Embarkation was great, quick and painless.We'd booked a suite so we had VIP embarkation, no standing in lines. The lines that we saw whilst checking in weren't long. I liked the idea of different embarkation times for passengers which meant that there wasn't too much chaos. Right from the time we pulled up to the kerb and got out of the car we had nothing but helpful employees, helping us with our luggage, making sure that we knew where to go and directing us through the whole process.
We boarded at 4.00pm and went straight to our suite. Obviously our bags weren't their yet but we'd packed what we thought we'd need for the interim. The suite was lovely a spacious and didn't look dated at all. There was enough room for us and our two energetic boys. I didn't feel cramped the whole cruise. The storage was excellent, a wardrobe in the main room with a full set of drawers, another wardrobe in the dressing room with internal shelving and a make-up area with adequate lighting. The bathroom was also impressive. A double vanity with a bath/whirlpool and shower overhead. The shower screen was made of safety glass, which I was pleased about as I'm not a fan of the shower curtain. The entire room was clean and fresh. The balcony outlook was great to and we had ample chairs to sit on if we decided to lounge there. There were 4 lamps in the room, two of which were beside the bed. My main lamp didn't work (I think the globe needed replacing), so I used the little attached reading lamp which was more than enough to read by. My husbands main lamp worked, but he had no reading lamp, just a hole where it should of been. But we weren't too fussed, although it would have been nice to have the choice of either lamp to use.
We had a bar fridge, which could be locked by the steward if you chose. There was only one available power point in the room, so lucky for us that we'd bought our own power board to plug in our various electrical gadgets such as I-pod, mobile phones and tablets. The suite had mirrors everywhere which made it feel much more spacious. As you can tell I was impressed by the size...it's not huge but bigger than I'd expected.
We went for a walk around the ship, to get our bearings and fill time while the staff were still loading guests luggage. It's a large ship and there are plenty of things to see and do. The decor is what I expected, very Las Vegas, but quite tasteful in some areas. I quite enjoy the Las Vegas style, it's something a little different from home, but it may not be every one's cup of tea. There was a lot of space for guests to move about, and we never felt crowded, even though the ship holds 2500 people. The ship was VERY clean, in the whole 12 days that we were aboard I never saw any rubbish on the floor, anything dirty, smears on windows in the public areas or anything else messy, which is quite a feat considering how large it is.
The food was great! There was nothing wrong with it at all, both the LaPlaya Grill and the Empire Dining Room served fantastic food. I'm a foodie, like my husband and we both enjoyed the food on this cruise. The grill/buffet had consistently good food with a lot of choice. The lines may have been a bit long at times, especially if you were at the Asian food station, but it was cooked fresh. Though I did not have them the fresh cooked crepes were apparently delicious. I enjoyed the full cooked breakfasts with a choice of scrambled, sunnyside up or poached eggs. There were also 2 types of bacon available, crunchy or normal. The tea and coffee machines were ok. I thought that there could have been a better selection of tea on offer....meaning better brands, but it was adequate. The free juice machines were of the post mix variety and very, very sweet. We went for half juice and half water mixes. Although there were signs saying "Please do not refill your personal drink bottles for hygiene reasons" at the water stations I still saw plenty of people ignoring this, which was annoying. We filled ours up but by using the provided cups so as not to contaminate etc...
The Empire Dining Room was pleasantly decorated. We had set time dining at 6.00pm which they moved to 5.30pm to accommodate the shows. It worked well for us with 2 small children but I think it was a little too early for those without ankle biters. The food was excellent, we never sent anything back and it would have put some 'Sydney' restaurants to shame. It's not 5 star dining, but it was pretty great. Lots to choose from. They have a set menu that you can choose from the whole way through the cruise and then another menu of the day, which changed each day. I was never stuck to choose any course. The portions were smallish, but that's ok with me as we'd been munching our way through breakfast and lunch most days! Drinks service was great too. Our waitstaff were utterly fantastic, cannot rave about them enough. Friendly, helpful, always polite and smiling, nothing was ever to much trouble for them. Even the maitre d' was also excellent and accommodated our request to change tables from the first night. He was generally at the entrance to the dining room on most nights, welcoming guests which was nice. The only problem I did have with the dining room was with some of the guests themselves - the meaning of casual attire and elegant attire obviously was lost on some. Critical I know but if you didn't feel like making an effort then there was always the buffet!
Our room steward was fantastic. So very polite and always happy to answer our questions. Our suite was serviced 2 times a day, once in the morning and once while we were at dinner. We always came back to an immaculately turned down room in the evenings, with a towel animal for the kids, a list of the following days activities and some chocolates. I never once had to ask for more towels or extra pillows as they were already there. He even noted that my boys were top and tailing in the same bed so turned down each end of the bed for them and placed their Woody and Buzz Lightyear toys on the bed for them...his attention to detail was fantastic. The room service staff work incredibly hard often with minor breaks, we learnt that our steward was doing 14 hours shifts and he always had a smile for us.
Room service was a bit slow, especially at night, it was often much faster to go out and get yourself a cup of tea or coffee than it was to order it. There was an adequate, but limited menu to choose from. The portion sizes were good though. I once ordered a pot of tea for 2 and a selection of cookies for a total of $6.00, which was good. The plate was absolutely loaded with cookies-it was great and they were presented nicely as well.
We didn't partake in most of the activities so I can't comment on them. We mainly spent our time relaxing which was great, but if you do want to be active then there are lots of things to do, judging by the list on the daily 'Fun Times'.
We also didn't book any shore excursions with Carnival as a lot of them wouldn't accept children under the age of 6 for safety reasons and the others seemed too expensive and also to long for people who had small kids. My boys would not have sat still for a 2.5 bus tour! So, we did our own thing most ports. Of all the stops we made we LOVED Mystery Island, it was beautiful. Just a tiny island with pretty much nothing on it but sand and palm trees. One tip, make sure you take reef shoes for Mystery Island and Wala as the beaches are coral beaches and the 'sand' can be quite coarse in the water.
The tender process worked well. In the mornings on the Lido deck two staff members issue tender tickets...or stickers with numbers on them and you just wait until your tender ticket number is called, then alight the tender boat and off you go. No long lines or queueing for ages. The sticker process is done on a first come first serve basis. So no complaints there!
The shopping experience on board was pretty disappointing. I thought that there should have been A LOT more shops and things to buy. Personally I would have bought up a storm if they had provided a greater selection of premium goods. Although we purchased several souvenirs and I'm happy with that.
The Spa Carnival was also excellent. I booked 3 massages to obtain a deal of 10% of the first, 20% off the second and 30% off the third. The massages were great, although a little pricey. A tip, wait until the last few days to book a service in the spa as they start discounting the prices towards the end.
The kids club for the under 5's was also great. We sent our boys their several times over the course of the cruise, for 1-2 hours at a time, so that we could have some time for ourselves in the evenings after dinner. The boys enjoyed their time and I like the fact that when you booked your kids in you were given a mobile to carry on your person in case they needed to contact you or if you wanted to call and check on your children. Great idea! It made us feel happy to know that we could check on them and if needed we were only a phone call away. The staff were lovely too, all American and very enthusiastic towards the younger children. I was happy to see male carers in the rooms as well.
Debarkation was also pretty smooth. We elected to have our bags collected the night before and we chose a time of 9.00am to disembark. We were off, through customs and had collected our bags in about 20 minutes.
Our holiday on the Spirit was great for what it was. We didn't go expecting a 5 star hotel, it's a cruise ship and for the fact that there were 2500 passengers on board, 850 of them children under 18, it was fantastic. It didn't feel like there were loads of kids, but it's a family ship and I guess if you went as a couple or were of the older generation then you may have been a little disappointed. We didn't venture out to much at night so I didn't see any of the rumoured 'packs of kids' running around that others have noted, but I guess you get that anywhere you go on holiday when there are children present. Most of the kids were just being kids and I guess that as a parent I have become much more tolerant of children whilst on holiday. We didn't have a problem with anyone on board in terms of passengers, in fact we met a lot of lovely people who were happy to share tables in the grill when it was busy, happy to just chat casually and compare their cruising experiences, happy to offer advice, say hello in the corridors, chat in the spas etc...it was a nice change from a lot of holiday destinations I've been to in the past, where guests keep to themselves. We liked it so much that 2 days after returning home we booked another Carnival cruise on the Spirit for later in the year and this time we're taking my mum along too.