Experienced cruisers are often hard to impress but we were impressed with the Carnival Spirit. My husband and I had cruised before but this was our first cruise with our 2 year old daughter.
THE SHIP OVERALL - I liked the decor, very 'Las Veags' but hey, that's cruising with Carnival for you! The theatre and dining rooms were lovely and the ship was large enough that I never felt overcrowded with fellow passengers. I loved the Punchline Comedy Lounge a very nice touch to have on board and the comedians were very good, a couple being quite famous already in Australia so I enjoyed seeing them.
THE POOLS - One pool/spa was under a permanently retracted glass ceiling so it was nice on the sunny days, the other pool/spa was kept under a permanently closed glass ceiling which was perfect for the cooler/windy days. But I LOVED the adults only Serenity Deck. The deckchairs were padded and if you were lucky enough you could get a hammock or a pod. The bar staff were extremely attentive and friendly. The music was always relaxing both in tone and volume and I loved that the pool temperature changed according to the outside temperature, on one cold windy day it was heated to almost the same temperature as the spa, a very nice touch which I really appreciated.
THE DINING ROOM FOOD - The food and service in the dining room was 5 star all the way. The food was varied and always of excellent quality. I appreciated the waiter's nightly menu recommendations highlighting the best food to try each evening. The staff were so incredibly accommodating to our 2 year old, always having a highchair and crayons/paper ready for her when we arrived, giving her little presents (like some beaded necklaces which she adored) and generally speaking to her, high fiving her, mucking around with her etc which made her feel very special. The waiters' dancing and singing was fantastic - there are some very talented waitstaff out there especially the Filipino waiter who sang "Working Class Man" better than Jimmy Barnes himself!
THE BUFFET FOOD - I am not a huge buffet fan but would describe the Lido Buffet as fair to average. There was not a huge selection but I did like the daily chef's choice section. One day it was Italian, then French, then Caribbean, then Mexican etc the menu items were always interesting and rather gourmet. The Asian section 'Chopsticks' was probably the food of poorest quality/taste. The desserts were consistently good and the 24hr pizza is wonderful - thin crust, very authentic Italian.
THE SPECIALTY DINING - I did not like the Nouveau Steakhouse at all I thought it was a complete waste of money. My steak was ridiculously overcooked. The service was lacklustre. My husband however enjoyed his meal very much so maybe I was just unlucky. But in my opinion, don't bother with Nouveau when the dining room food is so good. The Fillet Mignon I had in the dining room was a million times better than the steak I had at Nouveau. I loved eating at Jimmy's C-Side BBQ but my one complaint was that they only opened it up on sea days which is ridiculous because it is on the open deck 10 and on sea days it was always too windy to sit up there and eat it. I thought I was going to be blown away just waiting in line!
THE 'AUSSIFICATION' OF THE SHIP - I like that the powerpoints are Aussie ones and that prices onbord are in Aussie dollars but I don't see any reason why they even needed to Aussify the ship! It would be so much more fun to board an American cruiseline in Australia and feel like you have walked in to the USA without having to fly 15 hours to get there! My husband did however appreciate that you can have Aussie style coffee as he doesn't like American style filter coffee. It was amusing however to see Carnival re-name their Lemondade (ie old fashioned lemonade/cordial) 'Lemon Squash'! Ahhhh Carnival, maybe you should have checked with an Aussie on that one, Lemon Squash to us is something quite different! They have also kept the American 'Ice Tea' which I never saw a single person drinking on the entire cruise again, not something your average Aussie drinks.
CAMP CARNIVAL - We used only the section for ages 2-5 years as our daughter is 2. The services provided by them were good but I think Camp Carnival primarily exists for parents wanting to leave their children at night and whilst on shore/in port. Reason being is that outside of the aforementioned times, Camp Carnival is only open for limited periods. Whilst it is open for the entire time that a ship in in port, on a sea day it is only open as follows: from 9am to 11:45am, then closed from 12 to 2pm, then reopens from 2pm to 3:45pm (or sometimes 4:45pm), then closed from 3:45pm/4:45pm until 5:30pm for 'prepare for dinner', then dinner is served for the kids from 6:30pm in the Lido Buffet, the Camp then remains open continuously until 3am. We didn't leave our daughter at Camp at night or whilst in port, so for us, she attended Camp from 9am to 11:45pm but then would nap in the afternoon but by the time she awoke and would liked to have gone back to Camp ie around 3pm they were about to close! I still to this day don't understand why the Camp needs to be closed from 3:45 to 5:30pm to 'prepare for dinner' its not like they are cooking the dinner themselves or even eating it at Camp! But having said that, the staff were very good and the toys new and plentiful, they do however seem to sit the kids in front of the TV for a great deal of time which some parents may not like. I also really like that they gave us a free cell phone to use for the duration of the cruise to check up on our daughter throughout the day. NB whilst the Camp is 'in session' parents cannot be present in the room with the children, you need to just drop them off and leave and they are very strict about not letting parents enter the Camp while other children are playing in there.
THE CABIN - We had a balcony cabin category 8A and it was nice, not overly roomy but you can't expect it to be given you are aboard a ship. The balcony was nice and very private. They provided a cot for a daughter to sleep in which did make the room a little more squishy but it was fine. The bathroom was a little disappointing, very bland with no decor and NO toiletries which was a surprise as other cruises have had a basket of various free toiletries. There was only some generic soap and 2 pumps in the shower, one of body wash and the other of shampoo. Our cabin was on Deck 4 almost at the very back of the ship and it was very quiet.
THE ENTERTAINMENT - This was ok but not great. I enjoyed the Carnival Spirit dancers and singers and my daughter loved them. I thought most of the guest entertainers were boring. I walked out on the Magician who was simply terrible. I enjoyed the Juggler from Christchurch NZ. The show times were constantly changing however which was annoying when you have young children who need to get to bed. I really appreciated the 6:30pm shows as we could have dinner at 5:30pm and be at the show by 6:30pm but the 9pm or 10pm shows were simply too late for us as our daughter wouldn't be able to stay up so late. With Carnival being a family friendly cruise line they really need to think about having a nightly show at 6:30pm I know many parents would be grateful.