Aloha...We woke up this morning and no more cabin steward or dining room waiter to serve us! Nor deck chairs to sit and look at the Pacific Ocean. No sound of the water churning. No rocking of the ship...All of our new friends scattered to the four winds. Bummer...Time to book a new one, fast!
Our background: We've been on 13 cruises since our very first back in 1999. Carnival (5), NCL (1-Bermuda), Princess (1-Transatlantic/Mediterranean), Celebrity (2) and RCI (4). This was our first time in Hawaii and we were celebrating our 10th anniversary.
We've learned that people's opinion of a cruise is strongly affected by their age, their likes, and their expectations. Cruises provide a variety of activities to suit different tastes. For us, visiting many islands is our main goal. We are a couple (childless) in our mid 30's/early 40's with enough vacation to be able to enjoy many cruises. We're avid boaters & love the sea. We do not smoke, we love the outdoors & are beach people. We're not into luxury, we always book cheapest cabin because we want to be able to vacation a lot. We care a lot about ship design, wrap around promenade decks, open spaces to view the sea, sunsets, moon shimmering on the waves.
With all the discounting going on, it concerns us that cruisers may forget the most important aspect of selecting a ship: personal interests and lifestyle. If your only criterion is finding the lowest price available, you can easily wind up on a ship where you have nothing in common with the other passengers, which can adversely affect your enjoyment of the cruise.
For example, last year we sailed on Carnival Cruise Lines, Carnival Triumph. It is indeed a "Fun Ship." But what's your personal definition of fun? Triumph has Carnival's high-energy environment, lots of glitz, and a terrific array of nightlife. Although the slot machines are operational starting at 8 a.m., the library is open just an hour each day. At the other end of the spectrum is Holland America, whose passengers are largely retired. The service is genteel and reflects back to the early days of cruising. While there is some entertainment, after dinner the ships practically shut down. The point is, do your research first to determine which ships best suit your personal interests and lifestyle. Then start looking for the best price on those ships. We would rather spend a couple of hundred dollars more on a ship that gives us a fantastic vacation than become so obsessed with price that I land on a vessel that gives us only a so-so experience.
That was our itinerary: DAY 1 / VANCOUVER DAY 2 to 6 / Fun days at Sea crossing the Pacific DAY 7/8 - Kahalui, Maui DAY 9 - Nawiliwili, Kauai DAY 10 - Kona, Hawaii (Big Island) DAY 11 - Hilo, Hawaii (Big Island) DAY 12 - Honolulu, Oahu DAY 13 - Debarkation in Honolulu Day 14 to 18 - Post cruise stay at Waikiki Beach
This trip was just amazing in so many ways but only because the people we met and the places we visited were just incredible. Thank you to our new found friends Dani & Stephen from Phoenix, AZ and to Mike & Leesa from Texas for their company, we had a wonderful time with them. The people we met and things we saw will forever be with us. On the other side, we were disappointed with Carnival. This was our fifth time with CCL and it was not up to their standards. "Stuff Happens". Expect it. Plan on it. Make the best of it. "You get what you pay for"!
Nevertheless, realizing you get out what you put in, and knowing that happiness is a personal responsibility, we made the best of it. We felt that the crew and staff were overwhelm and maybe after 4 months in Alaska, they all wanted to be home for their vacation (early November, after the following sailing Honolulu/Ensenada and a Panama Trans-Canal, the ship is going to be dry-dock in FLL for a couple of weeks). Then there were all the crewmembers that thought NO was the main thing to say to a paying customer! WRONG!!! Then trying to get tomato juice for lunch in the restaurant is a sure way to hear - NO. They can and will get it - they just don't want to! We are not demanding people, it is just frustrating to ask for things you know are available and hear no. Every day we heard - NO! I can't say I have EVER heard that on another cruise line for any reasonable request! Like other have stated, we started calling it the NO ship.
As a result, afterwards, we spoke not about the tired crew/staff, adequate food or inconsistent service, but about fond memories of a good time and great company.
The planning: Three months before sailing (mi-June), I found out about great deals on the Carnival Spirit for prices that were too low to pass up. This is a longer cruise of 12 days and it leaves out of Vancouver ending in Honolulu which would leave us the opportunity to stay there an extra week and explore the island of Oahu after the cruise. Since we are trying to be as economical as possible (leaving for a total of 3 weeks), we are going to go with the inside cabin guarantee (cat. 1A). I know it will be quite a shock after the Suite with Butler Service on our last cruise, but the price was great and the itinerary amazing.
Booked the cruise and airfare (got free flights on Air Canada with our aeroplan miles for the Montreal/Vancouver - one-way trip) and got a good refundable one-way airfare on Air Canada for the return trip (Honolulu/Montreal, via Vancouver), also booked hotel reservations (three nights at the Sheraton Waikiki and two nights at the Hilton Hawaiian Village) and booked the car rentals with Alamo. We also ordered an Entertainment book for Hawaii and used it a lot. It was well worth and got almost every attractions at discount prices. We made huge savings with it. Highly recommended!
Moka/Kimi/Yoko: Anyone who has a pet knows how difficult it is to take a vacation and leave their furry family member home. We're very lucky in that my dad loves them as much as we do and when we go away he dog sits for us. It works out for all of us in that the dogs are happy since they are in good company with someone who loves them, we don't stress over the dogs not being cared for and dad gets to spend time with them.
Embarkation: We flew a day earlier and stayed at the Westin Bayshore Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia. Surprisingly, when we checked-in at the front desk, they offered us an harbor view parlor room. We took that room and went straight to bed. Living on the east coast, we were exhausted with the 6-hour plane ride and the jet lag. The next morning we were up at around 6am and saw the Star Princess and the Carnival Spirit coming along into port. It was really nice to see them arriving at dawn. We showered and dressed to go out for a walk around Stanley Park. We visited around Stanley Park for a while and took pictures. We then came back to the hotel for check-out. We couldn't wait to get on the ship so we took a taxi to the port. We arrived at the pier around noon and waited about 5 minutes to get our suitcases checked in (they were just setting up the x-ray machines). It's a good thing we were early. It took us 20 minutes to get through the security line where everyone else would later have to wait hours. After that, we were in line at check-in again it took just 5 minutes for us to check in, get our sign and sail cards and the traditional "welcome aboard picture"! By 12:35 we were on the ship and headed to our room.
Our Cabin: We received a slight upgrade to a cat. 4A (inside stateroom). We had booked a guarantee inside 1A and couldn't find out our cabin until the day of sailing. The cabin itself is a standard inside (185 sq. ft) with no bathtub but good size shower and enough storage/closet for 12 days. I was worried about the size of the cabin since we had a suite before and it was a good 100 sq. ft. larger than the actual inside, and this was a 12 day cruise, but there was absolutely no problem. We never felt cramped. We absolutely loved the cabin and for the 4 sea days, the sun was out and weather was great. Even after the second day it was nice and hot!
The Ship: We've been on Destiny class (Carnival), Voyager (RCL) and Grand Princess before and this ship was some 1/3 smaller in size but still looks pretty big. The Centrum area was on deck 2 (promenade). There is still a lot to do on this ship. The main pool was never really that crowded, even on sea days where all the poolside activities happened. It seemed to have the same group of people involved, because the average age on this cruise was somewhere around 70. Those of us younger (in age or spirit) were always doing things together while the majority of the passengers just sat in chairs, ate or gamble. We spent a lot of time sunbathing around the Fantail pool located AFT. Hubby had fun during those fun days at sea using the slide. I tried it once and it was fun.
The Dancin' Dance Club was a disco for adults after 11pm and never seem too busy even during the teen disco hours, nobody was there. The fitness center was very large. Completely modern machines and it was empty if you went early enough in the morning. The Camp Carnival area looked like a fun area for kids, but there were probably less than a dozen kids 16 or younger on the whole ship. The Jungle promenade area was nice and peaceful where people were reading books while looking at the ocean.
There is a very large casino on board and there were 2 tournament days with one Slot and one Blackjack tournament each day. I played the slot machines a couple of times and hubby played Blackjack only once. We did not make any $$$ there but played for a while on the nickel machines sometimes with only $20 deposit.
Most of the crewmembers were friendly and polite. Our Cruise Director was Todd, he was great with boundless energy and he likes to interact with the passengers a lot. One of the cocktail waitress working at the lobby bar (Maria) was exceptional and we came back every evening for our pre-dinner drinks. At the photo gallery, they decided to attempt a special package deal. VIP photo package - all of your Hawaiian pictures for one price: $169.95. You needed to reserve your package within the next 48 hours. We did so and believe it or not we got 84 pictures and some 20 group pictures...At the end of the cruise, the photo gallery staff said that is was not worth and that it would not be repeated on the next sailings...Well worth for us though!
We attended the usual Welcome aboard Captain cocktail and the repeaters party. We did make it to the various entertainment shows in the Pharaoh's Palace Lounge simply because every time it was taking place after our second seating and we were exhausted from our day on the islands. IMHO, you've seen one, you've seen them all.
Our cabin steward did an amazing job and we gladly gave him an extra tip at the end of the cruise (on top of the automatic gratuities added to our sail&sign card). We always had clean towels and sheets. The cabin was immaculate the entire time. He always made sure everything was all right and asked us several times if we needed anything. On the very first day, I asked him if we could remove the items from the mini bar and he said no problem, we could put them away and at the very end, we could place them back there for inventory. We placed soft drinks in the mini bar of the cabin and the steward made sure to bring us ice daily. So for all of you worried about smuggling alchool on board, no problem at all! Twice we brought bottles of wine (from ABC stores in Hawaii or Safeway) and were able to enjoy them at dinner even without corkage fee been added to our sail&sign account.
Food/Dinning Room service: Not as good as we experienced before on Carnival. This was also disappointing. For example, the first couple of nights in the dining room were really not good at all. This improved drastically later in the cruise and we thought the meals were excellent, both in the dining room and at the Nouveau Supper Club. The Lido deck food was good, not great. Nothing to write home about! The desserts were great. As some other have stated, there were strange choices made for the dining room menus. There was always some kind of steak offered. What's up with that? Can you cook anything else than steak? Not much variety there and they had a hard time getting it cooked to perfection. We often needed to replace it (it was too rare). One word to our headwaiter Orlando (from Philippines) and assistant waiter Ketut (from India), they did a wonderful job. We always had plenty of water/wine in our glasses, bread/ground pepper was also offered and even after couple of nights, we did not had to ask for Cappuccino's, they brought it automatically every evening.
We met the Maitre D, he came by our table to introduce himself one of the evening. He was a little irritating though - MC'ing Carnival's dinner show nightly. We really would have preferred to continue our dinner in peace.
On the other hand, The Nouveau Supper Club was spectacular. The service and food were impeccable. Be prepare for a gastronomic and festive meal. We had a reservation at a window table for four and spend 4 hours there. There was a $25 per person cover charge and the only disappointment is that you could only order one item per service. Hubby wanted to have suf'n'turf so he asked for filet mignon and Joey's Stone crab but you were limited to only one item, if you wanted more, you needed to pay another $25...
Never used room service, sorry cannot comment.
Excursions: We felt that there was no need to book Carnival shore excursions (way too overpriced). We extensively read about Hawaii before planning everything and the best advice was to rent a car. We prefer to visit at our own pace and leisure. We had planned everything ahead for very island and had booked a convertible at every stop. Everything went really smooth except for a minor disappointment in Maui where no convertible were available on the first day, we ended up receiving a free upgrade and drove an SUV (Buick Rendezvous) that day. An Alamo shuttle was always available to pick us up and available at the end of the day for our return to the pier. Weather was perfect except for a little rain in Kauai in the morning. We were always out of the rental car parking lot by 8 AM or so.
MAUI: We were up very early to watch the sunrise. The Spirit was getting into port way before schedule. We were greeted by native with fresh flower lei upon our arrival in Maui our very stop in the Hawaiian islands. We got on the road to Hana early. Despite 5 stops along the way we made 'Ohe'o Gulch inside Haleakala National Park in good time. At around 1H30 we were ready to return to Kahalui. There was a voicemail message on our cell phone to confirm our reservation for tonight's luau. We got back in town at around 4H00 and made a stop at McDonald's for a quick snack. We needed to get to Lahaina for our Luau at 5H45. We made it on time.
- Old Lahaina Luau (again this was booked ahead on the internet): We were individually greeted with a fresh flower lei, tropical drink (mai-tai) and a personalized souvenir program. At around 6H30, the buffet opened. We were escorted to the Hale Ai (eating house). Traditional Hawaiian cuisine included: Kalua Roast Pork, Baked Mahi Mahi in Maui Onion Cream Sauce, Tropical Guava Chicken, Teriyaki Sirloin Steak, Lomi Lomi Salmon (salmon mixed with tomatoes and onions), Poke (marinated raw Ahi tuna), Chicken Long Rice, Hawaiian Sweet Potato, Seafood Salad, Taro Leaf Salad with Coconut Milk, SautEed Vegetables, Island Fruit Platter, Banana Bread, Haupia. Cocktails, beer, wine, tropical drinks, juice, soft drinks, coffee and tea (open bar) were available. Assorted island desserts were served at the table.
Upon sunset, the evening's main entertainment begins. This production tells the story of the Hawaiians. They are proud to present the Hula as it was meant to be performed with love and reverence. Beginning with the roots of migration, to the Kahiko, then finally the more contemporary style Hula.
It was a truly memorable experience. If this is your first time in Hawaii, you need to do it and apparently, the Old Lahaina Luau is one of the best. Be prepared for an evening of traditional Hawaiian cuisine, music, cultural dances and island crafts. We appreciated a genuine reflection of Hawaii's rich history while enjoying an ocean view and sunset setting. Everything was over around 9H30 and we headed back to Kahului, we drove by Alamo to change our SUV for a convertible. The next day in the morning we drove up Haleakala to reach 10,000 feet at the summit. We made a stop or two at beaches and it was it...time to go back for the sail away. This was one of our favorite island and we wish we could go back one day for a land vacation.
KAUAI: Fog and mist greet our entry into the Nawiliwili harbor. It looked like going into a lost world. One thing that amazed me about Carnival was they always let you off the ship well before scheduled. We drove to the heliport and found out that our helicopter ride was cancelled. It was very disappointing. We decided to head for the Waimea Canyon and made the best of a rainy, misty day. We couldn't see anything from the lookout of the Canyon and made each other a promess to come back one day. We stopped by waterfalls on the way back as the skies cleared up. We decided to take the Wailea River/Fern Grotto boat ride and then returned to the ship for the sail away. We ended up having a glass of wine on Dani/Stephen balcony taking pictures and recording the sail away as the Spirit was pulling out of the harbor.
KONA: We drove around the island and stopped by few beaches. We then made a stop at the Hilton Waikoloa Village. What a resort! This hotel has no beach but a large array of facilities. It's so beautiful. I wouldn't mind taking my vacation there sometime!
HILO: We were after lava, the red-hot type. Leesa and Mike offered us to join them for the adventure and we were off to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in an SUV from Hertz rent-a-car that Mike had reserved with Priceline. The visitor center informed us that the lava was flowing but too far to hike to. We prodded some more and he said it would be a hard 2-3 hour hikes each way for experienced hikers (2.5 miles). He still didn't think we qualified but humored us. We would need gloves and lots of water to make the hike. He directed us to a little local general store in Volcano Village and we got our supplies. After an hour drive down to the sea, we parked by the ranger station for hiking directions. They had seen lava last night on top the cliffs but doubted if we could hike that far let alone find it! After 2 hours of hiking across and around rugged new lava fields, we reached the base of the cliffs. A couple of "hardy" hikers were coming down and reported to us they looked everywhere but couldn't find hot lava.
That was it for the girls - we headed back with them and left the guys some extra water. It only took 45 minutes to come back. So up the cliff the guys went. Now this lava all looks the same - even a decent size lava river still looks the same as it cools right away on top. After 30 minutes or so, Richard said to Mike: "I feel unusual heat"!. The running lava turned out to be the source. They found it and just about melted watching it and taking pictures of it flowing. They went within 4 feet of a lava "waterfall" slowly cascading toward them. It was quite a thrill they said. Excitement and fear competed to overwhelm their emotions.
After 45 minutes they headed back for a hard hike down. Going down was a lot harder! They made back to the rangers and we all celebrated their victory. A few were really surprised - others asked questions of it's location, they had not found it that day and still others enjoyed seeing our pictures and video. We think they were the only ones to find the red-hot lava that day! We headed back and cooled down at Volcano Winery - still more wine. What a journey!
OAHU/HONOLULU: Our last port... Since we were going to stay in Honolulu for another week and the Spirit was docked for 2 days, we had plenty of time to explore the island. Day 1 in Honolulu- Upon the ship arrival in Honolulu, we splited a $20 dollar cab fare to the airport with Leesa & Mike to pick-up our convertible for the week. We then headed for the north shore and enjoyed a day at the beach (Waimea Beach Park) where we could watch the surfers breaking the waves. We then hang out in Haleiwa, had lunch and got ourselves a shaved ice. We came back to the ship shortly after 4PM and decided to pack our luggage. We took them off the ship and dropped them at the Sheraton Waikiki (luggage storage service) so we don't have to bother about debarkation the next day. Came back, took our shower and went to diner. We were all set to leave our friends and spend another fabulous week in paradise.
Be aware of that $25 overnight parking fee at the Aloha tower Marketplace if you need to leave your rental car there. Day 2 - The next morning, we were off the ship by 8H00 and on the road to Kailua Beach. The drive along the southeast coast is scenic, with lots of beaches and mountain scenery. The route passes through the residential areas. We went back to the hotel for check-in. Again, we were surprisingly upgraded to a partial ocean view room. We were able to retrieve our luggage and relax before dinner. Everything was close by and the Sheraton Waikiki has an ideal location. The Royal Hawaiian Shopping Mall and the DFS Galleria are close by and everything is right there. We only used the car during the day. There was a $10/day charge to our room for the parking.
Day 3 - We headed for the Hawaiian Adventure Water Park (in Kapolei - west side of Oahu) but it was close on Tuesdays and Wednesdays so we just stayed around and did some shopping (Home Depot, BigKMart, outlets, etc...) we made a stop at Hilo Hatties on the back to the hotel and in the afternoon, we laid down on Waikiki beach for a while. In the evening, we went to the movie theater (Ward Theaters) to watch "Cold Creek Manor" which just came out.
Day 4 - Pearl Harbour. It was a day filled with lots of things to see. We did the Arizona Memorial and took the Explorer tour of the USS Missouri (Mighty Mo). It was very informative and we really enjoyed that behind the scene tour. On the way back to the hotel, we made a stop a Costco and were able to download our digital picture for processing. They would be ready the next day...Way to go!
Day 5 - We had booked in advance the Polynesian Cultural Center on the internet. We first did our check-out at the Sheraton Waikiki and went to the Hilton Hawaiian Village to store our luggage for the day...Our room was ready for check-in. We brought everything to the room and took off for the Polynesian Cultural Center. We got there at around 2H00 and visited the different villages. There is 7 villages: Tonga, Tahiti, Marquesas, Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, Samoa. Our favorite was Samoa. We did the canoe ride and watched the main shows.
Day 6 - We finally made it to the Hawaiian Adventure Water park and spent our morning there. On the way back we did some more shopping and relaxed at the hotel.
Day 7 - Time for us to get ready for the normal life. Since our flight was only leaving at 9H30PM, we brought our luggage to the bell man for storage and did our check-out. We stayed at the hotel all day and were planning to sunbathe at the beach...There was a $42 charge if we wanted to rent two beach chairs and an umbrella, I did not want to buy those, just rent! Anyhow, we ended up at the pool using the pool chairs (free of charge!). We were able to use their hospitality room and had signed for the day before to use it at 4H30PM. You were allowed 20 minutes per guest. We used the 40 minutes to shower and change. We went out for dinner and on the way back, we picked-up our luggage and headed for the airport.
The first segment back home was uneventful. It was a red-eye between Honolulu and Vancouver. We slept mostly the duration of the flight. The second leg of the trip was Vancouver/Montreal. Our football team was on our flight. The Montreal Alouette had lost their game the evening before so they were all pretty quiet. We were sitting right next to the team physician and in front of the coach. Everything went well and we were landed in Montreal on-time.
Besides the little glitches, it was truly a memorable 3 weeks!!! Thank you to everyone who helped us with planning, thank you to our Cruise Critic friends and thank you again to Mike, Leesa, Dani and Steve for their enjoyable company! Even though we were seated at our dinning room table expecting someone to bring us a menu and tasty food, we still were happy to be back home after a wonderful vacation.
Considering the little things that went wrong on this particular Carnival cruise we will consider other cruise line before returning on Carnival again. As a matter of fact, we had booked the Celebrity Infinity to Hawaii (again) for a 15-day roundtrip from San Diego, CA for December 2004.
Feel free to email with questions!
Aloha and Mahalo for reading - Nathalie (AKA Cruise Diva)