WE JUST FINISHED OUR 16 DAY PANAMA CRUISE ON THE CARNIVAL SPIRIT.
THE SHIP ITSELF IS FANTASTIC. THE SERVICE OF THE STAFF IS ALSO INCREDIBLE BEYOND DESCRIPTION.OUR ROOM WAS LARGE,ALWAYS WELL CARED FOR BY THE STEWARD,AND WAS BEYOND WHAT WE HAD EXPECTED.
UNFORTUNATELY THIS IS WHERE THE EXPERIENCE SOURS. CARNIVAL BOOKED US ON AN EARLY FLIGHT ,ARRIVING IN MIAMI AT 9:30 AM. WE THEN HAD TO WAIT AT THE AIRPORT FOR OVER 4 HOURS FOR OUR CARNIVAL TRANSFERS. WE WERE THEN HERDED ABOUT THE AIRPORT LIKE CATTLE AND JAMMED IN TO FAR TOO FEW BUSSES. THE AIRPORT STAFF WAS GENERALLY WORTHLESS,ENDING EVERY ANSWER WITH IT'S NOT MY FAULT,OR IT'S NOT CARNIVALS FAULT. WELL IF CARNIVAL HIRED THE COMPANY AND CARNIVAL KNEW HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE BOOKING THEN WHOSE FAULT WAS IT.
THE MAIN DINING ROOM AND THE NUVEAU SUPPER CLUB FOOD WAS EXCELLENT. THE FOOD ON THE LIDO DECK WAS OF POOR QUALITY AND FOR THE MOST PART COLD,WHICH FOR ICE CREAM IS GOOD,BUT NOT SO GOOD FOR EGGS,AND PIZZA. MY WIFE AS WELL AS SEVERAL OTHER PASSENGERS BECAME ILL ON WEDNESDAY OF THE SECOND WEEK. THIS SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN THE RESULTOF A COMMON FOOD,THE DELI TURKEY.
THE ENTERTAINMENT WAS GOOD. AGAIN I CANNOT SAY ENOUGH ABOUT THE EXCELLENT LEVEL OF SERVICE BY THE STAFF. ON THE OTHER HAND,MANAGEMENT WAS GENERALLY INDIFFERENT,AND THE CRUISE DIRECTOR SHAWN BUSSEY WAS INCOMPETENT. SHE SEEMED TO THINK THAT BUBBLY FLASH WOULD MAKE UP FOR HER SHORTCOMINGS. ULTIMATELY EVERY TIME SHE OPENED HER MOUTH I WANTED A SOCK TO SHOVE IN IT.
THE TOURS WERE OVER PRICED,AND AGAIN I DO NOT LIKE THE CATTLE TREATMENT. HERDED INTO BUMPY OVERCROWDED LARGE BUSSES THAT ONLY ALLOWED STOPS THAT WERE TOO SHORT AND TOO FEW AND ONLY AT CARNIVAL "RECOMMENDED " STORES.
THE RETURN WAS MORE OF THE SAME CARNIVAL BULL. WE WERE HELD UP ON THE SHIP UNTIL AFTER 11:00 AM . AND AGAIN THE CATTLE TREATMENT. TOO MANY PEOPLE TOO FEW BUSSES,AND FROM WHAT I COULD SEE BECAUSE OF THE DELAYS ON THE SHIP AND ON THE BUSSES I FIGURE SEVERAL HUNDRED PEOPLE MISSED THEIR FLIGHTS. AGAIN IT WAS CARNIVALS STANDARD LINE THAT ITS NOT OUR FAULT. WHEN I SPOKE WITH CUSTOMS OFFICERS IT WAS LACK OF BUSSES AND SPACE ON THE CURB THAT DELAYED DEPARTURE. WE ULTIMATELY TOOK A CAB TO LAX AND ARRIVED 45 MINUTES PRIOR TO DEPARTURE,ABOUT THE SAME TIME THAT THE FIRST GROUPS OF BUSSES ARRIVED. HAD WE WAITED FOR A BUS WE ALSO WOULD HAVE MISSED OUR FLIGHT.
THE CRUISING EXPERIENCE WAS GOOD AND WE WILL DEFIANTLY DO IT AGAIN!!! HOWEVER I PLAN TO ADDRESS OUR PROBLEMS WITH CARNIVAL AND THEIR RESPONSE WILL DECIDE IF WE CRUISE WITH CARNIVAL. I WILL KEEP YOU POSTED.
First of all, it was a great cruise. We ate too much, drank too much and spent too much, so it was a rousing success. Like all vacations it had its moments that were great and its moments that were not so great. Any negative observations are offered only with the intent to help the next traveler.
Overall we were happy with the Carnival experience, our second. We were a party of four (myself, my husband, my daughter and my mom) and we stayed in cabins 8231 and 8233, category 8I.
We flew in a day early and stayed at the Days Inn Miami at Miami Beach. We chose this hotel because of its price ($50) and proximity to the beach. We had hoped to save some money over the Wyndam and Sheraton rates on the bay. Unfortunately by the time we paid all of the taxi fares we didn't save anything at all. There are no restaurants within walking distance of the hotel. While rates to and from the airport are set within Miami, all other fares are metered. It cost us approximately $12 cab fare each way todinner. We ate at the Crabhouse - good but expensive. In addition, our fare to the pier was $45. I believe that our driver took us the long way to make the fare higher but of course I don't know that for sure. We got up early, ate breakfast at the hotel (adequate but expensive) and took a short walk on the beach. We were so excited to be finally starting our vacation and couldn't believe that we'd be sailing those same seas later that day!
We arrived at the pier about 11:00 am. From the outside it was a madhouse. There were three ships in port and a huge line of cars was waiting to get to the port. Thank God we arrived early. We were watching the taxi meter creep up with dismay. Not to worry, though, our driver edged his way through, leaning out the window, cursing eloquently and shaking his fist for emphasis. And I do mean cursing, up to and including the mother of all curse words! Sailors could take notes from this man's cursing.
The waiting area is staged. You go through the checkin, then proceed to another area to get sail and sign cards. We then were moved from one area to another to wait, about four different areas I guess. Couldn't figure out why we were moved from area to area until we got to the last point, where they were taking pictures to accompany your sail and sign cards. In order to avoid a buildup at this point they staged the waiting. I think we were on the ship about 1:30 pm so it was a bit of a wait. Not much security getting on the ship other than the aforementioned picture taking. The bag screening seems to be mostly to check for liquor. I brought four bottles of wine in my carryon and they wanted to check that it was wine and not booze. I had to unpack it to show them. We did sneak on a fifth of scotch for my husband in the checked baggage. As far as I know the checked baggage was not screened.
At the recommendation of someone on the board I had bought wristbands to hold our card keys. In general we loved not having to fumble for our card keys on the ship. This was especially nice since I had several outfits that did not have pockets. I also went prepared with my holepunch and already had our cardkeys on the wristbands by the time we got on the boat. If you are going to do this be sure to punch the hole at the very bottom right hand corner of the card. The card must fit all the way into the security machine, so I had a bit of a hassle changing the card around on the wristband. After that it was great.
Your first glimpse of your home for the next 8 days is always thrilling and ours was no exception. I've seen lots of negative comments about the decoration of the Spirit. Our assessment was that it was very richly appointed, but a little too busy. For example, they have decoration on each and every column in the Pharoah's lounge. The decorations were lovely gold depictions of flying Scarab beetles but would have been nicer if there had been one on every other column, for example. The net result of too much decoration is a closed in feeling on many parts of the ship. The atrium for example has a lot of gold filigree trim. Again, a little too much of a good thing, and so much of it keeps the atrium from having a light and airy feeling. It just closes it in too much. Even so, it is impressive, new, sparkling and clean. The neatest public room is the jungle, which is basically a walkthrough area to the funhouse but it doesn't get too much use because it's out of the way.
We had ordered cabin decorations for my mom's birthday which were unfortunately not there. I waited in line at the purser's office to ask and was told they'd be there by 2. 2 came and went with no decorations. I never did succeed in getting those decorations and now I get to have the fun of disputing the charge on my credit card. I didn't find the purser's staff especially responsive to getting this corrected.
There is a really cool waterslide on this ship at the very top of the ship. Interestingly enough, it does NOT empty into a pool but appears to just recycle its own water. I say appears because it was never open to my knowledge. It was never mentioned in the capers and I never saw or heard any reference to it. It was like it didn't exist. We didn't care enough to be bothered by this but if anyone else knows if it is not usable we'd like to know for curiosity's sake. Perhaps it was too rough on our voyage to be used.
There are only three shops on board, two of which sell the normal selection of duty free and souvenir items. The other shop is the formal shop which sold chocolates, tux rentals flowers etc. The prices for duty free items were not as good as those on shore in the ports, but I think that is typical.
The gym is very large and airy. It has a Jacuzzi in the middle that must be accessed through the spa. Of course the gym would not compare to one on land but does compare favorably to others I've seen on ships. I have to agree with some of the other comments I've seen about cruising becoming LESS inclusive than more inclusive - in addition to the Nouveau Supper Club, there was a soda fountain selling specialty desserts and coffee and there were charges for some of the aerobics classes. No, I am not kidding. Kickboxing for example was a $10 charge. I don't like this trend in cruising. We did not use any of the spa services, finding them on cruise lines to be far more expensive than the same services on land. We do our manicures, pedicures etc before we get on the ship.
The pictures taken on this cruise were excellent. We bought too many. But I have to say that you should buy them, maybe next year you won't look as good, LOL. Also I had bought a really great dress! The backgrounds were varied and interesting and seamless with the floor drapes. The beach shots look just like you are on a beach, and the Titanic staircase background is elegant. Take lots, they don't cost anything to have made! The only problem is that you may buy too many, just like us. We went and looked at our pictures everyday. The only negative comment I have about the pictures is that the shore pictures were all the same, just a life preserver with the port name and date at each port. We didn't buy any of these. At St Maarten, where the Dawn Princess was also docked, they were taking really cool pictures with the ship in the background. Carnival, take note! As a lark we talked about going over and having our pictures made by the Princess photographers but decided we might have a little trouble getting them!
The dining room was richly appointed and again well but over-decorated. It has many tables for two and four and very few tables for larger parties. It was a real disappointment to us to not get to sit at a big table and meet other people. David, the Maitre'D, explained that this was what most people wanted. What a pity. I also noticed that many people did not eat in the dining room. I have never been able to understand that. The Nouveau supper club may have contributed to the emptiness of the dining room but I think many people ate at the LaPlaya grill instead. The only nights heavily attended were Thanksgiving, the second formal night and the last night when the LaPlaya was closed.
Our category 8I cabins were fine. Despite the much-touted size of Carnival cabins we found them to be about the same size as the balcony cabins on the Rhapsody of the Seas. Storage space was excellent, particularly in the bathroom where little glass shelves at intervals provided a perfect place for his and hers toiletries. There was actually more space than we needed and we really don't travel light. There are safes and hairdryers in the cabins.
The selection of in-cabin movies was very poor, three per day and repeated every other day. They are advertised as first run movies, but unless you consider videos from last month first run you would be disappointed. Again, not something we care about (except for my 12 year old daughter) but I mention it just in case you do.
The cabinets and closets are real wood, very classy. One word of caution about the closets. They are not very deep and fasten with a snap together mechanism. Be sure to keep your clothes away from the mechanism. My husband's tux suffered an injury when it was too close to the fastening mechanism. The deck is teak, again very classy and lovely for those bare feet! The larger balcony was very nice in size. The bathrooms are decorated in aqua blue, very retro but nice. One place that Carnival skimped in the cabins is the shower - there is just a curtain. With all the rest of the lovely cabin furnishings why they didn't spring for a shower door is beyond me. We were provided bathrobes to use on our trip. There is a clothesline in the shower, one of those affairs that stretches across and anchors on the other side. Ours did not work, but I just hooked up a bungie cord on the balcony and used clothespins to dry those wet bathing suits.
Our cabin steward's name was Nelson and he provided excellent service and was cheerful and friendly. We had towel animals every day except the first and last. We had mints every day. He did not make our beds into a king and we were not aware that this could be done. Not too conducive to snuggling! But comfortable. My daughter got cookies on both formal nights.
Our balconies were sheltered by a deep overhang and we were directly below the LaPlaya. If you wanted a nice shady spot that was fine. It you wanted a sunbathing spot you were out of luck. We were never bothered by the sounds from the grill above, and the aroma of breakfast each morning was a nice plus. We had a lounge chair, regular chair and small table on the balcony. The doors between balconies DO open, but our steward would not open ours between our adjoining cabins. He stated that it would be a safety risk as they could not be secured once opened. I offered to secure it with a bungie cord but no go. We also provided a $20 tip in the hopes this would help but again no go. They open with a triangle shaped wrench and since we forgot to pack ours, LOL, we were out of luck.
A word here about bungie cords to hold your balcony door open. This will work, however, the doors are very heavy and your bungie cord will get stretched out and ruined. Either bring a heavy duty bungie cord or just prop your door open with your lounge chair.
The balconies are extremely private. Even if you wanted to see your neighbors it would be difficult. There is a small open space on the bottom (big enough for my 12 year old to wriggle through) but you will certainly feel like you are on your own private ship when you are on your balcony.
There was a lot of movement on this ship, particularly on the first day at sea and the first day at sea on the way back. I don't know if it was because we were moving very quickly or if the long narrow configuration of the ship caused the side to side rolling. Everyone commented on it. I did not see anyone sick, nor did we get sick. It was a bit disorienting, though and actually kept me awake one night. Coming back we had our sea legs and coped with it admirably. Once I got off the ship, though, I had trouble getting my land legs! I felt like I was still moving!
Our weather was mostly very good with a few brief downpours. We were walking on the deck one day and noticed a small isolated patch of rain out to sea. Very pretty! by the time we had made two turns of the deck, it was no longer a small patch out to sea but a very large downpour right over the ship - everyone really ran for cover that day! It only lasted a few minutes though. Temperatures were VERY hot and humid in the islands we visited, actually miserable, but you are there once in a lifetime and there to have fun, so ignore the weather and enjoy! We left our balcony door open some nights, but when between ports, it was just too hot and humid to do so.
The casino is very large and enjoyed a lot of activity. You must walk through the casino on deck 2 to get from the atrium to the public rooms in the front of the ship. This was interesting because on other ships, we had to make an effort to go in and they were always patrolled by a staff member to ensure no one under 21 entered. Not only could you enter this one, I several times saw children standing in the casino watching their parents play slot machines. I did not see any children observing play at the tables. One formal night when all the bars were very full, my husband daughter and I sat at the bar in the casino so we could have an after dinner drink (Shirley Temple for my daughter) and this was permitted also. My husband played roulette several nights and came out slightly ahead, unfortunately not enough to make up for our bingo losses. We played blackjack one night and I made about $25. We liked the dealers. In fact, all the staff on the ship was friendly and outgoing.
A couple of notes about drinks here. My daughter purchased a soda card. This is the first cruise where I ever felt she got a real value for it. Not only was she served a large soda (not a small glass) each time she asked, Shirley Temples were also included on the card. It was a great value.
We purchased 20 drink coupons to use on the ship thinking it would a savings. It is not a savings and I am sorry I did this. First of all, the coupons are not in your cabin. They are given to you your first night at dinner and you must ask for them. Had I purchased these as a gift I am not sure they would have been received. Secondly, the coupons state, good for one drink not to exceed $4.75, gratuity included. So there is only a savings if you drink something that costs $4.75 exactly, and what you are saving is the 15% gratuity. Now this does not affect Carnival but affects the poor server bringing the drinks! So, we tried to drink things that cost $4.75 exactly, which are mostly frozen drinks, which we don't care for. I had hoped to use them for wine but this was not allowed. And most times we gave a tip to the server anyway so the drinks we really didn't want cost us more than we would have spent anyway. So, my advice is, don't buy the coupons! The drink prices are in general (except for wine by the glass) much more reasonable than what you would pay on land!
Yes, tips were on the sale and sign card and included a gratuity for restaurant management and for Nouveau Supper club for a total of $9.75 per day per person. Of course we not only left the tips on the card but gave extra to everyone - waiter, assistant waiter, bar servers, cabin steward etc. I asked the staff if they were receiving better or worse tips since this had been implemented. They told me that it had only been two weeks since it had begun so they had no way to tell yet. I also asked several of the staff if they received all the tips that people had on sail and sign cards or if Carnival deducted anything. One person told me of course they received it all, and another told me that they got no breakdown, just a lump sum with no idea who had tipped what. I have no problem with this process as long as the hardworking gals and guys are getting all the money but I just worry that that is not the case. Call me a pessimist but I feel that cruise lines are not above cheating the help. So, if you want to be absolutely sure, take your tips off the sail and sign and hand them out, in cash, yourself. That's what I'll do next time even though it is a convenience to leave them on the card.
The two pool areas also saw a lot of action and the usual silly games etc., which are always great fun to watch. We did not spend much time laying out but noticed the usual lounge chair saving that always seems to happen on Carnival. Even so there were plenty of available spaces. We did not use the pools. It was very windy on deck during our trip.
The jogging deck is nice and you can watch the volleyball players as you make your circuit. Immediately below that is an observation area on deck 9 (actually accessed from deck 10) at the very front of the ship which is very nice. Don't miss this spot for coming into port. Also, if you are into stargazing we found the best place on the ship to do so. Between the funnel and the radar on deck 10 there is a small space where deck chairs are stored at night. This is the darkest area on deck and if you are agile you can climb to the top of the stack of deck chairs, lie down with your binoculars and fall into the sky. I am sure we would not have been allowed to climb on the stack had the staff seen us, but no one was around and we took advantage of this spot on two nights.
One area of disappointment was the age mix on this cruise, it was definitely older. Age groups in the kids clubs were changed around, I think because there wasn't a big group of kids. Our daughter ended up in 12-15 group, not 9-12 group and this group was a little mature for her. As a result, we did more silly Carnival games and activities as a family, but we had a great time doing them. We did crafts (made a Carnival pen case, and got a free Spirit ink pen, whoo hoo) participated in the Scavenger hunt and came in third and watched most of the game show activities. We were never lucky enough to be chosen but had fun watching. Alas, the coveted "ship on a stick" eluded us, and we had to be content with our bronze medals from the Scavenger hunt.
We sat at no less than three different tables in the Empire! We checked our dining table immediately and as we were assigned to a table for four, asked to be moved to a larger table. I love my family but we do have a tendency to run out of things to say to each other after a few days! David promised to try but no guarantee. The first night we were at our originally assigned table and it was fine. Our waiter was John from India and it was love at first sight, what a great guy! Also, our table was positioned so that we could converse with a couple of other tables. So we were content.
Alas, we had monkeyed with fate and David succeeded in moving us to a table for 12. We were happily anticipating meeting our tablemates the next night (formal night). The first family sharing our table arrived. The woman icily demanded what we were doing at her table. When she was informed by the waiter that the seating arrangements had been changed, she glared at us and then quite obviously moved her seat so her back was to us! We tried smiling and striking up a conversation but to no avail. The second family also indicated that they would be happier alone. No, we are not offensive people! The first woman sent back no less than three dishes that night so maybe she was just hard to please. We found them all quite good. The waiter for this section, Trevor, was very efficient but about as friendly and as stone-faced as an undertaker. After suffering through one meal, we very humbly went back to David and asked to be moved again. We had hoped to get our original table back with John but unfortunately someone else had it. I am sure they had a great time. Thank God David was able to accommodate us with another move or this would have been a miserable cruise! Really, I would have sat on the floor, or eaten in the La Playa grill every night rather than suffer through another meal like that!
Our third table was again at a table for 4, with alas, no conveniently positioned tables for conversation with others. As I mentioned before, on many nights the Empire was pretty empty. Our waiter, Benny from Indonesia, was friendly and upbeat but seemed a little overwhelmed on nights when the tables were full. He didn't really connect with my daughter - he treated her more like a six year old than a twelve year old. On the nights when it was less busy, we spent a lot of time talking to both our wait staff about their homelands and this was very interesting. My husband is a real current events nut and can talk to anyone about the events in their homeland. Our assistant waiter, Tommy from Croatia, was a dream. Extremely hard working, very personable, excellent people skills. We singled him out especially on our comment cards. John (our first waiter) also came up to talk to us several times. We gave him a small tip also on the last night which he did not want to take, but we insisted. I guess the team concept was in effect, the waiters called themselves team waiters but I didn't see any difference, you have the same waiter all of the time, and your busboy is now called your assistant waiter...? So what is really different?? Do the waiters have more tables? Our drink server in the Empire was not very personable and usually had to be asked to come to our table.
We found the food in the Empire excellent, the best food we've had on a cruise yet. I have three extra pounds to prove it, too. The lobster tail was large and succulent. Appetizers especially were good, I had at least two and sometimes three every night. Soups were less good but interesting. The pumpkin soup is outstanding. Beef entrees were tender, the duck was excellent, fish good to excellent. I did not have desserts often but my daughter had two or three every night and pronounced them yummy. We had a cheese platter after dinner every night.
We had lunch at the Empire whenever possible and it was also quite good. Lunch is at your regular table, not open seating as it is on RCI. Breakfast is open seating. We had breakfast two times in the Empire and it was OK. Not too much you can do with breakfast.
We ate at the Nouveau one night. It was very good but we cancelled our reservation for a second night. They only have one menu and it is heavily geared to main entrees, very large portions. Presentation of food was outstanding. If they had a second menu we would have returned, but we had tried everything between the four of us that we were interested in and liked the variety in the Empire dining room. We just didn't feel it merited another $80 to eat there again. Also the wine selection was more expensive so we spent more on wine than we did in the Empire.
The Empire was not open for lunch on port days. Two of the port days we had lunch on land. We only ate at the LaPlaya on embarkation day, one port day and for a couple breakfasts. The food was good for cafeteria style fare and very varied. However, I think I got lost in the LaPlaya about five times every time I ate there. All of the different areas for different cuisine are somewhat confusing. Be careful what you are standing in line for . Didn't eat any of the deli sandwiches but had some of the delicious pizza every night about 11:30. Hamburgers looked good but didn't have any. Wasn't really tempted by the midnight buffets other than the night they served sushi, which I partook of liberally. Visited and photographed the grand buffet, which was beautiful, but didn't go back to eat any. Chose pizza instead! Did get to visit with John at the buffet though.
We ate room service for breakfast on several mornings. We put out our hanging orders the night before and our requests were delivered promptly at the time we requested. We tipped $2 each time. The selection was limited but it was nice to have 'breakfast in bed'. My mom ordered tea and coffee from room service at other times of the day and said it was very prompt.
We saw most of the shows. We had a great drink waiter, who always remembered our names, our drinks and our sail and sign card number. All the staff on the ship (well most, except for purser's staff) were great! Friendly, outgoing, offering to take your picture.
I've seen lots of bad reviews of Shawn Bussy which I feel were not merited. She could be irritating at times but all cruise directors have to be a little over the top. I think she connected with the majority of passengers pretty well. At the end of the cruise there is a segment called "up close and personal" where the passengers could ask questions of the cruise director staff. This is very interesting if you like to hear how the other half lives and we heard some pretty wild stories! She really loosened up as the cruise wore on and seemed very likeable. She is Carnival's only female cruise director and I know how tough it is to be a woman in a man's world! My hat is off to her.
We enjoyed singing in the piano bar with Steven one night. Pretty campy. Some folks went every night but once was enough for us.
The captain's cocktail party as well as the repeater's party were well done and well attended. At the captain's cocktail party we ordered from the bar rather than the servers and the drinks were free. We didn't sample any of the appetizers that night. The appetizers served during the repeater's party were yummy, we had some of each. At this party, held in the Pharoah's palace, they were circulating with non-alcoholic punch, two kinds of wine and two kinds of mixed drinks. They were not at all shy about offering seconds and thirds on appetizers and drinks. A funny old gentlemen got up on stage and danced across holding two American flags while the band played classical music. Now those are definitely the moments you remember from your cruise!
We spent WAY too much money playing bingo, we played as a lark the first night and won $50. Well, that did it and we were hooked and played every game after that. Never won a penny! Oh well!. Had fun buying scratch and win cards too, lost a little more there!
We chose this cruise partly for the ship and partly for the itinerary. Neither disappointed. A quick word on the shore excursions though - I had requested a list from Carnival before we left. Once we got on the ship, a new list was in our cabin which did not include some of the excursions that were on the list Carnival sent me. So, don't get your hopes up too much if you use the pre-list. We booked immediately upon boarding the ship and got everything we wanted. We did hear people complaining that they signed up immediately after the shore talk and didn't get their choices. So, if there is something you are particularly interested in you might want to sign up on the first day aboard.
In St Maarten my huband and I did the America's Cup Regatta. Unfortunately there was no wind that day, but it was still informative and interesting if not exactly exciting. My mom and daughter did the butterfly farm tour and said they had a great time. Afterwards we took a cab to Marigot on the French side. I am a student of the French language so take every opportunity to use my French. I found the French on St Martin to be colloquial and difficult to understand. We had some wonderful calamari,onion soup and beaujoulais in La Bar de la Mer (I highly recommend it!) and then did some perfume shopping at Lipsticks. The clerk was from Provençal and was living in St Martin as the economy (and weather) was better than in France. She took her 5 weeks vacation each year to return home. Always interesting to meet people from faraway places.
On Barbardos, my daughter, husband and I did a snuba expedition. This is a great introduction to scuba. You are fitted with a regulator but instead of a tank on your back, the tank rests in a little raft. You can either use your regulator as a snorkel and hold on to the raft or dive down to look at the wreck, about 20 feet below. Although scary at first it was fun. Kelsy who is a champion swimmer, was all over the wreck within minutes. I'm a little more timid but found my way down before it was over. My mom did the city tour of Barbardos which she enjoyed. After our snuba, we had a cold drink at a nearby restaurant and then rather than take a taxi back, we walked over to Columbia Emeralds and I was lucky enough to become the proud owner of a small but exquisite emerald pendant and earrings. We were helped by Michelle who was interrupted when her boyfriend drove up outside the store and honked his horn! We told her to go see what he needed, we'd wait!.
Beware that if you want to shop at the cruise terminal in Barbados which has lots of interesting shops - the shops close well before the ship leaves. You are in port from noon - 10. We did our tour and some shopping in town and then returned to the ship for dinner, planning to return after dinner for some shopping before 10 pm. Everything was closed except for one ambitous shopkeeper that stayed open. Bet she made a lot of money!
Martinique was by far my favorite port. I would like to go back and spend more time someday. Rather than take a tour, we hooked up with a taxi driver who spoke some English to take us into town. Of course I spoke French to him all of the way. He gave us a great mini-tour and then asked if he could meet us when we were. ready to leave. We made arrangements to meet him at 1:00 pm and sure enough he was there and waiting for us. We shopped for more perfumes, cadeaux (gifts) and wine at La Cave a Vin. I had hoped that La Cave a Vin would be open for lunch but unfortunately it was not. We had a great time picking out some wines and pates. The proprietress had a ten year old daughter who was learning English so we were able to practice our languages on each other much to our mutual delight. Thre French spoken in Martinique is much closer to that spoken in France although they tend to 'tutouyer' (use the familiar tu form) much more quickly than I am used to. After all of our shopping we had some boisson froids (cold drinks) and I put my mom and daughter in a taxi for the ship. My husband and I explored a bit more and then had Salad Niçoise and kirs at a restaurant on the water during a downpour! Just as we were beginning to worry about carrying our box of wine in the rain, it stopped. We hooked up with our taxi driver again and he took us around the town square. We stopped several times to take pictures. We made a brief stop at the terminal duty free shop, where I saw many ship employees buying liquor and cigarettes, and then it was sadly time to return to the ship. I was very sorry to leave our last port.
I found all of the people on all of the islands charming and hospitable. There was none of the buying pressure that I have seen in Mexican ports or especially in Jamacai! Martinique was the cleanest and most sophisticated. I saw lots of people on the ship with braids so there must have been people offering to braid hair at some of the ports but we were never asked.
There was more security getting back on the ship after each port. In addition to using your sail and sign card to identify yourself (you insert in a machine and your picture comes up), you were wanded and all of your carryons had to go through the xray machine. In addition, you were asked to show your ship card in two of the three ports before you were even allowed into the terminal building.
Then it was two more fun days at sea prior to returning to Miami. Frankly the last day was one day too many. Our minds were already back at home by this time and it was difficult to relax and have a good time. Also by this time we had sampled most of the ship's activities and were repeating. I always said I could never get enough of days at sea but I guess that is just not true.
Disembarkation was painless. Of course, finding your luggage in that sea of black bags in that huge room is quite a challenge.
The worst moment of the trip occurred when we arrived home to realize we had left one of our bags at the Cruise Terminal. Frankly, we just lost count, sort of like Home Alone and counting heads. I called Carnival on the way home. They stated that our lost bag would be shipped out the next day via UPS and that we'd get it in 5 to 7 business days. I sure hope so. Our medications and exposed film is on that bag so it would sure be a huge shame to lose it. I'll write to the board and let everyone know if we get it safely or not. I am sure that this happens all of the time and that most people get their bags just fine. Wish us luck everyone.
Also we arrived home to an ice storm in Dallas. It was cold, dark and depressing. It's fortunate that I can relive the cruise by writing this review!
Just a few days later and it already seems like it was just a dream. Now we're thinking about the next group who sailed after us and what they are doing today. Wonder who's in our cabin? And we're starting to dream about that next vacation..Happy Sailing Everyone!
Here I sit on a cold rainy day in December, after weeks of procrastinating I'm finally going to sit down and enter my thoughts about cruising on the Carnival Spirit to Belize.Costa Rica and Panama November 11,2001. Yes as you can see I've put it off for quite a while. I am a very successful procrastinator indeed. Well let's begin this attempt at deathless prose by saying we booked our own air because we had vouchers we had to use. This meant we had to get our own hotel and provide our own transportation. No problem there and we were able to get to the ship at 12 sharp what a zoo some people getting off and some trying to get on. We ended up about 4th in line and got our boarding documents taken care of pronto, then came a short wait for the ID cameras to set up and we were aboard by 12:20 and heading up to the lunch which I must say was a better first meal than we have had on any Carnival ship so far. This being our seventh Carnival cruise I wouldsay that the food has really improved. We were very pleased through out the entire cruise. Seems that as food has gone down on RCL, at least on our cruise in Aug. over in the Baltic it's gotten better on Carnival. Of coarse I'm no gourmet and don't really like the English style of cooking. Food taste is an individual thing and any criticism should be taken that way. Both good and bad depends on the person.
We then went looking around the ship and much to my surprise Diane and I liked the interior decor. This is not usual because we usually find Carnival ships to be gaudy and over done with neon and mirrors. Some how we found the gilded look very pleasing just subdued enough for us. We have always preferred RCI ships ever since the Sovereign of the Sea came out in the 80s. I thought the windows at the stern in the dining room were very attractive and the atrium bar was nice although the mural was a little flat faced for me. But then I know nothing about art as my taste is all in my sox I guess.
Wow I got called away and days have passed since I started. In 90 hours according to my count down program we board our flight for Manaus Brazil to sail down the Amazon so I really must finish this masterpiece of probably useless information. The ports of call not on the main line of tourist destinations and it shows with the facilities that are in place so far in Belize. We had hoped to take the tour over the rain forest but were disappointed to learn it was sold out in less than an hour after the shore excursion desk opened. They only had transportation set up for forty people and over two hundred wanted to go. If you want this on you better be Johnny on the spot in the excursion line. We took the trip to the Mayan ruins, which entailed about a twenty-mile bus ride each way. You get a guided tour on the way there over a fairly rough one-lane road that serves as one of the main highways to Mexico. Due to a recent hurricane the road was in poor shape in many places and work crews caused the bus to use the shoulder often to get by. The temple ruins themselves are only partially excavated. But are very interesting just the same, made more so if ones been to Talum or Chickenitrza. On the return trip we went through the city and there seemed to be little of interest. People who took the city tour were really dissatisfied with the cost. The kayak and river trips were canceled due to really high water from the hurricane. Many people who took a tube trip came back saying it was dangerous and badly supervised. Belize has a ways to go in their organizing for cruise ships.
In Costa Rica we took the banana train to a Dole owned town and bused back. If you want this trip be sure to get a seat facing the front going up and if you bus first get on facing the rear going back to the ship. There is a native flea market on the dock for those who must shop a little and a small one in the Dole town but no other stops are made.
The last port was Colon Panama where many took the canal tour and were very pleased. We have been through the canal four times we went to Porto Belo instead which was interesting but limited to a few old ruins of forts from the pirate strong hold. Also a stop is made at a village where the Black Madonna is enshrined. Over priced shops are located at the pier. Over all we had a great time on the Spirit and thought it was the most pleasant Carnival ship so far.
Travelers: Family of 5, Mom and Dad in 40's, Boys 14 and 10, Girl 6. Third cruise.
The cruise was part of a 19 day trip, with the 1st 5 days in Seattle, 2 days in Vancouver, 7 days on the Spirit and the final days in Girdwood, Alaska and returning to Florida.
Many thanks go out to all the members of these boards, as the information learned greatly enhanced the cruise experience reviewed below.
The Ship The Spirit is a magnificent vessel displaying elegant charm and luxury. Comments have been made about the decor being too busy and brash, but stimulating and rich are better decriptions. The ambience created a feeling of comfort and style that you might get from sitting in a new car about two steps higher than you could afford. The ship is very new and is in the finest condition as you would expect from a very modern liner. It seemed that the designers and builders had thought of everything when the Spirit was put together. Everything worked as you would expect, no problems of any kind with plumbing, electric, or the heating/AC systems. Getting around was easyas the deck layout was well thought out.
There is plenty of deck space for wildlife viewing which will be great for getting a tan when the ship sails the Caribbean in the fall and winter. The public areas flowed together from the atrium on the lower level to the lounges, casino, main restuarant, shops and the showroom. The photo gallery is conveniently located just above the lobby bar in the atrium. The atrium is just stunning with triple glass elevators rising from the lobby bar to the red glass fantail high above. Don't miss the clear spiral staincase up to Noveau Supper Club, Carnival's upscale, $20 per person, alternative restuarant. The climb up the stairs is free. Three pools, one domed, four spas, the gym, salon and Nautica spa areas, along with the La Playa Grille and pizzeria are all easily accessed on the Lido deck. Bars are located fore, aft, starboard and port, so you are never far from liquid refresment. Ice cream and frozen yogurt machines, along with coffee, tea, lemonade and juices are also available in several places on the Lido deck 24 hours a day.
Cabins: 7259 Verandah Deck with balcony and 7261 Inside Cabin directly across the hall.
Spacious, well designed, comfortable, cabins are the norm on Carnival and the Spirit is no exception. Plenty of closet and drawer space, a couch and balcony were the perfect accomodations for cruising any itinerary. Included were essential toiletries, plenty of towels, built in hair dryer, 110 volt outlets both in the bathroom near the vanity mirror. The twin/king bed was made into a king after being pushed together on the first night of the cruise. The balcony was ideal for wildlife watching or just viewing the magnificent scenery of Alaska. It was easy to prop the blacony door open with the balcony furniture, so the bungee cords brought along weren't needed in this cabin, but some may find them useful.
The Crew The Captian and the Hotel Director were seldom heard from or seen. Their intrduction on stage, shown on the ship's TV, along with their names in the Carnival Capers was for the most part all the exposure the passengers had to them. Perhaps they were busy attending to their responsibilities as the operation of the ship and the hotel with ran as smoothly as a Swiss watch.
Cruise Director Shawn Bussey is enthusiastic enough but did not seem to connect enough with the passengers. She could use a little more exposure, maybe at the Captain's cocktail party she could grab a microphone and liven things up as most of the guests on board were packing the lower atrium and nearby promenade relaxing with the complimentary beverages provided.
The Camp Carnival Staff deserves commendation for the friendly and joyful manner in which they do their jobs. Always, always smiling. The kids who particicpated with them were well cared for, entertained superbly and anxious to return for another session whenever possible.
The Maitre d' Ken byrne is by far the best at his position. Many with his responsibilities just do an adequate job, not interacting much with guests and then waiting at the dining room exit for a tip on the last evening. Not this gentleman; every evening he would sing a few songs (he was excellent), make announcements, and lead the wait staff in the post dinner entertainment. This was in addition to his duties supervising a staff of over 200, and making sure all the dining guests were satisfied at each meal. Service under his direction was nearly flawless.
Honorable mention goes to Chef Xavier Praxmarer who was spotted at the midnight buffet working diligently to rearrange a display after an ice sculpture fell. He is a hands on person, leading by example to ensure that high quality, well displayed food was always available.
Carnival's naturalist, Michelle, provided information about Alaskan wildlife and nature throught the cruise, both in scheduled lectures and impromptu information as wildlife and other natural wonders were observed. She spent lots of time on the bridge, scanning the waterways and mountainsides, then alerting the several hundred guests on the "wildlife watch" to the eagles, whales, otters and porpoises she observed. She also described the waterways, mountains, fjords and glaciers extensively throughout the voyage. She also presented an interesting slide show about whales. Her presence enhanced the cruise greatly, espectially for those interested in wildlife.
Spoiling the nearly perfect rating for the 900 plus crew members was one Peter Kinloch Anderson, Carnival's Shore Tours Manager, who went out of his way to criticize and demean the shore excursion choice of five guests, because they had not booked their glacier helicopter trip through his department. He was rude, arrogant and condescending and stated outright that the only reason the helicoptor tour with Coastal was chosen was because it was cheaper. Did this ignorant bloke (he is from Scotland, thus the bloke reference) really think the party of five with a previously committed tour, prepaid and costing several hundred dollars would cancel and go on his "superior" excursion, forfeiting the entire sum paid and rebook with him? Apparently he thought so. Carnival would be well advised to remove this gentlemen to a position with, shall we say, less exposure to the public. And to further his negative impression, Mr. Anderson was smoking while directing guests as they disembarked at the pier in Juneau. Had it not been for this one incident, this entire review would be so positive and upbeat that one would suspect the reviewer to be an employee of the cruise line.
The staff of this ship, overall, was unbelievably courteous, competent, friendly and efficient, never intrusive, and not bothered by unusual or even untimely requests. This is a remarkable accomplishment for a cruise ship on the waters just over 3 months. Surely there were guests with problems but they were not readily observed. Apparently most problems were handled quickly and quietly to the satisfaction of most guests.
The Food Food on the Spirit seems to be continuing the tradtion of improvement that Carnival has established over the past few years. While other cruise lines are cutting corners by eliminating the midnight buffet and lowering quality, Carnival continues to improve the quality and availability of its menu offerings. The late night buffet was served every night of the voyage with a Grand Gala Buffet on the sixth night, featuring many elegantly presented displays of ice carving, carved fruits and vegetables along with a wide variety of food selections.
The Empire Restuarant, the ship's main dining room featured a vast array of items that should please most appetites. The food quality was very good to excellent and some selections were fabulous. Eat what you like, the preparations were unique and flavorful. A note to the executive chef at corporate headquarters; the company recipe for Caesar dressing is a little on the fishy side, please reconsider the amount of anchovies. Also the area in which there is the most room for improvement is deserts, in the dining room as well as the La Playa Grille. Seafood, Vegetarian, Meat, Pasta and Nautica Spa selections were available each evening, along with a couple other items. Appetizers were especially tasty with salmon and crab legs being the highlight of the offerings.
The La Playa Grill, located on the Lido deck serves as the ships buffeteria and alternative to the ship's main dining room. The food here is very, very good. There are many selections each day. Carnival features a different Taste of Nations each day, including, French, Italian, Japanese, Caribbean, Indian, Mexican, and American. The New York Deli features hot and cold sandwiches from 11AM to 11PM daily and the Seaview Bistro serves seafood selections during dinner hours the first six nights.
The Service Late seating, Table 393 Here is where the stars shined!! Dining room service was impeccable, prompt, friendly and honest. Antonio, Team Head Waiter, and his assistant Rey, Team Waiter, both from the Philipines provided prompt and professional service each evening of the cruise. Menus were delivered instantly upon seating and special requests were accepted graciously and served with eagerness to please. Needs were anticipated and it was rarely necessary to request anything.
Complementing the food waiters was Juan, the bar waiter from Puerto Rico. Juan anticipated the soft drink needs of the children at dinner and served them consistently throughout the cruise. Several times each evening, Juan would deliver a round of Diet Cokes, even though there was no gratuity for any of the 50 or so soft drinks he served during the week. This guy had the warmest smile this side of heaven and was well rewarded for the superior service he provided along with his inspiring smile. Bartenders and Bar Waiters in other areas of the ship provided quick and friendly service at all times, even to the children using their soda cards. They had no problems getting first class service.
Carnival also provided two complimentary cocktail parties, one for all guests at the Captain's Reception and another at the Repeaters Party for anyone who had sailed with Carnival in the past. These gestures were very much appreciated, and quite unexpected. Service was quick and availability of drinks very sufficient during these events.
Rounding out the excellent service was Cabin Steward Dennis Untal. Ice bin always filled, room made up promptly, about 12 different towel figures between 2 cabins during the week, clothes folded and room straightened regularly were the highlights of his excellent service.
It would be difficult to find a better service team on any ship.
The Entertainment Shows on the Spirit were well produced and reasonable entertaining, as were the comedians and magician. The Spirit Orchestra is quite good as were the other singers and dancers on board. Greater attendance and audience participation would have enhanced the performances. A little too much Sinatra perhaps; maybe the music selection will change when the ship heads south and the passenger profile gets younger and more active. Late night comedians were funny but some may be offended by the R rated content.
The Passengers The 2300 plus Guests sailing on the Spirit were for the most part in the 50+ range as are most Alaska cruisers. However the walker and oxygen tank crowd was totally absent on Carnival. A small percentage of the guests were children and teens, but for the most part this was an older subdued group. Late night activities were quiet and sparsely attended. No wild, outrageous partying was seen on this itinerary. This is quite understandable though as the beauty and grandeur of Alaska are not to be traded for a late night party. Be advised that this will change though when the Spirit reaches the Caribbean and the partying cruisers embark. The Spirit will "kick it up another notch", as Emeril would say, and compared to an Alaska cruise, this ship is gonna rock!!
The Voyage Embarkation was routine but a little behind schedule as was departure time from the pier. Overall the voyage was very smooth with great weather. There was a little rocking and rolling a couple of times and it could be noticed more in the back of the ship. The captain did have the stabilizers extended whenever needed to reduce the motion. Sailing under the Lion's Gate bridge was dramatic as the Spirit's fantail nearly reached the height of the bottom of the bridge. The afternoon and evening were routine for a cruise, lunching on the lido deck, unpacking, getting familiar with the ship, getting to dinner on time, and a comedy show to close out the day. But that routine would soon change.
Mother nature was out in all her glory for the rest of the week. Words cannot begin to describe the majesty and grandeur that lay ahead. Pristine snow capped mountain peaks, waterfalls, valleys and vistas, and wildlife captivated the hundreds of passengers on the "scenic watch". Eagles, whales, including one which surfaced about 50 feet from the ship, porpoises, otters with their young along with several species of waterfoul were spotted throughout the voyage. The waterways were dotted with local boat traffic, fishing vessels, lighthouses, islands, and an occasional jumping fish.
The northbound itinerary saves the best for last though as cruising through Prince William Sound and College Fjord is on Day 6. Viewing glacial valleys of blue ice between towering mountains of granite, while sailing through iceberg laden waterways is a most amazing, thrilling and awe inspiring experience.
Stunning, Awesome, Majestic, Pristine, Beauty and Grandeur are descriptions that barely begin to convey the experience of this overwhelming display of the Creator's handiwork!!
John Muir described glaicers in 1879 this way: "The whole front of the glacier is gashed and sculptured into a maze of shallow caves and crevasses, and a bewildering variety of novel architectural forms, clusters of glittering lance-tipped spires, gables, and obelisks, hold out standing bastions and plain mural cliffs, adorned along the top with fretted cornice and battlement, while every gorge and crevasse, groove and hollow, was filled with light, shimmering and throbbing in pale-blue tones of ineffable tenderness and beauty".
If you haven't done so yet, and you ever get the chance, go and see and hear and feel and touch and taste the glaciers: it is a don't miss experience of a lifetime. Well you cant touch or taste them from the ship but eating some glacial ice was one of the first things 10 year old Daniel did after landing on the Herbert Glacier near Juneau.
The Ports Vancouver is a marvelous city with many first class hotels, eateries, shopping opportunities and of course a beautiful port, Canada Place. A somewhat pricey dinner in the revolving restuarant on top of the Harbour Centre provided panoramic views of the city. Tours of Stanley Park and the Vancouver Aquarium were enjoyable and informative. The people employed in the hospitality industry in Vancouver set a standard of excellence in care, courtesy and service without rival. The Delta Vancouver Suites, a top notch hotel, located about four blocks from the pier, was an excellent value. There is a good sized liquor and wine shop located in the Harbour Centre, (3 blocks from the pier and very walkable) that made it convenient to buy a few bottles of wine just prior to embarkation. Prices are reasonable, especially with the current exchange rate for US dollars. Taxis were available and waiting at all major locations in the downtown and port areas.
Ketchikan is a quaint little village with lots of charm featurning Ketchikan Creek, a salmon hatchery, sailboat harbor, totem poles, the pier and in late July and early August, a plentiful population of salmon. A walk up Ketchikan Creek to the hatchery revealed thousands of salmon headed upstream to spawn, while locals and tourists were catching the fish from a bridge overlooking the mouth of the creek. Flightseeing excursions of all types are available here with take offs and landings throughout the day. Charter boats abound and poles are available to rent for those interested in fishing from shore or the docks around the harbor.
Juneau, capital of Alaska, is home of the famous Mendenhall Glacier and the surrounding Juneau icefield, excellent whale watching, the Mt Roberts Tramway, and the historic district in the downtown area. Tickets for the tram are good all day for as many trips of you care to make. Planning your own excursions seems to be a great way to go as it will save you money, give you flexibility, get you away from the "herd" that must by necessity exist for large ship tours. And you will have a much better chance of doing your first choice activity. In Juneau, Orca Enterprises takes you whale watching on a jet boat with 25 others. The ship tours book with 150 on board a larger slower vessel. You'll have more time on the water, be closer to whales and Orca will drop you at your next excursion if at all possible in their schedule. Try that on a bus with 60 passengers returning to the pier. Coastal Helicopter operates glacier landings independent of the ship's tours. Here is a summary of the experiences with these two companies.
Our family of five flew on the Coastal 1 hour glacier landing tour Saturday August 4, at 1PM and had a great time!!!!!!!! They were picked us up at the pier about 45 minutes prior to the flight and transportered our party and another couple to the airport about 10 miles away. The Herbert glacier landing and flight were memorable. Our pilot (JAG, his initials) was informative, friendly and took several pictures of us on the glacier. We did have to fill out the weight form on the van and they did verify with a scale in the office before the flight. This is a very important safety measure though and should be expected from a reliable company. Our preflight safety talk on the van was audible and clear.
The boots provided were less than ideal, and we would have been just as well off to wear the walking shoes we had on prior to the flight. The boots would have kept us warm however, if the weather had been cool. They also have hooded coats available if the clothing you arrive with is not warm enough for current weather conditions. After taking off the pilot took us on an ariel tour of the Mendenhall Valley and glacier, the harbor and the surrounding area. The Juneau ice field was clouded in and not visible. We flew to an altitude of about 2500 feet for the landing on Herbert Glacier, flying over breathtaking ridges, mountain peaks and jagged glacial ice formations. We also saw a mountain goat on the hillside above the glacier and had a nice tour of the area again on the way back to the airport. It is expensive; (Coastal is the lowest) $160 each for a 1 hour trip. Worth it though, as there are sights, sounds, and sensations that you experience on the trip that no words, pictures or other descriptions could possibly adequately depict. Go for it!!
Orca Enterprises took us whale watching about and hour after the glacier landing. We were so pumped from the helicopter flight that it really didn't seem to make much difference whether or not we saw any whales. But Captain Larry had about 20 other avid whale watchers to please and he was not about to dissapoint. What we witnessed over the next 3 hours or so was the most amazing sight imaginable.
A pod of 6 or 7 humpback whales were feeding as a group in a process known as bubble net feeding. The whales would dive, form a circle and release a circle of bubbles around a school of fish. The fish, with a natural fear of the bubbles head toward the surface and center of the bubble net. After signaling or telling each other (the whale speak was audible to us from the hydrophone Captain Larry had placed in the water) that it was time to surface and capture their meal, the whales would simultaneously breach the surface, filling thier mouths with the catch. They would lounge around on the surface a bit and then dive again, raising their massive tails skyward on the way down to create another bubble net for the next feast. The whales continued this cooperative feeding over and over for the next couple of hours. Watching these whales feed in this manner was incredibly thrilling. The mate informed us that this behavior is somewhat rare and not often seen on whalewatching expedtions. This was confirmed by Michelle, Carnival's naturalist. It was a very, very special treat!! We were also able to observe seals, eagles, and other wildlife on the return trip from Auke Bay to the harbor. We were on sensory overload after the day in Juneau, shaking our heads in awe, disbelief and gratitude for the privileges granted us on this most memorable day.
Skagway, a most relaxing port with a train ride up and down the mountain to the summit on the Candian border. The scenery was beautiful, picturesque and tranquil along the 20 mile White Pass Railway line. Skagway has a colorful gold rush history and heritage, kept alive by the train, the Red Onion Saloon, Gold Rush cemetery and the town's other historic structures. As in all the ports, the ususal souveniers are available, from 50 cent train whistles to bronze and gold eagles at $25,000.00 per copy. Also available are many unusual items, including native art, clothing, furs, ulu knives and totem poles. Lots of flightseeing and local tours are offered as well.
Sitka is a quaint village of Russian heritage and reminds you of a European setting. From the unique domed cathedral to the Russian bishop's former home, the settlement is a delightful reminder of a time gone by. Tours of the area are offered at the pier by locals but town is just 1 block away. It is about a mile and a half to the raptor center, a favorite attraction for many. Just before the raptor center is a National Forest Park with well marked trails featuring about a dozen totem poles. Signs at the entrance warn of recent confirmed bear sightings. A creek runs through the park and should be loaded with salmon right now as they were just starting to run on August 6. The area is home to many eagles and other birds of prey. Shopping was similar to the other ports. The wildlife adventure tour received rave reviews from those who went.
Seward/Anchorage Few passengers saw much of Seward as you disembark the ship directly on to a bus at the pier and are whisked away to the Anchorage airport. The harbor is filled with boats that were lined up to get out fishing by 6 AM. The stream of boats continued out of the harbor for most of the early morning. The ride to Anchorage is quite scenic with snow capped mountains, waterways and a few glaciers visible along the route. Cruisers meet up with their luggage at the airport or other Anchorage locations such as local hotels. Goodbye Carnival Cruise Lines, It was Fabulous!!!
After reading reviews and comments from other cruisers, I was anxious to see for myself what so many described - the Carnival Spirit. Was it over done? Glitzy beyond tasteful? Did it matter at all? I found the ship to be awesome. This word is over used these days, however, looking into the cavernous atrium... 11 decks high, with stair cases and "bubble" elevators soaring upward toward the infamous red glass funnel, the word that was used more often than any other was "awesome"....perhaps the second phrase was "Can you believe it." The ship is visually stimulating and creates an exciting atmosphere for both Alaska as well as warmer destinations like the Caribbean and Hawaii. It is not by any stretch of the imagination sedate and tranquil... the sea provides that aspect.
We were assigned to cabin 5801 on the upper deck. This is the first cabin with a balcony on the port side of the ship. I was concerned about this cabin before the cruise. I was afraid that being the first cabin, the balcony might be smaller or there might be noise from the children's play area further forward onour deck. Our balcony was in fact larger than our traveling companions on the Veranda deck and there never was any noise from the children. Their cabin, an 8G (I think) was the same as ours, an 8C. The cabins were ample in size with two beds that were pushed together to make a king-sized one. The bathroom had a wonderful shower that many people seemed to remark about. Food was good and plentiful. The staff was very helpful and friendly... I would rank all this as being what I expected. Our cabin stewardess was a young woman from Russia by the name of Isabelle. She was very efficient and quite helpful. Each night when we returned to our cabin, we found an "animal" figure made by her by twisting towels. They were quite the "work of art" and we enjoyed them.
As for the ports of call, I'd say they were all enjoyable in their own way except for Valdez. If I could recommend it, I'd suggest the cruise line pass that port all together. A townsman has organized a very efficient way of getting the passengers into the town on his busses, but there is no reason to go there. The few shops have nothing to sell and what they have they merchandize poorly. Their claim to fame seems to be the history of the oil spill and an earthquake of which there is a short video to view in the town visitor's center.... There is nothing to do there.. We returned to the ship with many others after about 45 minutes. That evening before the show, when the cruise director asked how everyone liked Valdez, there was very little positive reaction from the audience.
About the cruise director. I had read some things about her on the message board that were of concern. The impression I got was that the hope was that she would "learn more tricks" and grow into her job... she hasn't yet. I felt no connection with her and I consider myself a pushover as a member of an audience. She seemed disconnected to most of us, closer to the young people on board, and her comments targeting an "in crowd" perhaps.... In my experience sailing over the years, cruise directors should be very visible during the cruise. They should be there when you leave the ship in port, there to greet you when you return.... smooozing during the captain's cocktail party, out there with arm extended ready to engage in conversation in the public lounges, things like that.... In addition, his or her demeanor should be inclusive, never exclusive. I found Shawn Bussey to be the opposite. She seemed stiff and uncomfortable at times. Her greetings each evening before the shows seemed almost confrontational i.e. "How is everybody tonight..... I said HOW IS EVERYBODY TONIGHT!...THAT'S BETTER! It offended me. Additionally, I think the cruise director should be the ideal cruise passenger. She or he should be an example of a passenger having a ball! Shawn did not project this image... Also, and this may sound petty, but even I noticed, Shawn wore the same outfit on two evenings on our seven day trip, (a blue pant suit)... I would think that she, if anyone would have a wardrobe large enough to accommodate the number of evenings she would be in the public eye.... The passengers seemed to be dressed more appropriately.
The shows were good I thought. The first major production on this new ship involved "spirit"... all the various ways you can express spirit. One segment was a medley of songs from "Sister Act" the movie starring Whoopie Goldberg where she becomes a nun and brings life into an inner city parish with her upbeat and modern renditions of vintage church songs. Some people seemed to be a bit offended by this. I think it was because in the movie the characters and those singing and dancing to the music believed in what they were singing... the cast of the show we were seeing were performing the songs and did not appear to share the believing part.... Personally, It didn't bother me as much.
An area of mass confusion occurred when several people, who should know, gave conflicting times for events. For example, the maitre'd announced at dinner the times for the grand midnight buffet. He said they would open the Empire dining room at 11:15PM for pictures. The buffet would open to serve at 11:30. In fact the doors did open promptly at 11:15PM for the picture taking, but we were told my one dining room staff member that they would not serve until 11:45PM, and then by another until 12:15AM. We were discourteously ushered out of the dining room by a service escalator and deposited on the second floor of the dining room. To get back we had to take the elevator down and wait until 12:15AM. Many people left unhappy.
My final suggestion, to stop the bingo playing before each show. It's tacky and you can't get a good seat to see the show because the theater is already filled with bingo players. It appears Carnival is trying to squeeze in every opportunity to make more money. Schedule bingo in the afternoon and play big games for big money and prizes then. I think in short there can be a lot of improvement in the area of cruise activities..
Finally, my hat off to the disembarkment procedures, they worked great, it was very easy to get off the ship. The "sign and sail" cards were a great enhancement. If you use a credit card there is no "settling of the account" before you get off the ship, and you will have taken care of all the tipping required. Additional tipping is at your discretion. We particularly appreciated our cabin stewardess, so we gave her something more. I would recommend this cruise and ship. If I cruise Alaska again, I would try the Northbound Itinerary, visit Sitka and pass on Valdez. We spent three additional days in Vancouver and I would do that again. Vancouver is a must see, a wonderful city with great attractions like Stanley Park, Granville Island and Gas Town.
In conclusion let me say that I usually live by the credo, "If you don't have something nice to say don't say anything" but this is a review. My intent is to help my fellow cruisers better prepare for and perhaps choose a cruise by what my impressions are. My hope is that Carnival will take what I have said and if there is a consensus of opinion make the changes if needed to insure an enjoyable cruise for their patrons. Like all you who read this, I am thinking, dreaming about my next cruise. Perhaps Europe next time! Happy sailing to you all.
We are almost to the end of our cruise and that makes me sad. As I sit up here at the highest point on the ship, surrounded by an unbelievable expanse of deep blue sea, a beautiful blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds, and soft winds blowing, the thought crosses my mind that I could easily become accustomed to this type of life. My longest cruise to this point has been a 10-day that was wonderful, but I am having trouble trying to remember back to embarkation right about now. Seems like that was two cruises ago. To those of you that say 16 days is too long, I would suggest that you reconsider. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
The red glass Carnival tail rises from this point on the ship and overlooks the Nouveau Supper Club and ultimately the Spirit Atrium. The sun shining thru these windows onto the bronze scrollwork of the Atrium casts a pink sheen on everything and the resulting spectacular look softens the Carnival glitz. The neon is gone, but the look of copper and a million lights are present throughout theship. This look will certainly evoke different opinions, but it is, whether you like it or not, impressive.
We have truly enjoyed the Spirit, found the ship to be quite passenger friendly, plenty of places to lie quietly in the sun, more than enough lounge chairs, food, and entertainment to please most people. While I personally prefer the Caribbean to the Mexican Riveria, the experience of the Panama Canal was truly the highlight of this cruise for me. It was awesome. Below are some of my observations.
The embarkation process to board the Spirit was different but painless. We arrived at the dock after a short tour of all the Miami docks since our taxi driver seems to have lost our ship. Still haven't figured out how you lose something that big but nevertheless he couldn't find it. Upon arrival we dropped off our luggage and proceeded thru the appointed door. Inside, a cheerful Carnival employee greeted us, verified that my docs were completely filled out and promptly directed us to the escalator to check in. Not a bad start. There were absolutely no lines at the check in and it took no more than 5 minutes. Within 15 minutes we were on board the ship, looking for our cabin. The only problem we encountered throughout the entire process was our Sign and Sail Cards were missing from our envelope and we had to go to the purser to obtain them. My first thought was maybe an upgrade, but this was not to happen… Oh well! Not a major thing, it took all of about 2 minutes to correct the problem.
We found our cabin with no problems and were truly surprised at the spaciousness of what would be our living quarters for the next 16 days. A full size leather couch and a small oval table were a nice touch and there was actually enough room for both of us to be on our feet and moving about at the same time. Our cabin had two single beds put together with of course the obligatory nightstands. There are no drawers in the nightstands, just a small cabinet in each that did not provide the usual extra drawer space that I personally like. The desk was quite large and well lighted with a mirror above it. Beneath the desk are four drawers with the top one divided and a handy hair dryer nicely tucked away on one side and the space adjacent to it served nicely for holding comb, brush and makeup. The hair dryer required no additional outlet since it's cord was conveniently already attached inside the drawer. Nice touch. The center drawer of the desk was quite large with a refrigerator under the desk on the other side. There is also a small storage cabinet with two shelves. The safe resides in a cabinet above the desk and the TV neatly sits just above that. Closet space was adequate, with one closet having double rods, great for hanging pants, shirts, etc. A second normal closet for hanging clothes and a third with four storage compartments provided me with enough space to house the excessive amount of clothes my husband has accused me of bringing. Don't know how he could come to that conclusion, it only took three men and a small boy to lift each piece of luggage. The bathroom has no cabinet but does have six glass shelves, a swing out magnifying mirror and a small shelf under the sink to store other things. It was, for a ship bathroom larger than usual. Balcony has a lawn chair, a small table and a very low lounge chair that requires a minimum amount of athletic ability to get in and out of. Our balcony was larger than most others I have encountered and there is a swing out door from the cabin.
The Empire Dining Room is a two level dining room, quite beautifully appointed and our waiter was excellent. One strangely different thing about the dining room is the Napoleon Room, which is used as a part of the main dining room, but is an entirely different room set off to the side. Diners assigned to this area were somewhat put out in that they were not included in any of the Dining Room activities. The food in the dining room ranged from fair to very good and there was seldom a night when we couldn't find something to please our pallets.
Alternative dining and the Nouveau Supper Club made a major difference in what we have grown used to in cruise dining. We were at a table for 8 and there were probably as many nights when our table was missing people as there were with all present. We tried the Alternative dining one night and found the food in the Seaview Bistro for dinner quite less than acceptable. The Supper Club on the other hand was superb. The food, atmosphere and service were exemplary and it didn't take much convincing to talk me into doing it a second time.
Food on the Lido deck for breakfast and lunch was plentiful and varied, with each station featuring a different type of food for lunch each day, Chinese, Grill, Sandwich Bar, Salad Bar, Pizza and other assorted things. Added to this was the grill out by the pool where hamburgers, hot dogs and even steak sandwiches were made. There were enough choices to cover all different tastes. The food at both breakfast and lunch was never hot and sometimes I was hard pressed to even declare it warm. Having said all this, I never went away hungryJ . Breakfast was the usual scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes, bacon, sausage, French toast and pancakes. And if that didn't please you, omelets and fried eggs were always a choice. I would have to say that my biggest complaint was they ran out of Iced Tea and whole milk. Have never been on a ship where Iced Tea was not available.
There are so many Public Rooms it took the almost the whole 16 days to get to them all. My favorite spot on the ship was the Artist Lobby that featured an excellent guitarist named Andy most of the week. The Champions Bar featured a wall of TV's and all the championship basketball games were telecast. You could find music to suit most all tastes ranging from Karaoke, to Classical, to Country Western, Dance Party Music with a trio called Zest, Jazz and a Piano Bar in the Shanghai Piano Bar. The most puzzling thing to me was that with this wide variation of musical offerings there was no Steel Band or Mariachi Band on board and only recorded music on the Lido Deck. Somehow that just didn't seem right. The other missing ingredient (although we all complain bitterly about it) was the bar waiters hawking drinks. Not one time did I hear the now familiar "Get your Bahamas Mama". In fact I had to look for someone to buy a drink from in many of the public rooms onboard the Spirit.
The Internet cafe was in the Chippendale Library and had State of the Art computers. To encourage passengers to use this service, everyone was given the first 5 minutes of Internet time free with the charge at $.75 per minute thereafter. Even with this incentive there was always a computer available when I went there. Several times however the Satellite Link was down and Cruise e-mail was not available until halfway thru the cruise.
Pharaoh's Palace was accessible from three decks, and with the exception of the first row of seats at each level on the balconies, visibility was quite good. The top of the glass partitions fell directly in your line of vision and you had to duck to look under them unless you were much taller than I am. The entertainment was varied and we had, jugglers, magicians, comedians, singers, John Davidson and of course production numbers. We did not personally attend all of the shows, but the ones we did go to were fairly good. The dancers and singers aboard the Spirit were quite good and both shows proved to be entertaining.
Pleasant smiling Carnival employees everywhere we went rendered Service throughout the ship. Our Cabin Steward, Gabriella was marvelous and was always there whenever we needed anything. Room Service was delivered within ten minutes each time and although it offered only salads and sandwiches was quite tasty. Our waiter Manual was great and our assistant waiter in spite of the fact that this was her very first cruise was becoming quite proficient by the end of the cruise.Tweety