The wife and I have enjoyed two excellent cruises from Sydney with P&O previously (Jewel 2010 & Pearl 2011). This time we have just come back from trying out the new(ish) Carnival Spirit, sailing from Melbourne to Tasmania and back to Sydney, and we are so glad we did. We read the usual blogs which complained about there being too many kids, food wasn't great, unclean rooms, etc, but we can't agree. Sure there are lots of kids, as their cruises are well priced for families and the ship has water slides (so what do you expect) but there is a big adults only breakout area to get away from them. We thought everything else was great as well. Here's our scores out of 10 (remembering that this was a domestic cruise which may differ international cruises):
Embarkation - The quickest ever. We arrived at the preassigned time and we were able to board the ship immediately and have lunch whilst waiting for our rooms to be ready. Score - 9
Stateroom - We had an Aft room with extended balcony. We think it is comparable in size with P&O Pearl's mini-suites but almost half the price. Loved the balcony! The only con was that there is only one power outlet which is a bit tough with the world of e-gadgets (mobiles, camera, ipad, etc). Score - 9
Food & beverages - Very good variety and quality. The 24 hour Pizzaria even provides gluten free pizzas. Wine variety was good. You even get a minibar in your stateroom. A few dishes had some chewy meats and there were some coldish foods at times. I was disappointed to find that you couldn't get a decaf coffee anywhere on the ship (unusual in these days of healthy alternatives). Score - 7
Public areas - Ship appears to be larger with more areas to explore. Amazing atrium and domes to look at. Decor is rather dark and gloomy but we thought it gave a Vegas vibe. There seemed to be a bar around every corner. Plenty of comfy seats to kick back in (better than those horrible P&O semi-circular torture chairs). Great adults area. Score - 8
Gratuities - With P&O you automatically contribute to tips unless you go down and tell them you want to do it manually (our preferred). This is a presumptuous pain in the wallet. Carnival doesn't do this. You decide on who and how much you tip. Score - 10
Port transfers & tenders -- everything was very well arranged and executed. Very quick and efficient. Score - 8
Debarkation -- Carnival give you a choice of how you wish to get off the ship. You can select the usual by leaving your bags outside your room the night before for collection, or you can elect Self Assist whereby you are given a prox time to leave the ship and you carry (pull) you bags with you. We chose self assist with an exit time of 8AM. We were able to leave the ship by 8.05AM and were in a taxi about 15 minutes later. Amazing. Score - 10.
In conclusion, staff were very courteous and helpful (as most cruises). We consider this the best cruise thus far; in particularly with regard to value for money. To give you another perspective, a 'senior' gentlemen was saying this was his 10th cruise, and he rated it the best. We'll be back!
Overall score 9/10.