First a little about myself. This is my 21st cruise overall, my ninth cruise with Carnival and my first cruise on the Splendor. I've been to Cabo and Puerto Vallarta four prior times. I booked this cruise for the ship. After this cruise it will do a two week cruise to Hawaii and then go around South America and end up in New York. I took a look at its New York itineraries and decided I would rather go to Cabo and Puerto Vallarta for a fifth time (besides, Long Beach is a drive to port for me). This cruise was original scheduled for six nights (more on that soon). I prefer one week or longer. I could have taken the prior cruise which was scheduled for a full week except that it spent two days in Cabo and I really didn't want to do that (though with the modified itinerary, that is exactly what I ended up doing anyway).
So I am at work on Friday, January 11 and I get a message to call my travel agent -- now. There can be only one reason for a message like. I figure that she is not going to inform me of the delivery of three million dollars as my share of the twelve million dollars that I earned helping some prince that I have never met smuggle out of some African country that I have never heard of. It has to be bad news, and it is. The Splendor is spending time in Puerto Vallarta to repair seals damaged by an underwater fishing net. I am trying to figure out what other kind of fishing nets there are, perhaps above water fishing nets to catch flying fish?
At any rate the repairs are taking longer than expected. The ship will arrive one day late. Okay, this is a drive to port for me, so I'll end up spending an extra day at home. I quickly realize things could be a lot worse. For example I could be on a ship that will arrive one day late, and have flight arrangements that are no longer good. Or, I could have driven to the port and be expecting a Sunday arrival, allowing me to be at work on Monday. Then I realize I could be flying to Los Angeles and suddenly need to make last minute changes to my flights or get a hotel for one extra night. So all in all, I'm in pretty good shape. It is also not lost on me that January 13 is the one year anniversary of the sinking of the Splendor's sister ship, owned by Costa.
Then I realize the original itinerary cannot be completed in five nights. Carnival has changed the itinerary to one day at sea, two days in Cabo another day at sea and return on time (hopefully) on Saturday. My choices are to accept the new itinerary, plus a pro-rated refund, plus refund of taxes, plus a refund of Puerto Vallarta port fees, plus an on board credit of $50, or I can accept a full, penalty fee, refund. I have four credits on my Sail & Sign card ($75, $8.58, $50 & $9.98). The $75 is from a future cruise that I bought on a prior cruise. For those that are not driving, Carnival is offering up to $200 to change flights or the same amount for an extra night's hotel stay plus a food allowance.
As I said, I booked this cruise for the ship, as there is no other ship of the same class in the Carnival fleet, so I'm on the cruise. Though I really am not looking forward to spending two days in Cabo, I had something more interesting planned for Cabo than Puerto Vallarta, so at least that worked out for me. It would be better if Cabo was not a tender port. Overnighting when docked gives the passengers a chance to experience the night life. Since Cabo is a tender port, we will not be able to do that.
There is one more interesting aspect to this. The Carnival Inspiration is also scheduled to dock in Long Beach on Monday, and the dock in Long Beach can only handle one ship. Fortunately for Carnival, San Pedro is only a few miles away and one of the ships can dock in San Pedro and Carnival can easily run a few buses between the two ports. Which ship will end up where? I'll find out Monday morning.
Monday, January 14 -- embarkation day
I pack this morning and leave home just after 10am. Even though I catch a little of the morning rush hour (which in Los Angeles last from 4am to 11pm) I make it to the port in about one hour. The Splendor is in Long Beach (meaning the Inspiration is in San Pedro). Every time I have boarded a ship in Long Beach (this is my third cruise out of Long Beach) have had priority boarding, so I am unaware of the issues that most passenger face when embarking in Long Beach. There is some sort of zone boarding system. Your zone number is based on how early you arrive at pier.
I am booked in a standard port side balcony cabin on deck nine (the Lido deck). So there are two obvious questions. One, why this cabin and two, how does someone who is not platinum (or above) and not in a suite get priority boarding? No, my uncle is not the CEO of Carnival. I am a member of the Carnival Vacation Club.
Today things were even worse than normal for boarding in Long Beach. The hand full of priority passengers was no problem for Carnival. However, with two ships in two different ports, Carnival had to split its staff between the two ports. Apparently the embarkation process did not go well, and we left port about one hour late because it took so long to get everyone check in with only half the normal staff.
I am in the first group to board (just before 12:30pm) and I immediately head to my cabin to drop off my carry-on. Then I find my room steward to make sure he knows it is my back pack in the closet. Then I am off to photograph the ship. I start at the pointy end upper deck and work my way aft and down. After photographing the rear Lido deck I notice the Deli station is open and nobody is in line, so I decide to have a couple of sandwiches.
Since my cabin is on the Lido deck, and it is now after 1:30pm, I decide to go photograph my cabin. Rats, no luggage yet. I photograph my cabin and then decide to check out the observation deck, only I can't get out of my cabin. My luggage has arrived along with someone else's luggage that looks like mine, and is blocking the door way. However, I am in 9226 and the luggage is clearly marked for 9210 -- oops. I decide that the only good way to get it out of my way is to drag it down to the other cabin myself.
I unpack and take some more pictures of the ship. Then I decide to rest up for the muster drill. However, the muster drill which should have taken place at 4:30pm does not take place until 5:30pm. Several announcements are made that the muster drill is being delayed because there are people still in the terminal. Why is anyone late when they should have been here yesterday? At dinner I got the answer. As I noted above, because the staff that would normally handle just one ship had to be split between two ships, there was only half a staff to handle a full ship. Things were not running very smoothly.
Finally the muster drill takes place. As I noted earlier, this ship is a sister ship to the ship that sank one year ago. Part of the problem (in Italy) was that several hundred people had boarded but had not participated in the muster drill because it was scheduled for the following day (that unfortunately for some, never came). Now if I was asked which deck the muster station was on, I would have guessed deck 3, the Lobby deck. That is the deck you enter on and that the bottom deck of the atrium. However, the muster station is actually on deck four, the Atlantic deck. Most likely one would not know that unless they had been on the ship before. One nice thing is that we don't have to bring our lifejackets. The straps from the lifejackets end up dragging on the ground and people trip on those things all the time.
As soon as the muster drill is over I head over to the aft Lido deck where I expected to find my roll call group, but I didn't find anyone. Perhaps it was because it was a little cooler than most people feel comfortable with, though I found it quite nice (I like cool).
After we hit open water I expected the ship to accelerate, because to make it to Cabo in one day requires a high speed run. However, the ship did not accelerate. I went back to the cabin and found the map channel on the TV (channel three). There I noticed the speed slowly increase until we were going about 20.5 knots (which is about 23.5 MPH). Then I realized why. In order to reduce pollution around the port, ships are required to run at a reduced speed near the port. I believe it is ten knots within ten miles of the port. Once outside that range the ship picked up speed. We lost an hour getting started; however, we will gain an hour because we are not setting our clocks ahead one hour to match the local time in Cabo. We will stay on Pacific Standard Time (or I guess you could say that in reality we are not losing another hour by moving the clocks ahead).
Between all the standing at the muster drill and all the walking around I did photographing the ship, I was not sure which was more sore, my back or my legs. So I decided to just relax until dinner time. I have the late seating in the Gold Pearl restaurant (the rear most restaurant).
The Splendor is laid out a lot like the Conquest class ships. The Splendor is about two to three percent bigger than the Conquest class ships and has a little water park for the younger kids that the Conquests class ships do not have. It has the normal Carnival water slide, but does not have the extra big slides the Fantasy class ships are getting with the waterworks upgrade. This brings up one of the two reasons my favorite class of Carnival ships is the Spirit class, and that is the mid-ship restaurant, which on this ship is the Black Pearl restaurant. That restaurant is on decks three and four as is the Gold Pearl restaurant. However, it also blocks access to the Gold Pearl restaurant. You have to go up to deck five, go all the way to the rear, then down one or two decks to get to the Gold Pearl restaurant. But it is not just when going to the Gold Pearl restaurant that this comes into play. Once, when I was on the aft lido deck (deck nine) I wanted to search for photographs, which is on the Atlantic deck (deck four). I took the elevator down to deck four and found myself trapped. This does not happen on the Spirit class ships as there is no mid-ship restaurant. The other reason I like the Spirit class better is that it has the best space ratio of all the Carnival ships.
I am seated at a large table with two couples and a gentleman from Ventura (which is not too far from where I live) who has 58 cruises with Carnival (and 45 with Royal Caribbean). One couple is from Canada and the other couple is from Montana (the state - not the former quarterback). Good group, as is our wait staff. It was from the two couples that I learned about the problems with embarkation. One couple spent four hours in line and they are not too happy about that.
At any rate, I have sweet & sour shrimp which is very good. After dinner I go back to the cabin to rest and prepare for running around the ship late at night to get more photographs. However, I am too tired and sore and finally give up that idea of photographing the ship at night and just go to sleep.
Tuesday, January 15 -- day at sea
I am up in time for sunrise. Unfortunately there are not many clouds in the sky, so it is not a great sunrise, but at least it is a sunrise, so I take a few pictures from my balcony. Then I head to the observation deck above the bridge. The door is on the port side and there is a strong wind blowing across the ship, from port to starboard. Okay, it is a very strong wind. As soon as I push the door open the wind catches the door like a sail and instantly the door is fully open, and I still have a really good grip on the door handle. I weigh well over two hundred pounds and I have been dragged outside as easily as one would through a bucket of water in a water fight. One of the room stewards saw what had happened. Seeing that I am okay he decides to close the door -- except he can't. I have to help him close the door. After taking a few pictures I weigh my options for returning to the cabin. I finally decide to take the stairs to the tenth deck and where I can get inside via a wind protected door and take the stairs back down to deck nine.
Then back in the cabin to upload the pictures, shave, shower and dress. Then out of the cabin for breakfast and to allow the cabin steward do his job. The two shortest lines in the buffet are at the Off the Grill which is a serving station next to the dome covered pool and the cook to order omelet station. The lines for the four inside serving stations are long. Why stand in line for precooked eggs when the line for cooked to order eggs is shorter. I went to the Off the Grill near the domed pool as there was no line at all there.
The roll call group had planned to meet on the aft lido deck at 10am. Once again I don't find anyone. However, while taking pictures around the ship one person says I guess you are the one posting the corny jokes (on the roll call thread). Okay, so one person found me.
I also wanted to check for any good photographs (of me taken the day before). However, even by mid-morning the pictures are not ready for viewing. So I grab my camera and run around the ship taking pictures. It is cool and windy and most people are not doing much. The dome over the pool is closed and the kids are taking advantage by swimming in the covered pool. I walked past the mini water park and it was closed. I never saw the water slide open either. In fact, by early afternoon the top decks are also closed off because of the strong wind.
In the afternoon I checked out the store, but find nothing of real interest. I did find a couple of pictures to buy. The eight by ten pictures are $22! I was given an invitation to a ten dollar sale of watches and other accessories. I've been to those before, and I have purchased some items. After all, ten dollars is not much of a risk and I am still using one of those ten dollar watches. I like it because it is digital, which makes changing time easy. Also, it is plastic so I don't have to take it off if I pass through a metal detector. I only wear it on vacation. At home I wear a different watch. That said, the people who go to these sales can be pretty aggressive, and I am not in the mood to put up with that today, so I don't go. If you do go to one of these, make sure your arms are properly attached and that your medical insurance is paid up.
I am also invited to an art auction. Incredibly Carnival is still using Park West. Concerns about Park West go way back. In fact, in August 2008, I attended a Park West auction on the Carnival Victory, purely out of curiosity. Nonetheless, recently Park West lost a lawsuit over its activities. I know at least one other cruise line no longer uses Park West. I don't go to the art auction either. In fact, by mid-afternoon, with nothing much happening, and my back acting up, I decide to retreat to the cabin. The Discovery Channel provides some entertainment while my back heals.
Tonight is elegant night. I get dressed up, sort of. I've got enough pictures of me in a suit. I want something different with a little color. So instead of a white dress shirt I'm wearing a Hawaiian shirt. For dinner I have the prime rib which is very good. I also make sure everyone at the table, including the waiter, knows I will not I will not be at dinner tomorrow night, as I am going to be at the steakhouse. Tonight the entertainment is a production show, Fiesta Latina. It is high energy and very good. Since it now close to midnight, I decide to just hit the sack. See you in the morning.
Wednesday, January 16 -- Cabo San Lucas
I am up in time to see us proceeding within sight of land. The wind is blowing something fierce. As Cabo is a tender port I am concerned that we will not be allowed to go to shore. I decide to venture out onto the observation deck. I eye the door carefully, well aware of what happened to me yesterday. I am worried that if I am not careful, I'll be thrown out hard enough to go over the railing. Just below the observation deck is the bridge. I can imagine the surprised look on the captain's face as his view changes from ocean to some passenger falling from above, turned upside down (naturally I would go over the rail head first) with my body and face plastered to the window by the force of the wind. The only good thing that would come of this is the great picture I would get of the captain's surprised look, since I do have my camera with me. At least I'm sure of winning the next photo contest Carnival has if this does happen.
So, I grab the door handle with both hands, brace myself and turn the handle. It worked, as this time I am only dragged half as far as yesterday. However, closing the door without the help of the room steward proves to be quite challenging (again, I weigh well over two hundred pounds). For the record, I leave the same way I did last time, up the stairs to deck ten and back in through the wind protected door leading out to the Panorama deck, soundly defeated by the force of something that I cannot even see (though I can feel it).
As we get closer to land the wind subsides and once inside the bay it is quite calm, so it looks good for going ashore. The temperature is about 66 degrees which is fine for me, though most people will find it a little chilly. Nonetheless, since we are not moving, the weather is nice and the dome is open.
I have only one goal for this port and that is to go to the glass factory and get something for my sister and brother-in-law. As such I have no intention of joining the morning rush to the tenders. I eat a late breakfast (brunch) and board the tender around noon.
I actually make it out of the marina area without having to dodge any of the vendors. I find a taxi that is willing to take me to the glass factory. The only problem is he says that there are two glass factories -- which one do I want to go to? I didn't know there were two, but nonetheless I have the name of the factory and a map. $20 round trip and he will wait for me.
We arrive at the same glass factory the tours go to, in fact one is there watching a glass blowing demonstration. Great, I have the entire showroom to myself. I quickly find the martini glasses I am interested in. The price marked is 77. I'm guessing that is Pesos, and the sales lady confirms that. At twelve Pesos to the dollar, that works out to about $6.50 each. During my search I noticed that there are several pitchers. I find one that matches the martini glasses and I get the three items for $38.
Back to the marina and I pass by a shop with some shot glasses. One shot glass for my friend and my souvenir hunting is over. Now back to the ship with the goal of not breaking anything. This means I am holding my loot and not my camera, so I miss quite a good photo opportunity. The seals climb on to the back of the fishing vessels begging for a handout, just like a dog at the dinner table, except most dogs don't weigh four hundred plus pounds.
Back on board I find a safe place for my loot. Round trip, departing ding to reentry ding (ding is the should the security machine makes when you insert your card to check in and out) is about two hours. I walk around the ship a bit and then head back to the cabin to rest up for dinner, which will be at the steakhouse tonight. My back is hurting me if I stand too long.
I have the rib eye, Creaser salad and the chocolate sampler. The steak was great, the salad good and the chocolate sampler a little bigger than I expected. I was expecting some small, pillow mint sized, samples of different chocolates. Instead I ended up with four small cups of different chocolates, and I'm kind of full, so I only finish off two of the small cups and half of each of the other two.
After dinner I head back to the cabin to work on this, upload the pictures and to get off my own back.
Thursday, January 17 -- Cabo San Lucas
When I wake up I check the TV. The ship left Cabo yesterday, headed east, then south, did a figure eight and we are now headed northwest toward Cabo. We were doing about ten knots which surprised me. I would have expected a speed of four to six knots; after all we are not going anywhere.
I'm out on my balcony to see us arrive in Cabo again. I did everything I wanted in Cabo yesterday and have no interest in going through the tendering process, especially given that the last tender back to the ship was at 1:00pm. That would mean to spend any time in Cabo, I would have to catch an early tender to Cabo and I was not interested in doing that. If I had gone into Cabo it would have been my sixth visit in the last eight years. Ships love to visit this port, so I'm sure I'll be back, even if it is on another Panama Canal cruise (I do want to do that again).
The weather is a little better with the temperature getting into the seventies. So I just walked around the ship and bit, worked on this, uploaded pictures and just relaxed. I did notice it was 2pm and the ship was turning. Yet we just sat there for a rather long time. I thought it was because the captain was waiting for the harbor patrol to clear a way for the ship to leave. The water taxis and jet skis seemed clueless that a very large ship was preparing to leave. These small boats are headed back to Cabo and are directly in front of the ship.
However, at dinner I found out that the ship had waited for one family that apparently arrived at the tender dock after the last tender left, but before the ship left. Though I noticed a tender leave the ship very late, I just assumed that it was one of the Mexican officials leaving the ship.
This afternoon was the repeat passenger party. I arrived on time for the party; however, the doors were not open yet. So I had a chocolate martini at the martini bar called El Mojito. Then I had two drinks at the party. After the party I went back to the cabin to sleep off the effects of the three drinks.
At dinner I didn't like any of the starters, so asked for the tiger shrimp dinner to be served as a starter and had the gourmet burger for dinner. Both were good. One of my table mates seems to have the most cruises with Carnival on this cruise. At dinner he gets a glass of wine which he shares with me (the others at the table turned down his offer). Given all the drinks I have had, the condition of my back and something new, my allegories are acting up, I decide the best course of action is to head back to the cabin.
One of the gifts I received as a returning passenger was a coupon for a free drink. However, the restrictions made it unusable for me. It is only good in the main dining room during breakfast, brunch or lunch. It is good for any drink up to nine dollars, however, I eat breakfast and lunch at the buffet and I am not going to start drinking at breakfast or lunch (mid afternoon is early enough for me).
Friday, January 18 -- day at sea
We seem to be making better time and a check of the ship information channel (channel three) confirms this. On the way to Cabo we were going about 20.5 knots. On the way back we are going about 21.5 knots. As we head north the weather is getting a little cooler, from the mid-sixties dropping to the lower sixties. Though I think it is nice, the dome is closed.
I leave the room long enough to grab a little nutrition walk around the ship and peek into the stores to see if there are any specials. The main goal here is to give the room steward time to do his job. The ship is selling anything with Mexico on it at a big discount. Why, because the ship will not be returning to Mexico. The next cruise is to Hawaii, and then the ship heads around South American on its way to New York. So, I get a key ring for fifty cents and two t-shirts for ten dollars (yes, five dollars each).
Back at the cabin I decided to upload my pictures work on this and give my back a rest. January is not the best time to be cruising the Mexican Riviera if it is sun and swimming that you are interested in. I knew that and would have booked an April or May cruise except the ship would no longer be here. So, I am relaxing which one of the things cruising is all about. So while it does not sound all that exciting, all my goals (given the modified itinerary) have been met. I was able to cruise on the ship and I obtained the glassware I wanted to get in Cabo.
Speaking of the ship, people describe it as overdone in pink. So I was expecting a lot of bright pink when I boarded. Well, it is not covered in a bright pink color. It is half way between pink and light purple. Personally I don't get the comments about Pepto Bismol pink. I went looking for it and I couldn't find it. Unless the colors have faded since the ship was new, the color is closer to a dull lavender (in my opinion).
Now I don't believe that I explained why I chose the cabin I did. I have been in a forward facing balcony cabin (through the Panama Canal - it was great), I have been in the forward most side facing cabin, I have been mid-ship several times and in rear facing balconies several times. On this ship I wanted to be on the port side for two reasons. First, that is the side El Arco is on as the ship approaches Cabo. Second, that is the side of the ship that the door to the outside observation deck is on.
As I said before, the layout of this ship is just like the Conquest class of ships. I was on the Carnival Freedom in 2011 and had a similar cabin on the starboard side of the ship. The problem was the longer walk (in time - I didn't mind the longer distance) it took to get to the outside observation deck because the only door to the outside observation deck is on the port side. I had assumed that there would be two doors (one on each side). This time I checked the deck plans before I booked. Nonetheless, being on the side of El Arco would have been more important than which side the door was on, but it was a consideration. Also, on one cruise I had a cabin that was directly across from a crew access door. Hearing that door close all the time was a little annoying. As a result I prefer a cabin that is across from other cabins. So, I looked for a balcony cabin that was on the left side close to the front that only slept two (so that Carnival would have no reason to move me). If I was in a cabin that slept three or four and a family of three or four wanted to book, and no cabins that sleep three or four were available, Carnival would have moved me to a different cabin that only slept two to make room for this new family, and I didn't want that to happen (in fact, before the repair issue, the ship was sold out). The balcony cabins on either side of me both sleep three.
So that just leaves the deck choice. First I wanted a deck with cabins above and below me. Second I wanted access to the forward observation decks. Deck seven would have also met this criteria (on this ship). However, one advantage of the lido deck (deck nine) is quick access to the action. Out the door and onto the pool deck and the buffet deck - no elevator and no stairs. Had it been warmer that would have been a nice added bonus.
Well at any rate this is a day at sea, the weather is cool and it is our last day. I'll pack later, but I do want to get things organized. Otherwise, it is not very a very exciting day. Too cool to interest me in swimming and between my allergies and my back, I'm more interested in laying down then running around or even sitting at the computer.
Prior to dinner I went down to guest services and picked up a few envelopes. The room steward, assistant room steward and waiter have been great. I'm paying the normal gratuities via my ship board account, but these three have done an excellent job and I'm going to give them a little extra just as a way of saying thank you.
After dinner I pack, put my suit case out, leaving some clothes out for tomorrow (I don't want to be one of the cruise director jokes about having nothing to wear except the bathrobe because I pack everything in my suitcase) and go to sleep.
Saturday, January 19 - debarkation day
I wake up just before the ship enters the harbor. We are earlier than the posted arrival time. I'm in no rush. Not only do I have a very high number (29), but I'm not going straight home. A group of us on the Cruisers from California forum are getting together for lunch at a restaurant near the pier, so I've only got a five minute drive ahead of me and we are meeting at noon. The only incentive I have for getting off before 11:00 is to avoid having security chase me down. I did leave the cabin to get some breakfast, but returned to upload the last of my pictures (I took a few sunrise pictures this morning). Around 8:30 I leave the cabin so the cabin steward can get the cabin ready for the people going to Hawaii later today.
I decide to just go to the pool under the dome and watch wind surfers on the big TV screen. The highlight of the morning, prior to my debarkation number being called, is the dome being opened. First time I had a chance to see that done live. Actually my number is never called. The last number called before mine was 27. The next number called was five hundred and something (I doubt that anyone had a number higher than thirty something). Even then I waited a while, and it worked, the custom lines were half the normal length when I got there.
After customs, it was off to the luggage holding area which was now quite empty, then off to my car. I arrived at the restaurant at 11:30 and had a nice lunch with the group. Then it was about an uneventful hour drive home.
So, did I enjoy the cruise - yes. Was it my favorite cruise - no. I had to live within certain realities. Those realities included my wanting to cruise on this ship, the fact that the ship was leaving for New York, that I didn't like the New York itineraries, that it was winter (not spring), that given the repair delays, this was now a five night cruise instead of a six night cruise and we were only going to visit one port that I have been to four times before. It also didn't help my mood any that two weeks earlier Carnival had charted the ship that I had booked a cruise on. Changing to a different date on the same ship didn't bother me. What did bother me was that I booked an early saver rate, I was booking the same cabin on the same ship during the same month. However, Carnival would not allow me to book at the same rate I originally booked at. So I had to pay about $100 more for the same cruise not because of anything I did, but because of a choice Carnival forced on me. So with all the changes and my back bothering me, I could have been in a better mood before this cruise started.
Nonetheless, I did accomplish all my goals, given the modified itinerary. I cruised on the ship, took lots of photographs (over one thousand - good thing digital pictures are free), picked up a gift for my sister and brother-in-law and relaxed. All in all, not a bad way to spend a week.
Hopefully (for those of you in New York) this review (and the pictures I am posting with it on the main boards - I cannot post pictures in the review section) will be of some help in planning your cruise. The ship is a good match for New York, as it has a sliding dome that can be closed when the weather is bad and opened when the weather is good. Many of the ships that cruise the Caribbean do not have a covered pool, when limits outdoor choices when the weather is bad.