Where should I start? First, I want to say this is MY review and ONLY my account will be in it. Nobody else had any input or review of it so if it is badly written it is all my fault. This cruise was memorable to say the least. I will start with kudos to our wonderful "hostess" Amy, our Cruise Critic leader. She was on top of stuff and was/is the spark plug that made things seem to come together. This cruise was planned for almost 2 years and the anticipation was enormous. Both my wife and I were so excited and we really planned this to the max. We did our research and knew what we wanted to do and endeavored to do it.
I will start the actual review with a comment on San Diego. The city is beautiful and has a lot to offer. The zoo, Midway and all the rest are great however, the sidewalks are atrocious! You must walk very carefully or you will trip and screw up your ankle or knee as our travel mate Mary found out.
We arrived on Wednesday and the city was so pretty and we had a good time getting our bags to the hotel. It took a while for the shuttle from the HI but, finally we got there. The hotel - Holiday Inn on the Bay was a great place to stay. Our room was in the south tower and overlooked the dock. We watched while the Sapphire Princess docked right across the street! It was awesome and well worth the $153 our group was able to negotiate. Our room was nice and well situated. I could not really find anything to ding them on. The place was clean, well located, comfortable and the staff was up to the task. We had some difficulty with getting them to give our group a better price but, I think what we paid was just fine. Kudos to the Holiday Inn.
We did some walking (4-5 miles) around downtown looking for a place to eat and were unsuccessful. We finally ate at the Hotel and it was ok - not great but ok. I had an IPA beer and it was awful but, the steak made up for it.
The next day we took a taxi to the San Diego Zoo. What a wonderful day! The weather could not have been better - sunny and 80! This is the cities crown jewel and I hope they realize that fact. Had a wonderful day and fulfilled a lifelong dream of my wife's to visit it.
Dinner at a fish place across the street from the hotel when we got back was a fine end to a wonderful day. This was starting to look like a wonderful trip.....little did we know......
Now to the actual cruise. It started on Friday April 13 and the day was gloomy - not a bad omen - it is Southern California and rain was predicted. We schlepped our bags across the street as no shuttle was necessary prior to the rain (will get to it) and we got into the facility early (among the first 12 Platinum Cruisers). We took our bags to a porter and paid the tip expecting good service and were to soon learn otherwise.
We were directed to sit in a warehouse awaiting some direction for an hour. The organization in this place was helter skelter and they really had no "plan" to deal with us. I know this is not a regular port for Carnival but, even so, I have come to expect more from Carnival. The other ports are so good and consistent that this experience was a real bad start to our trip. The fun was just getting started however, as the teeming horde soon began to file in and the room began to fill up. Keep in mind that a Holland-America ship had used the other side of this building the day before and didn't seem to have any problem.
We were queued up and marched to a tent for "platinum" cruisers as no VIP area was available especially for as many of us as there were. There were so many Platinum cruisers that they ran out of Platinum sign and sail cards and those lucky recipients got Milestone white cards in their place - not the benefits but, a keepsake nonetheless. We sat in our tent for a while (around 30-60 minutes) and we were then marched off to the parking lot and to the "gangway" - a long ramp and were finally on the ship. We had been the first 12 but, due to the lack of organization we were the last of this group to get on the ship.
The fun was soon to get even better. We got on the ship - the Spirit is a beautiful ship and the decor is subdued compared to other ships we have sailed on. Spirit is a great ship with the best layout we have yet seen on a Carnival ship. Good job Joe Farcus! This ship was well laid out and easy to navigate.
The day proceeded and we were on the boat after about 2 to 2 1/2 hours of disorganization. The weather began to deteriorate and as you would know it the rain began while we were eating lunch on Lido. It was light at first and the squall came a runnin and the wind was fierce and the rain came in buckets. While on the ship we watched the "warehouse" building roof with plastic sheeting and buckets and blocks holding them down, blow in the storm. Now keep in mind that this operation was taking place while people were embarking in the open AND our luggage was being schlepped into the tent for x-ray. Our bags were on the bottom of the pallet and we thought we had nothing to fear. How wrong we were - they took out the bags and repacked in reverse order and our bags got drenched. Note to future cruisers in San Diego, line your bag with plastic and save the grief of soaked clothes and personal effects! We did not know this at the time as we "assumed" our baggage was going to be fine.
Afterward we had lunch and looked around the boat a little. We dropped off our heavy carry-on bag (full of bottles of water) and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon. The muster drill actually did not interfere with sail away and we were glad to see it taking place again on the actual boat deck - good idea and I will never complain about it again. Lesson learned from Costa Concordia. The first day at sea was to turn into the worst weather we have ever seen on a cruise. The waves were 30 feet high and the ship pitched and rolled much to the chagrin of all on board. You know it is bad when crew members are having trouble walking. They placed the barf bags at elevators and other strategic locations too late to prevent some "spillage" and we were more than happy to go to bed. More than once we were literally airborne in our beds - THAT IS HOW MUCH IT WAS PITCHING! Mary went on Lido at 6 in the morning and they had closed upper decks and forward decks due to winds.
Finally after about 1 1/2 days of sheer hell the wind and waves abated and we had a couple of sunny days. The sunny days ended on day 3 - about 2 in the afternoon a call went over the intercom "BRAVO BRAVO - Port Side! BRAVO BRAVO BRAVO". Of course everybody was on deck to watch. A manic-depressive man had jumped off Serenity deck and the ship circled back to find him. The bridge upon hearing of the jumper set a gps point and a crewmember threw a lifering out. The boat launched the rescue boat and all eyes were on the sea looking for the man and curiously enough, Stu Dunn the Cruise Director was on the bridge and was the person who first spotted the man. The rescue boat picked him up - much to his chagrin and they were hoisted onto the ship to the cheers and accolades they so richly deserved. I will say this for the crew of Carnival Spirit -BRAVO for a magnificent rescue at the point of no return! Captain Roberto Volpi, you can be very proud of your crew - they did their job perfectly and that man and his family have you to thank for it. I asked Captain Volpi about it on the Behind the Fun Tour and he was very gracious and said it was "the crew" but, when things go bad the Captain gets the blame and by golly he deserves the kudos when things go right and I told him so. This gentleman was cuffed and held in the Medical Center and evacuated in Hilo 2 days later. We never heard any more about him. I hope he gets the help he needs and that his family is coping well. This guy was off his meds and had selected the ideal spot to do his deed as no rescue from land was feasible but, the magnificent crew of the Spirit saved him and reinforced my faith in man. These guys risked their lives for a stranger and my gratitude to all five of you - you rock!!!!
The stop in Hilo was a good one for me. I took Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Eco-360 tour of the Circle of Fire. The pilot - Roger was great and the trip started with the ubiquitous safety talk. We then got boarded and since I was the first (and computer determined weight was right) in I got the number one seat next to the pilot. I videoed the entire trip and it was awesome! Our headsets played music and the first song of course was the Hawaii Five-O theme! How appropriate! We saw the jungle and then the devastation of Kilauea was in view. The destruction was immense and the steam was more so. It started to rain and did so the rest of the trip. We flew through it and it hampered views of everything. Nothing could be done about that but, it was still an awesome view of some amazing scenery. We viewed Rainbow Falls and then to cap it off, we flew over our beautiful Carnival Spirit. The music over the volcano was "volcano music" and then to finish the tour Roger played Israel's (IZ) version of Somewhere over the Rainbow and it brought tears to my eyes. This guy was so good and it is such a tragedy he is gone.
Maui was the next stop and the Road to Hana Tour. We booked off ship and were glad we did. Our bus was comfortable and we would soon be glad for that. The trip was long and at times harrowing but, very beautiful. The vistas and scenery were so great and words cannot do them justice. We stopped at a state park and walked to the shore and up to a waterfall. The power of the ocean was brought to bear and it is magnificent. This tours last stop was to a hilltop where you could see the volcanoes cone extend from the sea all the way up and a 360 degree pan of the scene is breath-taking. At times the road was one lane and many times we had to wait for tourists in rental cars to go through. One guy in a convertible Mustang tried to negotiate the entire trip and even though the rental agencies tell them to not drive here (our guide/driver called this the jeep road) he did and will be paying for repairing the oil pan or transmission because it was leaking and he had to pull off the road. A very expensive drive for him and laughs for us.
The third visit was Honolulu and my trip was to the real heart of my visit - Pearl Harbor and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. Our bus went to the Palace and King Kamehameha's statue and then to the Punchbowl. Busses are not allowed to stop in the cemetery so we could just drive through. It is a beautiful resting place for some great heroes like Ernie Pyle. Then onto Pearl Harbor. The facility is run jointly by the Park Service and the Navy. The driver had us go through the 2 museums and then to the video presentation. The Ranger on the screen was pretty and informative. The video was fairly presented and well done. The group was then led to the motor vessel piloted by a Navy pilot to the place of reverence. I must commend the pilot as he did a good job with his 2 diesels he managed to negotiate the boat very well and I told him so. I videoed the approach and will only comment about the memorial to the extent that I always was instructed and told that a place of reverence was just that - a place of reverence and you should remove your hat. I did so but, virtually nobody else did and many were Vets. The memorial had undergone restoration within the last 5 years and was in good condition. The Arizona was the most touching and moving experience I can remember and this visit was a "must" do for me. I was compelled to go there and I felt much closer to my Dad. He went through Pearl on his way to the Philippines and back in WWII.
We had a couple of "considerate" fellow tourists who, when advised that we had another tour to a Luau at 4 and had to be back so we could change stated "Why should we suffer because of you" and proceeded to take their sweet time (45 minutes) and we were almost late getting back for the tour. Thank you for your kindness - what goes around comes around and you will get yours someday. We got back and my beloved wife had clothes ready so I could quickly get ready - no shower time. It was then off to the Paradise Cove Luau on the other side of the island. A 45 minute drive and funny enough we drove right past Pearl Harbor again - there are 3 highways - H1, H2 and H3.
The Luau was next and we looked forward to it. We got a drink on the way in - Mai Tai but, not much alcohol in it. The location was pretty and very scenic. We wandered around for a hour or so and Mary and I took a canoe ride in the surf. The pig was a cookin and smelled wonderful. We had a pricy drink after a long line wait and then it was time to eat. The food was ok - just ok and the pork smelled much better than it tasted. It was pork, macaroni salad, salad and of course the ubiquitous poi. I tried it and according to the guide some said it tasted like Elmers Glue and he was right! Not very tasty and one try was enough. The entertainment was good and the fire dance was awesome. On the whole my comment would be - never did a Luau and now I have - no need to do another. Was overpriced for sitting on plastic chairs a far piece from the stage. There were over 800 people there and it was too many for everybody to have a good view.
Our fourth visit was back to the big island, Hawaii, for Sensational Kona, booked thru Carnival. We toured a coffee plantation and factory (Kona Joes) and a chocolate farm and factory as well as a soap factory. Coffee tour was good and we bought coffee for friends and ourselves. I liked the cocoa trees and the guide (owner) was knowledgeable but overlong. The soap factory was in a farm and the tour of the place was fascinating. We then were dropped off to shop and get some souvenirs. A good stop and our comment while on the lifeboat back to the ship (the only tender port) was it was a good day. The VOG (volcanic fog) was spooky and looking at the mountains shrouded in VOG was eerie. This was a particularly bad day for VOG (figures) and view was still breathtaking.
The last stop was Kauai (Nawilliwilli) and we docked at an old sugar mill site. Our tour was a little misleading (booked off ship) and the vehicle was a regular van. 7 people filled it to the max. Fortunately for us the van had rear a/c and we were comfortable, if cramped. We saw all the movie sites on the way - the beginning sequence of Indiana Jones was easily recognizable as was the scene where he runs to the waiting seaplane and takes off. It was filmed on the Wailua river and we boated to the Fern Grotto. The Grotto was pretty and the guides sang the Hawaiian Wedding Song and it was very romantic. We then proceeded to Kilauea Point Lighthouse and had a wonderful vista. The weather was windy as can be and we had great views of the sea in its magnificence. The crashing sea and point were a sight to behold. It is a bird sanctuary and the cliffs were covered with white spots that were birds. Then off to Hanalei and the "true" inspiration for Puff the Magic Dragon. The mountains resembled a dragon (yeah right) to Peter Yarrow and due to ample applications of Maui Wowie etc. the song came to life. Hanalei was a quaint town and the most magnificent was the mountain vista in back of it. Looking up at them we could see waterfalls (6 or 7 we could see) and it was a stunning sight. The top 2/3 of the falls were obscured by the clouds and even still it was a sight to behold. Our trip back was uneventful.
Our trip home was highlighted by boredom, complacency and more boredom. The cruise director Stu, while funny at times was not up to the task. He is responsible for entertainment and there was a sad lack of same on this trip. The weather obviated all dancers for the trip west and the first show on the way home. In any event, another, alternative should be offered or planned. None was done and we were left to our own devices. Not well planned or executed at all and Stu was the reason. Not out and about as most other CD's are and not very engaging. He lucked into the job and it shows. His g'day grows old and while some found it endearing I found it annoying after the lack of planning became evident.
The comics in Punchliner were good and funny but, the recent decision by some pinhead in Miami to clear the room after each show was a real PITA. There is no "valid" reason for the "resetting the room" excuse and this "policy" should be done away with. If I am in place for one show it is my decision to sit there awaiting the next one or to leave - not theirs. Nuff said.
We had the Ocean Suite 6258 and loved it. We loved the room and the changing area and REAL BATHTUB with DOORS was a good perk. We got a good deal by booking early and paid less for this than some did for a balcony. Our steward, Asep, was great and very friendly. Dining room on the first night was a conundrum. We asked the Hostess WTF the Mait'r D was thinking when he booked the 3 of us with 4 80-90 y/o ladies. No further comment other than we tried to get another table and none available on early seating so we changed to Anytime Dining and this was fortuitous for us. We found Phillip and Edy and had our wait staff delight! Phillip was from Jamaica and we got to know him well. Edy was very engaging and funny and this obviated some of the goofy menu selections. I don't know who comes up with some of that stuff but STOP IT!!!!! I don't want goofy stuff with unpronounceable names and unidentifiable stuff.
The debarkation was relatively uneventful for us but, some of our Moana Malihini group did not get in the Sports Bar in time and therefore missed the Platinum VIP first out. We just lucked out as Stu happened by there (it was the end of the self-assist line) and told us (no PA announcement) to follow him for our early out. We got through the lines with no problem and were then crammed into a 7 passenger van with 7 passengers worth of luggage (talk about a blivet) and we did not gripe as we were on our way and it was only 7 bucks a throw.
On the flight home we had to fly over the thunderstorms over St Louis where the tent blew away and killed a couple of bar patrons and softball sized hail abounded. It was a little rough for a half hour and then uneventful to Baltimore. In Baltimore we owed our final takeoff to Steve, the "aircraft maintenance technician" who had to replace a defective seat belt on a seat behind us. Then, 45 minutes late our plane was on the way home.
To conclude, Carnival only does this trip twice a year and I can understand why. The trip over is long and the weather (at least at this time of year) can be atrocious. While the crew of the Spirit is very friendly and for the most part did an excellent job, a lack of planning in the Entertainment area made what could have been an excellent trip less than enjoyable. We wanted to go to Hawaii and we now have been there. We want to go back but it will not be by cruise ship. The time spent on the ship could have been spent exploring the beautiful islands and not coping with nature and a sad lack of planning and vision.
It is our understanding that Carnival is getting out of San Diego and the loss of the city would be unfortunate. The loss of that lousy embarkation port would be no loss however. This was clearly the worst embarkation we have ever done and will not go through San Diego again for this reason only. I loved the city and would go back to visit it.