constantly "caution" signs on the deck Pool attendants pick up all the deck chairs at 4:00 on the dot every day and rope them down so you can't get them down to sit on Lack of shipboard activities to keep people busy
There we went again. Around the middle of August, my Queen started making those "I gotta go on vacation" noises. Being the man of the family I always keep a "Big Picture" focus on all relevant matters concerning our activities. With a wet finger in the air, testing the vacation wind direction, I said we'd go back to Australia. She said "Hawaii." I then suggested going on another Alaska cruise. She said "Hawaii." Not to be put off by royal dictates I then recommended a Caribbean cruise since her highness had never been there. She said "Hawaii." Suddenly, the sun rose and a light came over my "Big Picture". I said "Hawaii." She said "What a wonderful idea you smart, handsome devil." So, Hawaii it would be.
Now the next challenge was to decide how we were going to accomplish this trip. Would it be a couple of weeks on a single island, split the trip between 2 or 3 islands, or find a cruise itinerary that made us both happy. Hell, I used to live there in the early 70's. Simple enough, eh? NOT!!!
Using all the analytical skills garnered from33 years working on Department of Defense weapons systems programs, I got to work. I pulled out pencil and paper, signed on to the web and started writing down hotel, car, tours, and airfare rates. After adding in a little food and a lot of drinks it quickly became apparent that we could either go to Hawaii for two weeks, or buy our dream dump on Maui, and not eat or drink. It gets expensive quick. With the consent of her royal highness, I made the command decision to book a cruise to the islands.
Several cruise lines tour the islands. None of them had an itinerary that made either of us jump up and down and shout, "We've got to go on this one!" Port calls were just a few hours and the sea days were trips to Fanning Island or Papeete to satisfy the law prohibiting foreign registered vessels from sailing between US ports without a foreign port visit. They're not "Hawaii".
Then (do you hear the dramatic drum roll?) we found the 9/25-10/7 Carnival Spirit, Hawaii cruise. Actually, it found us. I had signed up for the Vacations To Go newsletter after our Sea Princess, Alaska cruise last year. Therein lied (?) the answer. A 12-day cruise to Hawaii going to four islands with overnights on Maui and Oahu. It also had 6 sea days in a row. I love sea days. The cruise departed Vancouver, Canada, sailed 6 days to Kona, Hawaii. Then onward to Hilo, Hawaii, 2 days in Lahina, Maui, a day in Lihue, Kauai, and 2 days in Honolulu, Oahu. If we were screaming types, we'd have let loose with the previously mentioned shout.
I immediately called Vacations To Go and booked our first Carnival cruise through their cruise specialist, Dawn Bellis. She was a dream to work with. The rate for an 8A guarantee was about the same as her, er, our booze requirements on a land only vacation. This was also an opportunity to use some perks from my last professional position. I had a bazillion frequent flier miles on Delta, and a half a bazillion HiltonHonors points. For the $15 security fee we were able to book first class airfare to LAX-Vancouver and then Honolulu - LAX for both of us. We also booked 2 days post cruise at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu for $30. (I think the $30 is Hilton's way to punish me for not planning far enough ahead.) Finally, we booked a room at the Best Western Vancouver Airport for the night prior to the ship's departure. After doing the "get there" and "stay there" stuff, we booked rental cars on Maui and Kauai through Budget. Finally, we booked the Safari Helicopter Deluxe Volcano and Waterfall tour out of Hilo. That was enough work for one day.
One last task remained before we could leave. I blew the electronic dust from the packing spreadsheet from our Alaska cruise and began replacing long underwear and coats with shorts and Aloha shirts. I was careful not to delete the 3- outlet 6-foot extension cord from the packing list. Cruise ship builders seem to follow some law that only allows one outlet in the main cabin area. This proved to be true on the Spirit.
Eventually, the 24th of September arrived. We packed and then drove to the kids place in the afternoon. They drove us to LAX for the relatively short flight to Vancouver. We got in about 9:30 that night. Around 10:45 we got to the front of the airport terminal and called the hotel shuttle. Security and customs took about 10 minutes. Has anyone mentioned to you that it is a looonng walk from the plane to the terminal? We took our passports and driver's license for documents. When you go, check current requirements because they seem to change all the time.
We got up the next morning and had a leisurely breakfast. At about 10:00 AM the hotel desk called a cab for us. It took about 45 minutes and $17 CN (without tip) to get to Canada Place. We hadn't been there since they opened the new cruise ship facility. Wow, is it ever nice. A couple of young fellas grabbed our bags from the cab, looked at our cruise tickets, and slapped tags on them. We didn't see our bags again until they showed up in our cabin later that afternoon. We gave those fellas a small tip even though there were really big signs that said no tipping. They didn't give it back.
After entering the facility, all cruise ship passengers go through metal detectors just like the airport. Only ticketed passengers where allowed past this point. Once through the scanners, signs pointed the way to various ships. (Guys, you don't have to ask directions, they're also really big signs.)
It was a two-room process for boarding Carnival. To get into the first room, you pass under the obligatory Carnival arch to get your welcome aboard pictures taken. Since our experience has shown that these pictures are only slightly more flattering than a driver's license photo, we grabbed a very cute Carnival employee and put her in our picture. This was our small attempt at punishing Carnival for any mishaps that may happen. Damn girl must have been a professional DMV model before her Carnival job. She looked great, while we looked liked two old folks that had been traveling for two days. Drat, another good plan gone bad.
After the picture, we picked up a group number card from a table and were then directed to a row of seats. We were part of group number 2. Handouts with boarding instructions were handed out. (I guess that's why they're called handouts.) Several Carnival folks walked through and made sure our groups' paperwork was correctly filled out. After about 20 minutes sitting in the first room, our group number was called.
That was our invitation to go to room number two. Here were about 30-40 stations to process your tickets and get boarding passes. A very pleasant lady handled this quickly and gave us a map of the ship, and our sail and sign cards. (These cards are the "money" used on board; you're getting on and off pass, and cabin key.) Here's also where we found out we had been upgraded from an 8A to an 8G cabin.
From there we took a seat in the main area and waited to be called by group number to clear U.S. Customs and board the ship. OOPS. Big delay number 1 just happened. The customs folks work at both the airport and Canada Place. You got it, no customs folks. After a while, the chief boarder (a Canadian gentleman) announced that the U.S. Customs folks forgot they were scheduled to be at Canada Place for our departure. 45 minutes or so later they arrived. The customs folks said Carnival didn't schedule them. Uh Oh! A U.S. corporation, foreign registered ship, U.S. Customs, all on Canadian soil! Call the UN!! Yeh, right after we get on board!
About 20 minutes after the customs folks showed up, Carnival started priority boarding wheel chaired passengers, families with small kids, the Skippers Club, and cute girls with good stories. (Remember that the chief boarder is a guy!) After that, they started boarding by the same group numbers we've now had for about two hours.
The next stop was the aforementioned U.S. Customs. This was great for this cruise since we didn't have to spend time in our first port visit doing the customs clearance.
Finally, at a little after 1:00 PM, we walked on board. (Bet ya didn't think we'd ever get here! Just wait.) Crisis number one occurred as soon as we stepped into the atrium. The atrium bar was open. A friend I'll call Mr. Miller Lite was screaming my name. He shouted that he had been onboard too long and needed to be drank before he went bad. Being trained to respond to a plethora of emergencies, I immediately set myself into action. My Queen recognized my desire to fix problems as soon as I find them, and in her most regal tone she said, "Hold on, Bucko. He'll be there when we get back."
The first place we went was to the dining room. This was aft (back of the boat) from the atrium. We had requested early seating for this cruise. As usual on this request, we were assigned late seating. The Matre'd made himself available starting at 1:00 PM to change the seating if possible. We made our request for change and were told it would be the next day before we would hear anything, and we should attend our assigned seating that night.
The dining room takes up two levels. It has a very pleasant decor with a mix of tables and booths. The second level is a balcony surrounding the main dining floor. Our seating for that night was a 4- person booth on the port (left) side of the main dining area. The day's menu is posted outside the dining room each day. The trick is that the dining room has two sets of doors. In order to see the menu when the dining room is not open, you have to open the left hand door and squeeze into the 2-foot opening between the double set of doors. You won't find that hint in the ship's daily paper, the Carnival Capers.
Now, it was off to see the cabin and explore the ship while the rest of our 2500 roommates got on board. Our balcony cabin was number 7219 on the Verandah deck. This is on deck 7 about amidships on the starboard (right) side.
We really enjoyed this cabin. There was plenty of room for the two of us for the 12 days we were onboard. Storage for everything we brought was not a problem. Our large suitcases fit easily under the bed. We had requested that the beds be made up together. This gave us quite a bit of walk-around room. Don't be confused that it's got enough room for a game of volleyball, but it was as comfortable, albeit smaller, as any standard motel room. We really liked having the sofa to set on as opposed to a single chair and the bed we've had on other cruise lines.
When you first enter the cabin, three closets line the small hall. The first two are full hanging closets and the third has shelves. Your life jackets take up one shelf unless you shove them under the bed. There is a placard on the back of the cabin door with emergency directions and a map to your lifeboat station. A roomy bathroom is on the other side of the entry. It had a large shower, for a cruise ship, with a shampoo and body soap dispenser. There was a single "shavers only" outlet in the bathroom. (What the hell does that mean!!) We had a large basket full of product freebees such as razors, shampoos, Dramamine, Skittles, and other stuff. I reckon it's good advertising considering the number of folks onboard.
The main part of the cabin consists of a three- person sofa with storage drawers, an adjustable height table (which was fantastic for room service), very firm beds that were exactly how we liked them, and a long built in combination dressing table, chest of drawers, and shelving unit. This unit held the 19" color TV, the safe, the built-in hair dryer, refrigerator, and the infamous 1 AC outlet. Two robes were in the cabin for our use on the cruise. (I personally think they should swap them out after about six days of a twelve-day cruise if you know what I mean.)
The safe uses any credit type card with a magnetic strip as the combination. Don't use your cruise card just in case you lose it and give someone else access to your cabin AND your safe.
Each cabin has its own thermostat to set it to your personal comfort level. This presumes you're tough enough to whip your partner. Personally, I'm comfortable wherever Judy puts it. The refrigerator is a locked mini-bar. The room steward needs to unlock it. I hear if your really nice, they'll empty it out for you.
Each evening in our cabin, we were greeted by a different towel animal creation. We really began to look forward to see what creature was awaiting our return.
The balcony door is an out swinging French door. A two-foot bungee cord hooked to the handle and under the balcony divider can keep it open. This does turn off the cabin air conditioner unless you're a magnet wizard and override the door switch. We didn't do this since it was too cold the first three days, and too warm the rest of the cruise. Our balcony was about 12' wide and 5' deep with a Wal-Mart rosin chair and lounger. I mentioned we were upgraded from an 8A to an 8G cabin. That means we were on a higher deck with about a 2' deeper balcony. Otherwise, all Cat 8 cabins are basically the same.
Enough about the cabin already. Even though it is virtually soundproof, I could still faintly hear the cries for help from Mr. Lite coming up from the Atrium. It had come the time, regardless of what my beautiful Queen Judy said. I had to do my knightly duty to rid the world of frightened beer. by the way, I did consider this noble task as part of the ship's tour. We hurried in a safe manner to the glass elevators and descended to the atrium.
The Spirit Atrium is the center of activity for the ship. The glass elevators face the Atrium bar, which is framed on each side with the grand staircase going up to deck three. Behind the bar is a small stage where different "mood" music was played throughout the cruise. The Purser's desk and tour desk is located in this area. Across the expanse of the atrium from these desks are assorted chairs and sofas to set and watch the world go by through large windows. I digress.
With a grim determination, and a growing concern for Judy's safety caused by her swiveling head, gawking at the decor in the atrium, I planted my butt and her royal heiny on stools at the bar. With the fear for her highness's safety allayed for the moment, I proceeded to deal with the Mr. Miller Lite dilemma. You'll be glad to know that Mr. Lite was saved from going bad, and we saved many, many of his family from the same fate over the next twelve days.
As we sat there doing good deeds, we continued exploring the Spirit. This consisted mostly of discussing the ship's decor and watching cruise mates embark. As Judy so eloquently pointed out, "We've got twelve days to check out the boat."
Much has been said about the Spirit class ship's decor. Many were not kind. I'll admit that it's a bit overwhelming when you first see it, but it grew on us. The dark colors highlighted with gold, and the repetitive geometric designs became familiar. If folks miss the old Carnival use of bright, colored patterns just go up to the pool deck. WAHOO!
Elevators and public restrooms are plentiful on the Spirit. We now know where all the restrooms are, and never had to wait for an elevator.
It soon came time to get underway. We went to our cabin and watched the departure from our balcony. It was a sunny, pleasant late afternoon to catch the Vancouver scenery. We also used this time to unpack and get ready for dinner. The ride out and through the long passage of the Straits of Juan DeFuca was smooth and uneventful. We also got to watch the season premiere of the "West Wing" while driving towards the wide, blue Pacific. The ship's cable system had Primetime 24 East for the whole cruise. So, if you could adjust your TV watching clock to east coast time you could keep up with your favorite shows. We also filled out the customs forms that were in the cabin in advance of our arrival in Honolulu a week later.
As 8:45 neared, we headed down for dinner. We had no tablemates that evening so we missed one of our favorite parts of cruising. That is meeting different folks who have also left their cares and woes on the beach. Yep, I reckon that was a vote for "Personal Choice" style dining. Because food is subjective (even if my opinion is always right), I'll forego 12 days of dinner descriptions. The dining room food was plentiful and tasty, and repetitive, without being extraordinary throughout the cruise. Most nights, the Matre'd and his staff did some type of skit or dance, and their service was very professional. I know that's not an overwhelming ovation for the dining room, it's just to say everything was just fine.
From the dining room, we went back to the atrium for an après dinner cocktail before retiring. Don't yell, when I ski, it's called an après ski beer. Got It!
After the après it was time to turn in. Day one was over. We are cruising!!!
The next five days were filled with many cruise highlights that I'll synopsize in a rambling fashion so as to not use 5 pages a day. The first couple of days were very cool, weather wise. After that it warmed noticeably the further south we went. Six sea days in a row may seem boring to many cruisers, but somehow we stayed busy even if we were busy doing nothing. (This scared her highness once she figured out how well I could actually do nothing.) Carnival does schedule a boatload (get it?) of activities to keep you busy if'n you so choose.
Sometime in the middle of our first night at sea the weather turned. Watching the ship's TV channel, we registered 60-70 mile per hour winds and 20-30 foot swells. While the stabilizers did a great job, needless to say that there were a whole bunch of people who missed that days activities. The lifeboat drill was conducted at 9:30 that morning. It was held indoors in the hallways to be safe. It took about 30 minutes. A lot of the folks looked like they'd rather have been washed overboard. Things started to calm down after the first day and we saw more and more of our shipmates getting out and about.
We woke up early each morning of the cruise and called room service. We would order 2 pots of coffee, orange juice, Danish, and bagels. The stuff got to our cabin in less than 10 minutes each time. We had brought a bunch of $2 bills and used them for tipping onboard. What a great crew.
The first morning, Judy opted for the dining room for breakfast. Both breakfast and lunch are open seating. The food was O.K. It was not quite up to the standards of a good "Lenney's". It was our last time to have breakfast here. This was not a cruise breaker by any stretch. There are enough places to eat onboard that the pickiest eater can enjoy. The next morning we ventured up to the pool deck to the La Playa Grill. Now they have a breakfast here! All the choices were fresh and very tasty. Lines were non-existent. Floor to ceiling windows provided a fantastic vista while folks ate more in one sitting than they probably would in a day at home. Yep, that's cruising for ya!
Just a bit more about food, then I'll get on with it. After breakfast that morning we went back to the cabin to get ready for our day at sea. A card from the Matre'd was in the cabin saying that we had been changed to early seating at 5:45 PM. We were now in a booth on the other side of the dining room with a retired couple from Florida via New York and the Philippines. We spent several nights enjoying their company at dinner. We ate about half our evening meals in the dining room, and the rest at the La Playa Grill. We never had lunch in the dining room, nor dinner at the added fee Nouveau Supper Club, so I can't tell you first hand what that was like. But, I am a second-hand expert on the supper club. Virtually every person we talked to raved about their evening there. I guess we got so busy doing nothing that we didn't have time to go up 2 decks from our cabin to try it.
The La Playa Grill and pool deck is also the location of other culinary delights. Each evening they had a "Taste of Nations" buffet set up. This is a little misnomer unless you agree that burritos, pork chops, and such all come from India. There was a definite Indian flavor to all these dishes.
They have a poolside grilling area for great hamburgers, hot dogs, and brauts. My personal favorite was the Deli, and Judy's favorite was the Pizza Bar. The Deli sandwiches were fresh and moist and delicious. My German heritage queen, Judy, ate so many Calzones that she was speaking Italian by the end of the cruise. To top all this off, on the aft pool deck there were several self- serve soft ice cream and yogurt machines to help fill whatever small crevices of your insides that you had left.
Finally, below on the Promenade deck is the Fountain Cafe. Here is the place that if your sail and sign card is low on charges, you can purchase desserts and coffees for a nominal fee. I don't get it. Food, coffees and desserts up the kazoo and they'll actually sell you more for a "nominal" fee!
I don't want to get too far into the cruise without recognizing the absolutely phenomenal cruise staff and crew onboard the Spirit. They were all personable, professional, and friendly. If it was in their power to do something for you, they did it. We did have our three favorites. They were Donna and Jo Anne from the Philippines, and Geniviete from Lithuania. We spent a lot of time with those three in many enjoyable encounters and conversations.
Speaking of the pool area, which I spoke of somewhere in this thing, after the first couple of days it really got a workout. The warm days and beautiful skies kept it crowded. We never saw "chair hogging". The aft pool deck always had piles of chairs for passengers to use. We never did see the slide open. Each day there were contests such as "Survivor Carnival Style", ice- carving demonstrations, and our favorite, "Hawaiian Sounds" by a group called "Ikapuahana". Say that once real fast! After dinner each night we would go up to the pool deck for coffee and ice cream, and talk romantic cruise ship type stuff.
Before the cruise, I had "volunteered" to be the center post for a cruise forums get-together for the folks at the Cruise Critic, Cruise Mates, and Cruise Addicts web sites. This was scheduled on our second full sea day. Before leaving home, I had made up a beautiful, professional sign with the logos from these forums. At the appointed place (Champions Bar) and appointed time (1:00 PM), the queen and I plopped our keisters down, started saving frightened beers, and awaited the swarming throng. In 3 hours of awaiting, 3 folks swarmed us. The time was well spent with our Lite family duties and meeting SPUDWITCH from the Cruise Critics board. SPUDWITCH turned out to be half of the Sharon and Earl team. These are great folks that we occasionally ran into around the boat, and on the beach. by the way, they are from Idaho (SPUD) and Sharon's birthday is Halloween (WITCH). I got it after she explained it.
To further add to the excitement of our days at sea, my sweetie invited me to attend the arts and crafts activity held each day. She has always been into this stuff. If you should run across her someday, be sure to ask her which of the two of us actually finished the official Carnival plastic canvas penholder. Oh Yeah!!
Let me ramble a moment (again?), less we forget shopping on sea days. Deck 3 contains the Fashion Blvd. I didn't count, but there were about 8-10 shops here. Momma used it to get her store fix, and to keep me in the practice of tagging along with my mouth shut, until the time we reached port. Actually the shops contained a variety of stuff with pretty good duty-free prices. The law required them to shutdown in port.
Late afternoons were taken up with Judy retiring to the cabin, taking a nap when she could, and working on a baby blanket for our soon to arrive granddaughter. (She's here now, and she and our other granddaughter are the best looking women in the family.) I split my time between the Atrium Bar and the Champions Bar talking to the international bartenders, continuing my crusade for the Lite family, and bothering any unsuspecting passenger who happened to get too close. What a life!
One of those unsuspecting types was a gent named George from San Diego, via England. I mention George not only because he's a great guy, but also because he related a theory that answers the ever- present question about how old the average passenger was on this cruise. I was a young 51 and George was 62 at the time of cruise. Just aft of the atrium area is the Dancin' Dance Club. This is a disco type dance hall with a sign out front that said unescorted teenagers must vacate at 11:00 PM. George held that age is relative. If that holds to be true, he said we'd have to find someone to escort us into the club after 11. No offence, but he wasn't far off. We did count eleven little pirates marching along with the Club Carnival kids group. The age group on this cruise was probably a factor of both the dates of the cruise, and it's length.
The casino was open anytime we were at sea. Don't worry about finding the casino; it'd be tough for Daniel Boone to find a way fore and aft without going through it. I don't remember seeing the casino not crowded, unless we were in port. I was surprised at that. As tight as we found the machines, you'd think with that many folks gambling they could have pooled their money and bought the boat. I guess some folks are luckier than others.
The evenings were spent attending the shows in the Pharaohs Palace, the Versailles Room, and other venues around the boat. The shows were all energetic, entertaining, and professionally done. Norm Crosby was the headliner for this trip.
Right next to the Champions Bar is Club Cool. This is a smallish lounge with a dance floor and stage. This is where tender tickets were handed out. It's also where karaoke was performed. Those were some brave passengers. Judy and I were in Champions the first time karaoke fired up. The bartender, Jo Anne, ran to us with horror in her eyes looking for help. It was no use. Until that time, Judy and I had assumed we were afraid of absolutely nothin'. Again it goes to show where assuming will get you. Those paxs sure were having a great time though.
That about takes care of the trip across the Pacific to the islands. It seemed to take about as long to do it as it does reading to here.
Before I blither on about the port calls, I want to mention that we did not book any tours through the cruise line. We've found they cost way more than doing them ourselves. This overrides the small risk of being left behind. Heck, buy third-party vacation insurance with the saved money.
It also leads me to the one thing about cruising that puts a giant bite on our backsides. Folks who book tours through the cruise line are the first off in ports where tenders are used. We understand why the lines do this. Don't bother flaming me or arguing cause I don't care. Cruise lines, please hire enough tenders to take care of your tour paying passengers, and enough to get those of us who paid the same price for our trips, on the beach at the same time so we all can enjoy the limited port time. This ain't rocket science, and we're not traveling steerage. Whew! I feel better now.
Next is security. Every time you get on or off the ship, your sail and sign card is run through a machine to confirm who you are, and whether your onboard or not. When we first came aboard in Canada, our picture was taken by security, and associated with the card. They looked at the picture every time we boarded to insure you-is- you. When returning to the ship, all hand-carried items are hand searched, ID's checked, and your body is wanded on the pier. Once on the ship, your card is scanned and your carry-on stuff is run through an x-ray machine.
Now on with the cruise.
We pulled in and anchored in Kona about an hour and a half ahead of schedule. Her majesty had designated this a shopping port with some picture taking and eating as a sideline. After getting our tender numbers from Club Cool we proceeded to the beach. AAARHHG! Free shopping buses from Hilo Hattie's and Wal-mart where waiting, as they were in every port.
Kona is a tourist town that circles beautifully around its bay. Judy says it reminds her of Avalon on Catalina Island. It reminded me of Kona since I'd been here a couple of times in my youther years. It was hot and sunny as we began the marathon-shopping run. There were some folks training on the Iron-Man triathlon venues. Those wimps would have died keeping up with my Judy. As usual, we hit every store within the boundaries of this side of the island, ate some food for strength, and then did some real shopping. We did get a chance to slip into the oldest missionary church on the island, which is built out of coral, without being blasted by the oft spoke of bolt of lightning.
Kona is truly a beautiful place. After the marathon, we returned to the Spirit and continued our late afternoon and evening routine on board. The ship departed for the other side of the island at around 5:30.
Upon awaking the next morning, we went out to the balcony, with our morning victuals, to watch our approach into Hilo. The early morning was bright and clear as we proceeded down the coastline. With no clouds forming yet, we had clear views of the observatory stations at the top of Mauna Kea, down across Mauna Loa, and a stunning view of the volcanic plume of Kilauea. We tied up at a pier a couple of miles from downtown, and right next to the airport.
Upon disembarking, we finally got "lei'd" in Hawaii. You could tell the cruisers from the rest of the folks by the purple flower leis we were all wearing. (Not to mention the bright, white legs on oh so many of us.)
Hilo can be a pretty wet place. They get between 130 and 200 inches of rain a year. As the morning warmed up, clouds rapidly formed. Starting about noon that day the rainfall average was significantly added to. This microclimate of warm and sunny on the west side of the islands, and warm and wetter on the east side holds true for most of the Hawaiian chain. Also, the year round temps across the islands are almost always in the 80's during the day, and the 70's at night. Look out Al Roker, me sound like I know weather, uh.
As I said somewhere towards the top of this thing, we had booked the Safariair helicopter tour of the volcanoes and waterfalls. This was the tour we were most looking forward to on this trip. We were not disappointed.
I love any type of flying, and Judy had never been in a rotary wing contraption. The combination of my anticipation and her trepidation got our "couples" karma out of whack. We were already a little uncertain whether the flight would get off with the building weather.
When we booked this flight over the Internet, we had requested the 1:30 PM flight just in case there was a major delay in getting off the boat. When you book these rotary wing tours you need to give your height and weight so the pilot can calculate center-of-gravity and weight and balance for the aircraft. We received an e-mail from them prior to leaving home; implying one of us was just a little too "tubby" for the 1:30 lift-off. We were shifted to the 10:00 AM flight.
A representative from Safariair picked us up from the pier at about 9:15 and drove us to their facility at the Hilo airport. Once inside, we were weighed on a digital scale to confirm no "slimming" fibs were told over the Internet. After the rest of the tour group arrived, we were given a safety briefing, our seating assignment, and introduced to our pilot, Jim.
The aircraft held seven people. Four sat in the back seat, and two paxs and the pilot sat in the front. We got really lucky here. Four nice people loaded into the back, Judy got the middle, front seat, and "tubby" got the left hand, front door seat. What a fantastic view for the hour-long flight.
Jim gave us another flight safety briefing, and we went light on the skids. We all wore Bose noise- canceling intercom headsets during the flight. These worked fantastically. You could barely hear the airplane, but the piped over Hawaiian music and Jim's superb and entertaining narration was crystal clear. The aircraft was equipped with a video camera system with forward and side mounted cameras and six videotapes. The tape has the flight video with Jim's narration, and the Hawaiian music for $20. They're worth it for the music!
It had started raining fairly hard as we departed the airport. Jim kept up his running narration of points of interest as we flew toward the Kilauea calderas. The rain stopped just as we started flying over older lava flows. Once we got over the southwestern side of the volcano, we could see the venting plumes from the lava tubes running down to the sea. Periodically we could see the molten lava as it broke through the surface. Once over the ocean, we could clearly see the orange-red lava flowing into the ocean from several tubes, sending vast clouds of hydrochloric acid into the air. That would be a baaad place to take a deep breath if you were on the ground.
After showing us the volcano area, Jim headed back to the north of Hilo. Along the winding river, flowing out to the sea, several huge and majestic waterfalls came into view. We descended and circled the waterfalls for about 15 minutes. Way, way too soon it was time to head back and land. After landing, we deplaned the rotary thing. A staffer grabbed our cameras and took a shot of each of us in front of the helicopter. Safariair is one class act.
We were driven back to the pier upon completion of this fantastic tour. We later heard that the rains and low clouds had cancelled the afternoon flights. Tubby is now glad he didn't listen real close to his cardiologist. Otherwise we'd have missed our flight.
The helicopter ride was silky smooth, Judy likes helicopters, and all is right in the world.
During our flight, Jim had told us that downtown Hilo is not really a "tourist" type place as far as its layout goes. So. momma made a decision and we went shopping. We jumped on the ever-present gratis Hilo Hattie's bus and headed out. The Hattie's representative handed out free puka shell necklaces. They did this in every port. (OOPS! Kids, the necklaces we gave you were the really, really expensive ones.) After Hattie's, we walked across the street to Wal-Mart for more vacation fun. From there it was back to the ship for our now normal shipboard routine, and our departure for Maui.
The next morning the ship anchored in the bay at Lahina, Maui. We'd be here for two days. The ship did lift anchor and head out to sea after midnight, and then returned and anchored early in the morning. Yeah, you could stay on the island all night if you wanted. We went back to the boat since we'd already paid for our room. We heard that shorts were allowed that night in the dining room. That was the only time on this cruise.
Once we went through the get off the boat and tender thing (yatayatayata), we walked a block through town to pick up the Budget rental car shuttle.
Lahina is an old whaling village that has maintained its charm. The seaside bars from my youth are now a lot of, no, hundreds of, no, thousands of shops. We had both been here during the years before we met. You know, the unhappy years.
Anyway, we picked up the car and headed across the island to Hana. If you haven't taken the infamous "Road to Hana", you gotta try it someday. The road is a little over 30 miles long with over 600 curves and 59 one-way bridges. It winds through some of the most beautiful and lush tropical mountain rainforest that we have ever seen. Waterfalls are spread throughout the trip. It's also the only road I've driven that has the sign "Speed Zone Ahead" where the speed limit goes "up" from 15 mph to 30 mph. The round trip from Lahina can take all day, and is well worth the time.
After entering Hana, we took the fork to the right and searched out a place for lunch. We found it at the Hotel Hana Maui. This is one high class, high-end inn. Don't confuse it with a high-rise hotel. It's low-slung buildings and oriental gardens spread across the landscape presenting a view just short of heaven. We had lunch in their covered lanai dining room overlooking their unbelievable ocean vista. We did not want to leave, but with anything less than winning the lotto, it would have been a short stay.
Kicking and screaming, we got back in the car and retraced our route back to Lahina. We searched out a lot to park the car for the night. There are several on the street about 2 blocks from the pier. Be warned that they vary in price without any seeming reference to the proximity to downtown Lahina. We found one directly up from the wharf for $10 a night.
With very little begging on my part, my queen consented to forego shopping until the next day. Instead, we did manly stuff. The Pioneer Inn is a hundred-plus year old wooden hotel sitting at the foot of the wharf where our tenders arrived and departed. Sailors, whalers, and other tough guys have frequented this joint for decades. My new, old buddy George was sitting in the open sided bar imbibing with his three female tablemates from the ship. He graciously asked us to join them. Shortly after we arrived, one of our new, young crewmember friends, Geniviete, and her friend joined in. A Samoan singer large enough to make Shaq look like Minnimee from Austin Powers, sang beautiful Hawaiian songs while our six female tablemates and us two guys did manly bar things. This lasted until the call for the last tender of the night forced us to return to the ship. God I love port calls.
The next morning, it was up early and onto the tender back to town. We found our car and went to the Lahina Cannery shopping center for a couple of hours of shopping. After that tour of duty, we loaded up and headed back to Budget to turn in the car.
A quick shuttle ride back to Lahina placed us back into the "Judy shopping heaven" portion of the port call. The next several hours (read days) were spent going in and out of the lots of, no, hundreds of, no, thousands of shops. Looking down the sidewalk was hilarious. The lined up, vacant stared shopping "husbands" could get an invite to the International Identical Twins Day festivities. Then it was back to the ship to go to Kauai.
Nawiliwili. That's a name that deserves to stand- alone. Lets all say it together. Nuh-willy-illy- willy. P.S. You've got to say it real fast to say it right. Yep, that's where we tied up on Kauai. It's located just outside of Lihue.
Kauai is often referred to as the most beautiful of the Hawaiian Islands. I don't know about that, given the awesome beauty found throughout the island chain, but there are astounding visionary spectacles to behold on this, the oldest of the islands.
With extraordinary skill, care, and a boatload of thrusters, the Captain maneuvered the ship through a small opening into the harbor, and tied up to the pier in the place I said above. I dare you to say it again.
Our visit on Kauai was a relatively short eight hours. Even though we had reserved a car, her royal person and I decided to forgo the pleasure of getting it, and turning it back in. We had planned to drive up the coast and do the Wailua River and Fern Grotto tour. Instead, we asked one of the cab drivers at the pier how much. He said 16 bucks. We said OK. We got in, and away we went.
A short ride north of Lihue brought us to the River tour office and restaurant. Anyone who spends time watching movies rather than working will recognize this place. Let's see, Donovan's Reef, Blue Hawaii, and Jurassic Park to name just a few. We bought our tickets and waited for the time to board the really big river barge for the two and a half mile trip up the Wailua River to the Fern Grotto.
Once aboard we set sail for the leisurely cruise. The barge had a small band to do band stuff, and hula ladies to do hula stuff on our way up. They were really good considering the number of times they do this trip day in and day out. A half hour trip brought us to the docking area for the grotto.
Upon reaching the grotto dock, we walked on a concrete path for about 10 minutes through the jungle. Don't fret; Hawaii has never, ever had snakes. The grotto suddenly opened up through the thick foliage. It's a truly beautiful place with giant ferns overhanging the cliffs and grotto. We were invited to walk into the grotto. Once there, the crew sang the "Hawaiian Wedding Song". Remember Elvis. And yes, they really do perform a ton of weddings here.
After that we loaded onboard the barge and headed back to the tour dock. On this trip, the pilot gave a great talk about what we saw on the boat ride. O.K. it may sound a little hokey, but we loved it.
Once ashore, we called our cab company and had them take us to downtown Lihue. The town was putting on their part of the annual Aloha Festival. This festival is held all across the islands. The festival was set up in the town square. We spent a few hours here rummaging through the crafts, watching the entertainment, and eating hot dogs. This was a case of a small town, good time.
Rather than spend money on another cab, we walked a few blocks to Hilo Hattie's and took the free bus back to the ship. Onboard we went, and it was Honolulu bound.
Honolulu. This is it, our last port, the end of the road, the place to get off, the last of this novella! Aloha.
We didn't disembark until the next day. This gave us a whole day and night in Honolulu, with a room. That is until we shifted over to the Hilton Hawaiian Village for two more days.
We tied up that morning next to the Aloha Tower and got ready to ransack the island. This was "my island", the place where I had lived and loved for three years. (WHOOPS! yet again. Judy didn't know about that part.) I was going to spend the next few days taking my sweetheart to all my old haunts and hideaways. That took about 5 minutes discounting driving time.
What the hell did they do to my island in the last 28 years? I'll tell you! They built a herd of new buildings all over the island; added new roads; grew the population by 100%; and tore down my old haunts and hideaways. Damn, I hate it when that happens. I know, I know, you don't care. That's fine, Judy didn't either.
Okay, okay. We had planned this first day as the day we explored Waikiki. We departed the Spirit that first morning, and to my surprise, we went shopping at the Aloha Tower.
Once we exited the pier building, several tour buses, cabs, and company shopping vans were waiting to take the milling throngs to their appointed places. This was also the place we found the Waikiki Trolley stop. These are open sided trolleys that run different routes from the Aloha Tower through the downtown and Waikiki area for $2 a day.
The first thing we did, after the little shopping spree, was to jump on the trolley and ride it down to the Hilton Hawaiian Village (HHV). I wanted to verify our room reservation and give Judy a preview of the 24-acre "hideaway" where we would be spending the next couple of days. Whew! I'd like to own 24 acres on Waikiki for about the 30 seconds it would take to become a multi-billionaire.
Once the reservations were confirmed, we stopped by the hotel's tour desk to book the Arizona Memorial Tour and reserve our rental car for the next couple of days.
From the HHV we hoofed it down to the Waikiki beach area. This is where the first dramatic changes to "my island" were noticed. I had regaled Judy with the absolutely true, unvarnished, no bull facts about the functions I had attended at the world famous, pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel and it's equally famous Mai Tai Bar. I couldn't find it. How in the world could I NOT find a giant pink building on Waikiki beach? Simple, high-rise store/office buildings were built in the front of it. We eventually found the "free beach access" alley and went to the Royal Hawaiian for a walk around. She's still a beautiful place.
From there, we headed over to the International Market Place for an afternoon of shopping. The mostly open-air market place is located in the middle of the Waikiki beach area, and has been there for decades. We spent a long, long time here.
After the Market Place, we crossed the street and "walked the sands of Waikiki". Yep, just like the words from the songs. In the late afternoon we boarded the trolley to head back to the Spirit for one last night of that ole cruise feeling.
Disembarking the next morning was a piece of cake. Earlier in the cruise we had filled out a form that had been left in our cabin. This form detailed each passenger's post cruise itineraries. Based on flight times, tour schedules and such, Carnival assigned a number and color for getting off the ship. Luggage tags with this info and directions were delivered to the cabin.
On the last night, we packed up and put the tags on our bags, and then set them outside our cabin by midnight. For those folks leaving the island, remember to keep out clothes and stuff for the flight home. We heard that folks forgot to do this more than once. I'm not sure that the new airline security measures allow you to fly home only wearing day old underwear. I can think of cases where that could constitute a terrorist act. When our color and number was called, we departed the ship, went to the luggage holding area, and grabbed our stuff. We were off the ship by 9:30 that morning.
We hopped a cab and checked into the HHV. As it was early, no room was available. They checked us in and took our luggage anyway. The HHV has a desk setup to come back later and pick up the room keys later in the day.
We then walked around the corner to the small Budget office and picked up our car. Today was our vehicular tour of the island of Oahu across Diamond Head, and up the coast to the North Shore.
After working our way through the Waikiki traffic, we wound our way up Diamond Head to the lighthouse and lookout point. From there it was down to Hanauma Bay, Makapu Point, and up the coast to the North Shore and Sunset Beach. The surf was calm at Sunset and Bonsai Beach, so Judy didn't get to see how terrifyingly huge this can be.
From there, we cut across the island through what remains of the Dole pineapple plantation, and worked our way back to Honolulu. Driving times on the islands are deceptive because of the winding coast roads, and lower speed limits. This trip took us all day.
We got back to the hotel and picked up our room keys. Our bags had already been taken to the room. We walked down to the ever-present ABC convenience store and picked up snacks and liquid sustenance for use in the room. We had dinner at one of the whole bunch of eateries in the village, and returned to our room to partake of the afore mentioned sustenance on our balcony.
Sorry that there's no review of the village. We didn't really avail ourselves of all they had at this beautiful resort.
The next morning we had scheduled the Arizona Memorial Tour. Our tour left the village at 6:30 in the morning. This atrocious time was selected so as to be in the first group at the memorial. Later in the day, the lines and waits can become brutal.
When I was stationed at Pearl Harbor, I was a member of the Fleet Reserve branch that participated in the fund raising and construction of the museum associated with the Arizona Memorial. I had seen conceptual stuff before leaving the island, but had not returned to see the final product. Many of my old shipmates and other organizations toiled unflaggingly for the years it took to get this part of the memorial opened. They exceeded the definition of a superb job.
The shuttle took us to Pearl Harbor. Our tour guide quickly got our group lined up and signed in at the museum. The tour is free to all, and it is first come-first served. So get there early. We milled around smartly for a little while until our number was called.
Once called, we entered the theater for a 20-minute movie of the history leading up to, and the attack on that infamous day. At the conclusion of the film, we loaded onto a launch piloted by U.S. Navy personnel, as only it should be. After a short ride, we arrived at the Arizona.
Each group has 15 minutes to board and view the memorial. The quiet, solemn air and feeling of this final resting place of so many brave men must be felt, while never truly being explainable.
At the conclusion of our time onboard, we reloaded the launch and returned to the museum site. Plenty of time was allowed to tour the museum proper, and then it was back to the shuttle and our return to the hotel.
We jumped into the car and headed out to the eastern side of the island for our last day of the trip. This was "my side". We drove past the airport, Pearl Harbor and into Aeia. This was the first town in which I resided. I was able to recognize it by viewing the arrangement of the surrounding hills. Darn, they did it again.
We pulled into a large coffee shop for breakfast. After eating we got back in the car to continue the "old haunt" search. As we were pulling out of the parking lot, I thought I recognized the layout of a small road. We made that turn, and I'll be durned if my old apartment building wasn't still standing. Somebody must have messed up and not knocked it down for a used car dealership. Now I also know why the helicopter place inferred that I was a little "tubby". The place had gotten a lot smaller than when I lived there.
After the ten seconds of reminiscing, which was about all Judy could stand, we headed north up Kam highway. Our destination was Naval Air Station Barbers Point on the north end of that side of Oahu. With my previous family, we had moved from Aiea to Barbers Point. The house was so new when we moved in, that the paint was actually still wet. Damn again. NAS Barbers Point had been decommissioned, and my house was now a giant fuel storage tank.
What the heck, we're really not nostalgic folks. Besides, we had accepted our new, holy mission to rid the world of bad beer, didn't we? So, it was back to the hotel to pursue our new mission in life, and to pack for our flight home the next morning.
Judy did get a driving tour of the entire island of Oahu. If she wants to see anything in detail, we'll have to come back.
The next morning we packed up the car and sallied forth to the Honolulu International Airport.
We dropped off the car, checked in for the flight, and boarded the plane for our last "waited on hand and foot" first class ride back to LAX. The smoothness of our vacation didn't end here. Oh contraire! As Judy was struggling to get the in- seat video unit out for the in-flight movie, the ever vigil flight attendant jumped in to help her.
With a practiced pull and twist of the display by the flight attendant, my honey's index finger was smashed between the display and the seat. She was cut clear to the bone. We now had a horrified flight attendant and a queen in pain for the rest of the flight. We did get good service, though.
Alas, not everything can be perfect. The cruise breaker we did experience was the ride of the Carnival Spirit. When at sea, with the right conditions, our cabin shuddered so hard that we had to pack the drinking glasses in towels to keep the clanking noise in check. Judy made up for her lack of sleep with naps when she could, and some sleep in port. To be fair, the shuddering decreased dramatically the lower we ventured on the ship. That was not the way to venture forth into new adventures. I'll stand on my experience of 10 years of sea duty on various classes of Naval vessels, and our previous cruises to say that this violent shuddering was mechanically or ship design induced. For the first time in my life I wrote a letter of complaint. I asked Carnival to give us an explanation just so we had the "real" story to base future adventures with them, on this otherwise unbelievable ship and cruise. Carnival did respond thanking us for our input, and 15% off future cruises with them. It's with a saddened heart that while this otherwise "trip of a lifetime" was truly enjoyable, we just can't recommend the Spirit to our friends and associates until we know that the problem is fixed.
And this, my friends, concludes this very condensed version of what we did on our summer (fall) vacation.
While we thoroughly enjoyed our adventure to those golden Pacific isles, 15 days away from home with an expectant little girl, and a longing for my recliner, allowed us to return home with light, though shaken, hearts.
Aloha, Joe and Judy.
Four adults were in our group for this cruise.My brother and I had cabin 5173 and a male friend and his mother had cabin 5156 on the Upper Deck. We all flew into Anchorage a day before the cruise to reduce the stress and avoid any last minute problems and delays.We stayed at the Voyager Hotel which we have stayed at before and we all cannot say enough about this great hotel and friendly staff. My brother and I enjoyed the cruise immensely.The ship is clean and new and easy to navigate with the small maps provided.
Unfortunately,our first negative experience was in Anchorage at the Egan Center for registration.What we were told by Carnival was that registration began at 8:30am -1:30pm. The first bus would leave at 11:30am and the last bus would leave at 1:30pm.We showed up at 11am and there was a line about a block long!It was a single line of people waiting to get into the center with only 4 girls doing the registration paperwork.We waited in line for 2 hours.There were chairs to sit in, but the long wait was hard on the oldest person inour group.Once we got registered (at 1pm) we thought we could get on a bus fairly soon. They gave us tickets for a bus at 3pm!!! So we had to wait another 2 hours to board our bus to Seward. We went and had lunch, but we were all tired and our patience was running out.The bus ride to Seward was nice, we stopped at the wildlife rehab center for 1/2 hour and then were held up by construction for another 25 minutes.
Getting on the ship was easy and we had help finding our cabins. The next negative experience was upon entering our cabins.The cabin that my brother and I had was partially obstructed by a lifeboat.The top of the lifeboat was an extension of our balcony floor, so we could still have a good view while sitting in our chairs.The cabin for my friend and his mother was a huge disappointment as the lifeboat blocked most of their view to the front and sides. They could not sit in their chairs and see anything.(They specifically booked balcony cabins as they like to spend their time on the balcony watching the scenery and enjoying a pot of coffee.)
We had NOT been informed by Carnival that these cabins had obstructed views.The way I found out that these cabins had obstructed views was by reading a fellow Cruisemates member review. It was a week before our cruise and when I called Carnival they told me it would not be a problem and that we could still see some scenery.I had requested new cabins, but the shipped was fully booked and it was too late to get a new cabin.We were put on the upgrade list, but when I talked with the Purser's desk onboard the ship I was told there were no more cabins for upgrades.So, this put a real damper on our plans and set the tone for the week to come.
I thought the cruise itself and the ship were great!! I am hoping to do the Northbound cruise next summer. The scenery was spectacular even when we had a couple of days of fog and mist. There were plenty of activities on the ship during the day.
The evening shows were fair to good. The best ones were with the Spirit dancers and singers. The comedians were fair to poor.
The food and service were great! No problems or complaints. Our cabin steward was friendly and fun. There were few children on this cruise and we were hoping it would be that way. The ones that were there we saw infrequently, so there were no kids running around the decks and up and down the hallways. We did the rafting and the whale watching in Juneau. Both were fun and interesting and worth the money. We did the train ride in Skagway and also enjoyed it.
We did not get off the ship in Valdez because the line was very long for the shuttle bus into Valdez.Each bus took 40 people and we figured it would be another hour wait and then we would miss our dinner seating for the evening.Carnival seems to have a problem with long lines and inefficient ways to expedite things.
When we got to Ketchikan we floated up to the dock and then all of a sudden the ship pulled away from the dock. The captain informed us that it was too windy to dock although two other ships had made it in earlier.We sailed up and down the channel for a few hours but never made it into Ketchikan as winds got up to 60 mph. Talk about wanting to cry! I still had shopping to do and we missed our Jeep Safari and Canoe trip!Everyone was disappointed and we spent the day on the ship slowly sailing to Vancouver. No alternate port was offered and we received a $20 credit for skipping Ketchikan.That was like adding insult to injury.
We thought it strange that two ships had gotten in earlier and that with all the sophisticated weather equipment that the captain did not have more advance knowledge of the situation and could have tried to speed up our arrival in Ketchikan.
Our arrival in Vancouver went smoothly.We got to the airport by 9am and all caught earlier flights home.
I would book on Carnival again, although I am sure that our two friends would not.The cruise got off to a bad start for them and it did not improve much along the way.
I would recommend going for registration at 8:30am in Anchorage, getting your bus time assignment and then go have breakfast while you wait for your boarding time to Seward. The system they use for registration is archaic and totally uncalled for especially when many of the people on this cruise were over 55 and probably had a difficult time waiting in the long line. This process would be easy to improve and make painless.
Carnival is not apologetic about their obstructed view cabins. If you pay a discount price for your cruise, this is what you get.All I ask is that I am forewarned in advance so I may have the choice to increase the price of my cruise and get decent cabins or choose not to go on the cruise.I felt I had been deceived and had no time to make any changes.
I love Alaska and have been there many times, so I tried to "roll with the punches." However, other people may not have found it easy to blow off all of the disappointments we encountered with Carnival. If you have questions, please feel free to send an e-mail. Skygoddess
Wow! That's about all that needs to be said about this amazing cruise, our best experience so far amongst our five voyages.
What made it so special? Three things.
1. We love the Carnival experience, and made sure that we never shied away from getting involved.
2. We were traveling with fun family and friends (except one) who all got along and had a great time together.
3. Alaska is probably the most magnificent state in the union when it comes to natural beauty. Words cannot describe what we saw. I've been to Hawaii twice, and overall, I like the Alaska scenery better.
Anyway, let's get started with our group of 15 family members and friends. We range in ages from 25 to 65, and there were NO KIDS OR GRANDKIDS, bless their little hearts.
Here are the members of our group:
--- Alan (that's me), Bristol, CT, flying out of Hartford, 5th cruise --- Ethel (my wife), Bristol, CT, flying out of Hartford, 5th cruise --- Alanne (my daughter), Bristol, CT, flying out of Detroit, 1st cruise --- Kaye (wife's sister in law), Novi, MI, flying out of Detroit, 1st cruise --- Barb(wife's sister), Lansing, MI, flying out of Detroit, 1st cruise --- Carmelia (wife's friend), Albion, MI, flying out of Detroit, 2nd cruise --- Marjorie, (Barb's friend), Grand Rapids, MI, flying out of Detroit, 2nd cruise --- Ivory (wife's sister), Hayward, Calif., flying out of Oakland, 1st cruise --- Shirley (wife's sister), Fresno, Calif., flying out of Fresno, 1st cruise --- Marlene (my sister), Chesterfield, MI, flying out of Detroit, 4th cruise --- Linda (my sister), Detroit, flying out of Detroit, 3rd cruise --- Greg (Linda's husband), Detroit, flying out of Detroit, 1st cruise --- Brenda (Marlene's friend), Detroit, flying out of Detroit, 3rd cruise --- Marsha (friend), Detroit, flying out of Detroit, 2nd cruise --- Josh (Barb's son), Pontiac, MI, flying out of Detroit, 2nd cruise
Only Shirley and Ivory booked their air through Carnival ... because it was cheaper, by a lot! That's a first for me. For everyone else we found better fares on the Internet. Josh & his original cabin mate (more on that later) were the luckiest. They were the last to book the cruise and I found a flight for them for $387 round trip, non-stop both ways!
We booked this cruise in January 2001 before the ship was completed, booking a category 8B balcony cabin on Upper deck. Little did we know that about half of the cabins in this category have a view partially obstructed by the top of the lifeboats. It was only after I looked at a close up photo of the ship's exterior that I realized this would be a problem.
My travel agent, Laura at AAA Travel in Livonia, contacted Carnival and had the situation resolved in one hour. Carnival, who I have always found to be very accommodating, apologized for the problem and upgraded us all to Category 8G and 8I (Verandah & Panorama decks) with the bigger balconies.
How's that for an extra benefit. This was after Carnival had already reduced the cruise price by $300 per person and gave each cabin a $60 onboard credit. All total, we saved between $490-to-$520 per person. But Carnival got most of that back at the casinos.
Now, in the 2002-2003 Carnival brochure for all three Spirit-class ships, they have a disclaimer giving you the specific cabins in 8B that have the obstructed view. It pays to read the fine print. Last place you want an obstructed view balcony cabin is in Alaska.
GETTING TO VANCOUVER
Ethel and I flew into Vancouver a day early. Our original plans called for us to take three connecting flights to Vancouver the day of the cruise. That's a looooooong day. So we changed our flights for $100 total with Northwest Airlines, cutting our flights to just two and knocking 3 hours off the flight time.
Approaching Vancouver was the first hint that this was going to be a magnificent adventure. The pilot alerted us to Mt. Rainier on one side, and another scenic mountain on the other. Then as you approach the city you see more awesome mountains and islands surrounded by blue water as the plane descends. Never has a landing been more rewarding.
So far so good. And It took us just 5 minutes to clear Canadian customs.
We had booked a room at the Hilton Vancouver Airport for $88 U.S. over the Internet, getting an extra 1,000 Hilton HHonors points in the process. The hotel is 5 minutes from the airport, offers a free shuttle and is within walking distance of several restaurants.
After dinner, we settled into our room, watched a little TV, and with Ethel sound asleep, the phone rings at 11 p.m. Pacific time (1 a.m. back east). It's Kaye, back in Michigan: "What happens if someone doesn't have a birth certificate?"
Seems Barb forgot hers and began the drive back to Lansing (66 miles) to retrieve it. We didn't know she had made it to the airport until 3:45 a.m. Pacific, 15 minutes before the flight was scheduled to leave.
The next morning it was back to the airport by 11 a.m., where we turned our luggage over to the Carnival attendants and waited for more of our group to arrive. And we waited. And waited. And waited some more.
Although both flights from Detroit had arrived on time within minutes of the other, it took about an hour to clear customs on this busy day because of Spirit and the of pre-cruise groups arriving for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise lines. The airport was packed.
Finally, with eight of our group present (the rest of the group would arrive later), the real adventure could begin.
The bus ride to the pier is rather long, perhaps because we were anxious, perhaps because we never saw a freeway. We had to wind our way through city streets, getting a guided tour from the driver as we went along. Finally we snaked our way through Gastown (there is not a single gas station there), getting our first view of sparkling Carnival Spirit.
Once off the bus you're always inside at the pier terminal, which I'm sure is great if it's raining. No San Juan situations here.
It takes about an hour to totally get through the sign up process and U.S. customs. So in one day you go through both Canadian and U.S. customs. I like that since you get it all done and then can concentrate on your cruise.
And the mandatory muster drill doesn't take place until the next day, another plus as far as I'm concerned. Who wants to stand on deck right after getting on the ship, while you're tired and wishing you were on Lido deck instead.
I'll try not to hit on too many subjects that other reviewers have already talked about.
Spirit is an easy ship to get around. Unlike Destiny-class ships, you can get from one end to the other with no problem. Deck 2 and 3 are the most active areas, of course, and I would suggest using those if you want to get around because you may see something along the way that will interest you. You can just as easily walk the corridors along cabin decks, but you wouldn't see much.
If you are easily confused, just remember this simple rule on Spirit: No matter what deck you're on, food is aft, entertainment is forward.
Although I love Royal Caribbean's Voyager-class ships, the one flaw is that you have to go out of your way to go to many of their entertainment areas, such as the jazz club or the ice skating show. On Spirit that isn't a problem. On Deck 2, you can walk from the dining room, check out the jazz group at Artist's Lobby, another performer at the atrium bar, a country-western singer in the casino, fellow passengers singing karaoke in Club Cool, and snack on a real dessert or coffee at the Fountain Café before catching one of the shows at Pharoah's Palace, all within a 10-minute stroll. However, the entertainment is another matter, but we'll get to that later.
We all agreed that the ship is kinda "out there" in terms of decoration. But your eyes adapt after a few days. The brightest area is Lido deck. Classiest area is the Empire dining room.
Carnival cabin bathrooms are great, with plenty of room to move around. The shower could easily be used by a "big" person. I weighed about 205 pounds when I cruised on Voyager, and their wrap-around shower was really confining. Drop a bar of soap in there and you'll have to exit the shower to retrieve it. The entire cabin never felt small. However, like all cruise lines, I wish they could figure out a way to make those twin beds truly a queen bed. We're not Ozzie and Harriet, if you catch my meaning.
We booked tours at three of the four stops.
In Ketchikan, Carmelia and I did the Misty Fjords flightseeing tour with Island Wings Air. Michelle piloted the four-seater, landing by an island in the middle of a lake so that we could get out and take photos and video. No other tour company does this, instead just landing on the lake and letting you take photos from there. Awesome experience, and Michelle made the tour even more rewarding with her knowledge of the area. I never knew Ketchikan was an island and not on the mainland.
In Juneau, we went on the Awesome Orca whale-watching excursion with Captain Larry and Jim the naturalist. Great guys! Great senses of humor! Great excursion! Our group took over most of the boat, which holds about 25 people. Why bother booking the more expensive cruise line version with 125 people onboard? This is more personal, and we made the most of it, asking questions, joking with Jim and really making this the highlight of all our excursions. We saw whales bubble-net feeding a whooping six times! We must have seen 30 whales out there. And the scenery? Wow! When we docked, we had the option of going straight to Mendenhall Glacier or back to town. We chose the glacier and were not disappointed. When we returned to town to do a little shopping, I went back to the Orca office to let them know what a great time we had. Book this one if you want to go whale-watching ... you will not be disappointed.
In Skagway we took the White Pass & Yukon Rail excursion, arranged through Carnival. It was rather foggy and they gave us the option to back out and get a refund, but like I said, we were out to have fun and weren't going to let a little fog get in our way. Although this was third best of the three excursions, we still had a nice time, even though Alanne has a fear of heights and didn't enjoy climbing along the outside of a mountain. The rest of us, however, took in the lovely scenery, listened to the tour guide's stories and enjoyed another opportunity to be together.
We were in the second car, where the tour guide is situated. Her voice is carried through speakers throughout the lengthy train. Once again, we kept things lively and had a ball as a group.
Shopping was good in all three of these ports. Plenty of souvenirs with mostly the same items sold at each stop. Miss something in Ketchikan? Don't worry, you'll find it in Juneau or Skagway. However, in Juneau we did get a great Alaska photo album for just $6.99. We filled all 208 slots with photos from the 13 rolls of film I shot throughout the trip. I still have plenty left, not including the 100 digital photos I took.
Thank God we bought our souvenirs before we got to Sitka. There weren't many bargains there. Much of the stuff is overpriced, even though other items are worth what they're asking, such as items at the Russian American store. Wish I had the money to buy some of it.
My group had a great time in the casino ... even though they lost lots of money. You know how it goes. Win $800 one night, give it all back the next night. Marjorie was the smart one, winning $900 and keeping it. Way to go, Marjorie!
As far as the shows go .... well, they weren't very good. The first two shows at Pharaoh's Palace were just OK. The male dancers were very good. We felt the women dancers, although beautiful, were a little stiff. Each show they were screaming with excitement while dancing, which seemed kinda phony. The male and female singers had great voices, but I felt some of the songs they sang were all wrong for them. The final big stage show was awful. One by one, we walked out. I can honestly say it was the worst show I've ever seen on a cruise ship.
We enjoyed the entertainment in the smaller venues more. The jazz group at Artist's Lobby was good, and so was the duo at Nouveau Supper Club, thanks to the male singer. He has an amazing voice and is quite talented.
We liked and disliked the Nouveau Supper Club. A few months before the cruise I met a Spirit manager online and she was able to make advance reservations for my entire group. That was a real timesaver. We didn't have to spend time the first day making reservations. I had the best filet mignon of my life, and the Caesar salad was also very good. But the dainty desserts left a lot to be desired, and three hours is way too long for this. I like fine restaurants, but I felt I was missing something sitting there so long. The atmosphere is very relaxing, especially for an Alaskan cruise. Just watching as we passed the mountains along the coast - not to mention a whale sighting or two - is reward enough. However, for the $25 cover charge, I don't think I'd do it again. But that filet mignon was spectacular. Overall, Portofino aboard Voyager of the Seas was better. If you want a truly elegant setting aboard a Carnival ship, just to see how the upper crust lives, this is the restaurant for you. If you just want good food and service, see Rafael and Helen in the Empire Room.
The food in the Empire Room was typical Carnival. In other words, it was typically good. We enjoyed every meal in the dining room. We ate breakfast there once, lunch once and dinner six times. Our wait team of Rafael from Costa Rica (actually he lives in New Jersey) and Helen from the Philippines were extremely efficient and entertaining, with Rafael ("I'll sing for you, I'll dance for you") playfully flirting with the women in our group, especially Kaye. Don't worry Carnival, he was always courteous and respectful! We're making sure Kaye's husband gets a picture of the two of them in the dining room, and maybe he'll go with us next time to protect his interest. Rafael and Helen made us feel special, as did David the head waiter from Ireland, who stopped by our table several nights to check on us. Truly first-class service, each and every day.
The Lido deck food is the most varied of all Carnival cruises I've been on. We had to make tough choices every day to decide what to eat, especially at lunch. You had Chinese, Japanese, a salad bar, a fruit bar, a deli, rotisserie meats, pasta, pizza, burgers and other items each time. And I ate soft-serve ice cream every day, a good thing since the deserts were the usually light and airy Carnival variety.
ONLY AS FUN AS YOU MAKE IT
As I said, this was a fantastic experience. But you know what? It might not be for some people. Our group was quite outgoing and interactive. We met hundreds of people throughout the 7 days and always made sure that we called people - both passengers and staff - by name. We remembered them and they did the same.
by the way, our entire group is African-American, but it was never an issue. If you treat people with respect and carry yourself with dignity, people will be drawn to you. Two of the best people we met were elderly white ladies from North Carolina, who developed a relationship with Josh flying into Vancouver, continued throughout the cruise and through their flight home. I'm sure they'll all stay in contact even though the cruise is now confined to pictures, video, memory and expanded midsections.
Best part of the onboard experience had to be Josh - who was elevated to star status by the time the cruise was over - and Alanne. Both are quite gifted musically. They participated in karaoke, the talent show, and also performed with the small jazz group along the way in Artist's Lobby. Both had standing invitations to perform each night, and crowds would develop whenever they performed.
They were both awesome in the talent show. And Alanne, as the last act, left cruise director Shawn Bussey and her assistant speechless when she took over the post act interview.
We couldn't go anywhere on ship without someone coming up to Josh and talking to him, telling how well he sang or how well he played the sax & piano or just commenting on his charisma.
by the way, Alanne volunteered my wife and I to sing at karaoke, and even though I believe I can't sing a lick, everyone said that I was pretty good. Must run in the family.
One more thing, I had read last year that Shawn Bussey wasn't a very good cruise director. Well, she certainly must have improved since then. I found her very engaging and funny, and best of all she appeared to be having fun. She's not bad on the eyes either.
This is the one area -- other than entertainment -- that Carnival really needs to work on. We don't have a problem with the 3-hour bus ride from Seward to Anchorage, especially after our driver stopped at the Big Game animal reserve. But we all feel Carnival needs to alert the first groups getting the night before. We got up at 5:30 a.m. and made it to the dining room for breakfast at 6 a.m. We had literally sat down when our tag color was called, meaning we had to get back to our rooms, pick up our carry-ons and leave the ship ... all on empty stomachs. Of course, Carnival knew that our flight wasn't leaving Anchorage until 5 p.m. Why couldn't we have had breakfast first? If nothing else, let those groups getting off by 6 a.m. know so that they can eat breakfast when the dining room opens at 5:30 a.m. We saw no point in filling out the forms, alerting them to our 5 p.m. flight time, since it meant nothing in terms of when we got off the ship.
To kill time in Anchorage before our flight, some of us took a shuttle downtown. Looking for a good restaurant? Try Glacier Brewery down the street from the Egan Center. Also, I bought some last-minute postcards at a store, 10 for 88 cents. However, be aware that if you use the free Carnival shuttle, get a return ticket as soon as you get off the bus. Those tickets go fast and you could be left stranded, unless you raise a stink.
All in all, this was our best cruise ever. Only one person did not enjoy herself, but she came onboard miserable and left the same way. The rest of us had so much fun that we are planning our next group cruise for 2004, this time to the Southern Caribbean. Now that we have returned, other people who backed out before, now want to join our group. We're looking at about 40 people next time.
Which brings me to Josh's original cabin mate. Unbelievably, she backed out on him the day before the cruise! She said she "was busy." What a knucklehead, huh? How someone could cancel out on a once-in-a-lifetime Alaska cruise adventure is beyond me. But he had a great time anyway ... especially with his two "young" ladies from North Carolina.
He'll see the knucklehead in small claims court.
Just returned from a week in Alaska on the Spirit - great cruise overall with just a couple of negatives. Ports of call and shore excursions were interestting but priced high (as are all excursions in Alaska no matter what cruise line) but worth the money. We did the Whale watching in Juneau where we had a wonderful morning viewing humpback whales (including a 5 mo. old baby) as well as eagles and sea lions. The scenery in all of Alaska is absolutely awesome. Service on the ship, particularly the dining room, purser's desk, and photo staff, was excellent. We never saw the captain - the captain's family was visiting so he never ate at the captains table and what few officers we did encounter were not friendly or sociable.
An Alaska cruise is NOT for folks looking for alot of high energy nightlife - you won't find a packed dance club on even Carnival - plan for dinner, maybe a show, then on to bed. But, the scenery, fresh air, and wildlife more than make up for the lack of nightlife.
Best shopping was in Skagway (which was our favorite port)- particularly the "Outlet" store at the end of the main street - same items as all the same stores in all the ports but definitely less expensive. Great souvenirs at reasonable prices.
Valdez didn't have much to over except great scenery - just a few shops - we wanted to take the "walk an Alaskan dog" tour but there was no one available at the animal shelter to give us a dog to walk around town!!! Definitely do a shore excursion in Valdez because your choices for entertainment in town are very limited.
We also visited Juneau and Ketchikan - both were also nice with lots of shops - Ketchikan had alot of trendy and small speciality stores selling native items, paintings/art, etc. Definitely walk to Church St. and check out the little shops (used to be the red light district) as well as the stream where the King Salmon spawn - beatiful part of this historic town.
On to the negatives - we did a southbound sailing so flew into Anchorage and arrived 2:20 Alaska time (4 hour time difference for us East Coasters) so we had been traveling for 12 hours at that point. The airport is very small and the baggage areas are tiny so all us folks that got off a DC 10 waited approximately 45 minutes to get our luggage - then we had to wait 1.5 hours for a bus to Seward - NOT acceptable - the line for Carnival busses stretched the length of the airport with no chairs in sight. For older folks, it was an ordeal to stand for such a long length of time. Then a 3 hour bus ride with a courtesy stop at a wildlife refuge finally got us to the ship about 8:00 p.m. Carnival needs to do a much better job at transporting folks to the ship - just young kids in charge with no answers to any questions.
The Cruisers: Myself, my neighbor Anita, neighbors Amy and Owen, their children Rachael (13) and Carrie (11), all of us from California, and Amy and Owen's friend Paul from Arizona.
AND WE'RE OFF!
Amy's family went up five days early to do some fishing, and then met Paul at the Seward airport. He had arranged a $35 20-minute flight from Anchorage, which is being discontinued due to lack of passengers. What a shame! Icruise.com arranged Anita and me with the Fly Aweigh program. We flew into Anchorage at 12:30 and took the bus to Seward. Carnival took our luggage directly from the plane, and we boarded the bus after an hour in line. The line behind us was huge, so I felt lucky it was just an hour. We stopped along the way at a wildlife rescue center, where we saw three baby moose, a baby black bear, two owls, a large brown bear and other assorted wildlife. Most of the people on the bus were anxious to get to the ship, including us after waking up at 3am, but looking back, it was the most wildlife we saw, so weshouldn't have all rushed the bus driver. He gave a running commentary the whole way, which was very nice. He drives a school bus during the school season and told us there are no 'snow days' in Anchorage! Embarkation was painless and quick.
Due to a few mix-ups, icruise.com upgraded us to a Category 12, Penthouse Suite (room 6215). Thanks icruise! I booked champagne and a canapé tray and we were all set for the bon voyage party on the doublewide balcony! Everyone came to our suite and we drank and ate and planned our shore excursions. It was a wonderful beginning. The stateroom has an L-shaped leather sofa bed, with a coffee table and two chairs, a desk/bar, three closets and more drawer space than a family of ten could ever use. The bathroom has two sinks, with another in the vanity area, a bidet, and a large shower with a whirlpool tub. The balcony had room for two full recliners, two reclining chairs, two regular chairs, two tables and we could have squeezed in more. It was a wonderful meeting place for our group, and we spent a lot of time on the balcony. There is no Skipper's Club in Alaska, so we did not get priority boarding, although we did get priority debarking. Carnival does not have butlers for their suites, but we certainly didn't mind. The stateroom itself was impressive enough. The automatic lights in two of the closets wouldn't turn off with the doors closed, and the third closet kept opening by itself, but a note for our room steward Patrick and they were all fixed the next night.
Paul booked last-minute and had an obstructed view stateroom (4194). He had a door that opened to a railing right in front of it, but being able to open the door was nice. Obstructed was an understatement. He had a crack between lifeboats with a small view. Amy and Owen had a balcony stateroom (4161) with bunk beds for the girls and had no complaints. The doors and walls seemed very thick, with very little noise from neighbors or the hall. We heard our neighbors only once during the cruise, but I'm not sure they could say the same!
Our luggage caught up to us fairly quickly. The first thing we did after that was book our shore excursions. They used the Pharaoh's Palace for shore excursions for the first night and obviously needed it: Stacks and stacks of reservation forms. Book early! We missed the Welcome Aboard Show, but saw it later on our T.V. They tape most events and you're able to watch them later in your stateroom. Dana Hodson, our radio DJ turned cruise director from Delaware, was amazing! He has a wonderful voice, wonderful sense of humor, and I'm sad we missed it. We did catch him at the Newly and Not So Newlywed game, and laughed non-stop through the whole show. He's your extra comedian, so don't miss him!
Exhausted and a little overwhelmed, we hit the sack at around 10:30.
The next day, bright and early (6:30am), was Stephanie, our naturalist, on the PA system pointing out glaciers in College Fjord. We were already awake, with our 3-minute Room Service coffee, and on the balcony. This area is not to be missed! We spent the morning taking pictures and being awed by the view. Her commentary was appreciated. She had a soft voice and seemed thrilled with her job. Overall, besides the first day's fifteen-minute sales pitch like a commercial you can't turn off, there were hardly any announcements, and never any at port. Everything was in our Carnival Capers daily newsletter. I was quite pleased with the PA system, considering others' reviews of non-stop advertising.
We spent the rest of the time before Valdez exploring the ship, and what an incredible ship she is. We never had any problem finding quiet or not-so-quiet tables near huge windows spread out over the public decks. It is definitely set up for soaking in the view. They guys explored the spa area and ended up going back every single day-they loved it. There is something to see everywhere: glass art on display in the stairwells, murals and paintings and sculptures and columns. People have already commented about how the different areas have different styles. Anita said it was like being in all of Las Vegas at the same time. It's multi-themed! The Spirit is the length of two football fields, but didn't seem at all difficult to explore. The elevators are amazingly fast, and we only had to wait once-the last day, and not for too long. We took the stairs a lot the first two days, then ran out of steam and let the elevators whisk us around! With the help of our pocket ship guide (provided), we had no trouble finding our way around, except accidentally going to A deck. Oops. Pop down there and take a look, the crew didn't seem to mind. My only complaint was that smoking areas are set up in inconvenient places to non-smokers. There is a smoking lounge outside each entrance to the dining room and you have to pass the casino to get to the first floor of the Pharaoh's Palace. The lobby area is a smoking area, which was strange. And I'm a smoker, by the way.
I'll bet my friends are wondering why this is so far down in the review. I certainly spent a lot of time there! And from the treatment I received, it should have been first on the list. We had late-seating dinner, then would sit and chat for a while, then, since Anita is a very early riser, she went back to the stateroom and I went to the casino. Owen came a few times, and Paul and Amy sat and chatted and watched one night. It was a blast! I have been to Las Vegas quite a bit, but I think I'll just stick to the Carnival Spirit from now on. The dealers are so personable and friendly, as were the Casino Supervisors, especially Andrew. What a great smile and evil sense of humor. I only play blackjack, and happened upon a lucky streak my second night on the ship (first casino night) so I was back every night afterwards closing them down. Up at 6, to bed between 2-3, and I'm sure glad I have four days off now that I'm back. Ouch.
I learned so much from the dealers about life on the ship and what it's like to work there. Fascinating people. Even if you don't know how to play, I'd highly recommend sitting on a few hands just to talk to them. They'll advise you how to play, too. The other passengers were so much fun! Everyone is on vacation and happy and we had some incredible nights laughing and cheering, with the occasional light-hearted groaning. It's quite a difference from the stone-faced dealers and players in Las Vegas, that's for sure! I never wanted to leave. The fact that my luck continued until the last night might have something to do with it too. I paid off most of my excursions and drink-and-sink card with my winnings. Fantastic experience.
I booked quite a few of them with various other people from the group. That's the wonderful thing about groups-you can usually find someone who wants to do what you do. I'm going to start out of order, since one of them is not to be missed. The weather was gorgeous while we were there, but some family friends went the week before and were freezing cold and wet their whole cruise. We lucked out!
Amy, Anita, Paul and I booked the Mendenhall Lake Canoe trip in Juneau on Amy's request. She wanted to get out and be physical. At first we were all thinking of canceling, since it was early in the morning and we were all feeling lazy. I'm so glad we didn't! It's a 12-man canoe, but only us four were booked for it. Those people don't know what they were missing. It was THE most incredible experience of our trip.
We bussed out, got our gear (big suspender water-proof pants, overboots, rain coat and life jacket, but we never got wet), and then hit the lake. Our guides, Keith and Wade, were sincere, nice, very real, incredible people. Wade sat in front on the way out, narrating as we paddled and answering questions. He does water tours (canoe, kayak, rafting) in the summer and teaches snowboarding in the winter. We could see a waterfall and the top of the glacier in the distance, but as we paddled closer and rounded the small corner, we were right there. We paddled as close as we safely could to the Mendenhall Glacier. What an incredible sight. We had the lake all to ourselves, the waterfall to the front, the glacier to the side… words can't describe it. I spotted a chunk of glacier ice in the water and Wade picked it up, and we posed for pictures with our mini-iceberg. We then paddled to the shore right next to the waterfall, where Wade and Keith set up a snack table and we snapped pictures, relaxed, put our hands in the waterfall and waved to the people at the Mendenhall Visitor's Center WAY far away. I could have stayed there forever. It was too beautiful for words. Can you imagine that as your job? Incredible. But we had to go back eventually.
On the way back, we paddled near some large icebergs, but also couldn't get too close. Icebergs get top-heavy and roll over, and you don't want to be near them when they do. There was a tunnel in one, and water dripping underneath another. We stopped and just listened to the 'rain' in dead silence. Incredible. Also on the way back, Keith was in front and we talked in length with him. He's ¼ Tlingit (pronounced sort of like Klinket) and grew up in Yakutat Village. He's one of the highlights of the trip, so drill him for info if you go! One word of advice-bring gloves. I have the blister to prove we were rowing! They do let you stop and rest, but not everyone at once or the canoe stops and is like molasses getting started again.
This event filled up quickly, as we found out when Anita didn't get her ticket. They were sold out, but we convinced them to squeeze her in. We had a hilarious bus driver who had us laughing all the way to the speedy catamaran. The catamaran was enclosed with an open area on top that we didn't see, since people came down drenched. They had an appetizer buffet spread that was incredible, with a no-host bar.
The first things we spotted were Orcas, frolicking, breaching, and just being playful. The on-board marine biologist said this was very unusual and she didn't quite know what was going on, until one timely breach by a male in full arousal. "I think they're mating!" I missed seeing it, but the word 'huge' used the rest of the cruise when talking about Orcas did not mean their dorsal fins, that's for sure!
We left them and continued on to the Humpbacks that had been spotted farther out. There was a group of ten or more doing cooperative feeding. We snapped pictures, but since I didn't have a telephoto lens, they came out mostly like specks in the distance. They were diving and spouting, nothing too unusual, until suddenly all of them crashed out of the water at the same time with their mouths opened! This is called bubble-net feeding. The cooperative group is led by a female, who goes down and blows a circle of bubbles, driving the herring or other fish up to the top, and the rest of the group all pushes up at the same time, filling their mouths. The captain turned off the motor, they put down a microphone into the water, and we listened. It was eerie, almost human-sounding. It was the lead female, apparently giving orders. It's not whale song like in Hawaii, much more plain, but very strange. Ooooooeeeeeeeie…four times… then silence… then up they all came again! Two bubble-net feedings. Then a third. Incredible. The marine biologist was almost in tears at the end, hugging the other crew and even the passengers! All I can say is, bring a telephoto lens and SIT DOWN so other people can see.
Paul and I took a helicopter from Valdez, over the Columbia Glacier, and onto the Shoup Glacier. I was scared at first, and let Paul sit in front with the pilot, but as soon as we took off, I was in heaven. Flying over the Columbia Glacier feels like being on a different planet. It is spiked and craggy with blue, blue pools and rivers. It's too unstable and fissured to land on. After some more flying and great narration by the pilot, we landed on the Shoup Glacier, walked and took pictures for a few minutes, then back up in the air and to the landing pad. I'd highly recommend it, and so would everyone who went. The bus ride back was filled with wows. It was worth every penny. The landing wasn't even as spectacular as flying over the gigantic Columbia with its otherworldly look.
Skagway-The White Pass Rail to the Summit
I'm glad we took the short and not the long rail ride, since I really needed to sleep in that day! It was a wonderful ride through the mountains, fully narrated along the way with the history of the area and the early settlers. The narration was a bit dry and some older folks fell asleep, but the views were priceless. There were steep cliff sides, mountains, wildlife, gorgeous waterfalls, bridges, tunnels, and the river below. Actually arriving at the summit was a bit of a letdown, but then we got to see it all over again on the way down!
Ketchikan-Just walking around
This was the only port where I just walked around with everyone and had nothing planned. It's a cute, touristy town, and we did our last-minute shopping there. Shop in the trading post near the docks. They have almost everything the other stores do at much cheaper prices.
Sea days, as well as port days, are filled with activities to please everyone. The first sea day (of two) we spent almost solely on the balcony taking in the views and relaxing. It was heaven. We did, of course, pop out to eat. At one point we passed the Seabourn Spirit, another cruise boat, that has no balconies! I couldn't imagine Alaska with no balcony. We felt so bad for them.
The second sea day was spent wandering and seeing a few of the activities. The ice carving was amazing, and the New and Not So Newlywed Game was hilarious. Don't miss it! We left the staff Q&A after a few minutes, because I had already grilled the lovely Casino staff about life on the ship. Other than that, though, we were pretty happy to just walk around or lounge on the balcony. The last sea day we did our going-away cocktail party on the balcony, and invited two other people we'd met at our first dinner, Ken and Jan, both great company. After dinner, more cocktail party on the balcony, then Owen and I were off to the casino to say goodbye (and goodbye to a bit of our winnings).
The Room Service menu is very small, but they're very fast. We used them for coffee every morning after they beat Anita the first morning. She ran up to the Lido deck for coffee and I called Room Service. They got to the room before she got back! They were always there in less than five minutes unless we needed wine from the cellar.
The La Playa Grille on the Lido Deck has everything you could want, and quite tasty for cafeteria-style food. There were stations set up and we liked it that way, since it cut down on the lines. I never had to wait in line for Lido Deck food. There were hamburgers and hot dogs out by the pool, a Taste of the Nations station that featured different ethnic food every day (my favorite was Indian), the Orient station with different Chinese and Japanese every day including sushi daily, the Rotisserie, featuring different meats and sides daily, a salad bar and side dish bar, dessert station which wasn't great, the deli, which stayed open later than the others, and of course the pizza and caesar salad station. We didn't know it until the last day, but you can request chicken on the caesar for a better light snack than pizza. We pretty much stuck with deli when the other stations were closed and International otherwise, with lots of caesar salads, which were fantastic. We rarely had trouble finding a gorgeous window seat for the five of us.
The Empire Dining Room
We requested early seating, but since I had forgotten to get Amy and Owen's booking number, they weren't seated with us. We saw the Maitre D' the first night, but since we went down late to see him, he assumed we were late seating. We received a card the next day for our late seating and Anita was not happy. We went to see him again the next night, but there was nothing he could do. He did let us sit that night at an unoccupied table for early seating, where we were placed with many other late seaters looking for early, since late seating that night was a very late 8:45. After that, we decided 8:15 wasn't too bad and took our late seating, with a couple we had met at the early. I'm very glad we did, since we never would have been ready in time for the early seating.
The food was fantastic. None of us had any complaints at all. The appetizers were very small, but with that much food being served, it was perfect. You can order multiple appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts, so never fear! The only time I ordered two was lobster night. I couldn't resist. Owen and Paul did their version of Surf and Turf every evening, ordering two main dishes: one fish and one meat. The desserts were great, and their Grand Marnier Soufflé is not to be missed! We ordered quite a few of those for the table. The only complaint was that the Maitre D' just could not be heard upstairs. We strained, we leaned, but we just couldn't make out a word he was saying. If you want to hear him, request downstairs seating. When we sat downstairs that one early night, we were entertained by his recounting of his sleepless night trying to reconfigure the whole dining room for the 1,000 requests he had for table changes! Try to get your travel agent to fix it all in advance.
We did sit-down breakfast three times and lunch only once. We preferred not being scheduled. We missed dinner the first night and twice after, but the rest were fantastic.
The wait staff seemed a bit rushed, but if you talk to them or to other staff, you'd know why and be very generous and forgiving. Those people work three meals a day: two in the Empire and one bussing dishes on the Lido deck. They do this for 8-10 months straight with no break. We all left Jiri, our waiter, one night when we did Nouveau and Amy and Owen did the Lido Deck. It happened to be staff party night (which I found out from the dealers), and although he said he missed us, he got to go a half hour early! They are very, very hard-working people, and if they don't get everything perfect, give them a big hug afterwards anyways. Jiri did happen to get everything perfect. He was great, as was Rus at our early dinner.
The Nouveau Supper Club
We almost didn't go, but we decided to see everything. Paul and Anita and I went. Make reservations early there, too. There was one table left for Sunday night when we got there the first night (Wednesday). It was worth it! I have been in five star restaurants before, but this was one of the best. Once again, we wandered away just saying, "Wow." We all had different things except for the salad, and we all loved it.
We hardly ever saw the girls. Camp Carnival had them thrilled to be away from us as much as possible, to the point that we really missed them! Carrie came with us to walk around Ketchikan while Rachel went kayaking with friends, but other than that, they were so scarce that Amy bought two-way radios. A must if you have children, but bring extra batteries. They're horribly expensive on the ship and they don't last long at all.
Anita lost her wallet one day on the ship, and after a few minutes of frantically retracing our steps that seemed like hours and canceling our drink-and-sink cards at the purser's desk, the OTHER purser pulled it out of a drawer, complete with all the cash. Wonderful! I don't suggest you lose your wallet to test out the friendliness of people on board, just trust us. They're wonderful!
Speaking of which, say hello in the elevators, sit with someone new at meals, and smile a lot. It's contagious. Everyone was so incredible, and you do end up running into people over and over on the ship. There's a small-town feel that's just incredible.
Take a day or two afterwards to recover. I still haven't gotten my land legs back and, with my burning the candle at both ends, I'm exhausted, but thrilled. And remember: You take away from most things what you bring into them. If you're looking for a great time and bring that attitude, you'll find it. If you're looking to criticize, I'm sure you'll have ample opportunity. For me it was the trip of a lifetime and I doubt I'll ever be able to top it. The word of the day every single day was WOW.
What a grand ship! This is one of the new classes of ships that Carnival is releasing. Just a year old we loved it.
This was my 2nd Carnival cruise out of 3 total.It was my friends 1st cruise (I think she's addicted).
The ships size is just amazing. At times you didn't know that there were 2200 people on board!
We boarded the ship at Vancouvers new pier in Downtown. The security and picture taking was quick. Then you're assigned a group number. The seating was cramped, but they did have drinks available. In all I'd say boarding took about 1 1/2 hrs. You end up going to about 3 different stations. Security, check-in and then customs. Disembarking went smoothly. We were touring on our own so when we were ready we just left the ship (yes it's against the rules...but we had a long drive ahead to Denali).
The ships decor is in the egyption style. We weren't thrilled with it (the colors). The main lobby was nice with the glass elevators. The indoor pool is a plus on an Alaskan cruise! But all the pools are heated and wereused. I loved the jaguzzi in the fitness center (a hidden secret) because afterwards you could just shower in their hugh showers a be ready for dinner.
Our room had a balcony, which this ship has plenty off. A typical room size for Carnival. The bathroom was smaller than when I was on the sensation.
The dinning area is hugh! WE only ate there a few times due to the dressing policy, but the entertainment they give you is great. The food was super. We mostly at at the buffet, which had lots to offer: a deli counter, pizza center, salad center, one center changed every night (chinese, mexican etc..). Seating seemed limited during busy hours, but we found that if 2 people were using a big table we would just ask if we could join them and good conversations followed.
We did all our own touring. Ports: Skagway, Juneau, Sitka, Ketchican. Then we did interior touring for 5 more days to Denali and Fairbanks.